I Never Promised You a Shade Garden…

Everyone has that side of their home that they just hate to look at. The side with the A/C, the vents, the basement windows, the path to your backyard and, of course, your neighbor’s property line. This is where you will find the shade (well, what there is) at my house.

For those of you who know my property, know that I already have my hands full with two VERY large front beds, a backyard and a massive sloping hellstrip!  All four areas have something in common – sun, and lots of it.

That being said, the next time I get some bright idea to completely “reimagine” an area around my house, someone please slap some sense into me!

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Not much to look at, for sure!

Until November of last year, I was completely content with this area being utilitarian. It’s my only real access to the backyard for anything so the lawnmower, wheelbarrow and bins had to go this way. In addition, as the backyard transformed and various trees and shrubs either were discarded or relocated, this is how they were taken out.

But, one day in November of last year, when I thought I had made my last purchase of the season and was at a loss as to where to place it, suddenly it dawned on me that I may have run out room (gasp!) and it was now time to start another project!

I’d been mulling over the idea of a shade garden for quite awhile. The space is not perfect- far from it. The area faces southeast with all deciduous trees but one so I’ll get dappled light once the trees leaf out and the far right corner gets some afternoon sun. Adding insult to injury, the soil is soaked during the winter and dry as a chip in the summer and the trees, which belong to the neighboring property, are not in the best condition.

But, if I had to be honest, my motivation for this project was simple – it’s just not fun to go to a nursery and have an entire area not accessible to you. And then, of course, there are the open gardens! I’m pretty sure it was at Laura and Charlie Heldreth’s when I snapped. I blame them. Talk about inspiration and aspiration! Check out the extraordinary world they have created!

http://www.gravylessons.com/journal2/2016/9/20/garden-project-wrap-up

I have this vision in my head of what the end result will be in several years. So, out came the rake and I started sketching out the “bones” of the garden. The space is long and narrow so I decided that a serpentine path would be more conducive to the “woodland” setting I was hoping to create. My goal is to create focal points with larger specimens that will move your eyes throughout the space and smaller ones that will cover and spill over the edging so it is not so noticeable. And, of course, color and lots of texture. I really have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a lot over the past 4 year, so we’ll see how things go!

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Besides the four trees on the slope, a large portion of the shade comes from the trees (all deciduous) across the parking lot for the townhouses. Things really do transform once spring kicks into gear.

Part one of this blog focuses on the “journey” of the garden. In Part 2, the plants will be the stars but here are a few of my test subjects!

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The best part of making a bad decision late in the season – stumbling onto Pomeris’ 60% off sale! These were my first additions to my shade garden (well, okay, I might have purchased a few other things, too!)

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My first purchases of the season from the Portland Home and Garden Show. Trying bare root for the first time with some astilbe and hostas. Of course, I couldn’t help myself to some wonderful color for my sunny areas!

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And, of course, my first trip of the season to Xera!

The hardest part of the project was getting the border in the ground. The good news was that the ground was soaked and easy to dig. The bad news was the edging, which came highly coiled, had a mind of it’s own! In hindsight, I should of asked for help but the crazy weather didn’t allow for planning, especially on a retail schedule. While I didn’t quite achieve the perfect curves I envisioned in my head, over time I’m hoping the “slightly imperfect” border won’t be as noticeable once everything grows in.

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This was really a two part project due to severe procrastination. I put in the first two sections (right and left) last fall to see if I would like it. It was such a pain the butt that I put off the project as long as could but if I didn’t get it done, I couldn’t plant!

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Several plants have been relocated after being fried in the sun last year. I’m hoping the persicaria will be happier here. Although the tag said it could handle full sun, I’m not quite sure it was ready for mine!

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The “entrance” to the shade garden. Quite a few plants have been relocated here. My pittosporum Irene Patterson, looking rough from this winter, will hopefully be happy here with more room to grow.

To the right of the entrance are a few originals to the house.

I decided on bark mulch for a simple, natural look for the path.

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Bark mulch makes everything better!

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The neighbor’s property line is at the end of the fence

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You may remember this area had it’s fair share of weeds! Not only did I have to deal with the weeds on my property, but, of course, my neighbor’s! And the weeds HAD to be on an incline!

A little backgound…I live kitty-corner to a fourplex townhouse. The manager lives on site and she is wonderful. She takes fantastic care of the property and is always looking out for my home and calls me in any type of emergency, etc. Other than the horrible butchering of the beautiful huge rhododendrons and wanting to cut down the not so healthy trees (I’ve talked her out of it) I could not ask for a better neighbor. So, it really didn’t take but a second for me to decide that I would not just weed her area, but “annex” the hillside into my shade garden. To be honest, who wants to put all that work into making their garden look good only to look across the property line and see a hot mess!

Several hours later, I had excavated the massive amount of weeds and debris from the area and was able to do a little planting.

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Gardenpalooza to the rescue! 

Here’s where I’m rolling the dice. With a little advice from some experts at a favorite nursery, I’m going to see what I can do with ferns for the majority of the area. With most of my garden in full sun, I’ve had little to no experience with any shade so it’s a crap shoot. As you can see, at this point in the season, before the trees leaf out, the area gets late afternoon sun. Japanese Forest grass will take up a big portion and some large hostas will be featured right as it begins to slope. Most of the plants I’ve purchased are for dry shade but I know I’ll have to water more than I originally planned.

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I found this ADORABLE shade peony this past weekend at Gardenpalooza along with several ferns!

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Erosion, an issue in the entire area, is particularly problematic in this section

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Most of this incline is not my property but the eye doesn’t differentiate

Below is my “vision” for this space and my overall look and feel for the area with some a little more variety and pops of color scattered throughout.

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My current tiny shade garden! As you can see, I’m used to an incline! 

I think this blog entry has taken me as long to write as it did to create my shade garden! I’m hoping the warmer weather and sunshine will help shake off the cloud of procrastination that has been hanging over me for the last month.

Next up…I Never Promised You a Shade Garden Part 2 – the test subjects!

 

 

 

Hope springs eternal?

Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself the eternal optimist. Maybe it’s because no matter all the times in my life where I have crashed and burned I’ve always managed to once again rise from the ashes (my email is phoenix42 for chrissakes!) or maybe is because I just saw Rouge One (wait for it..)…but if there’s anything I have for my garden right now …it’s hope!

As I’m writing this blog, my first in a few months, the snow is melting/washing away and I’m beginning to see bits and pieces of my garden again. As you can see from the picture above, there wasn’t a lot left to see after this last snow storm!

Once all this melts and spring rolls around, it’s going to be a nail biter to see what survives. The snow and ice from this winter has already taken it’s first victim and it was a pretty big one. Each storm this winter has sheared off at least one or two branches of my Southern Magnolia that I planted when I first moved into the house about 4 years ago. Well, looks like I will looking for another focal point for the garden on the left side of my house….

This has always been one of my favorite spots in my garden…but, full disclosure, as I started to create the landscape with the new and wonderful things I was discovering as a new gardener, I actually regretted planting the magnolia. Well, mother nature has intervened and now I have an existential crisis on my hands for it’s replacement.

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Everyone likes a before and after, right? Well, how about some after’s and before’s to help lift our spirits as we wait for the survivors of this winter!

I’m so glad I left this agapanthus alone and didn’t cut it back because it provide one of the few bright spots in my garden after the snowfall from hell!

It took a foot of snow to bring this miscanthus down! This guy is tough and never wilted in the toughest rain!

I just can’t even..so much newness planted and moved last year and most of my marginal plants live back here….

My biggest fear during these storms is people crashing into my garden. As you can see, there is no separation between the street and and the edges of my garden. You can’t even tell where one begins and ends!

As I wrap up my “hope” post, I dug into my photo library to find my first pics of my garden from last year…this is from Feb 5th and it’s the day I planted my Valentine’s Day present from the BF! Hopefully we are just a couple of weeks away from seeing some real signs of spring!

But the best part its….Looks like history is going to repeat itself and I’m going to get another tree for Valentines Day!

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Here’s wishing the very best to all you fellow gardeners out there….Let’s hope for the best and if not, see you in our favorite nurseries!

Something Wicked This Way Comes….

Pointy, needly, spiny, prickly, barbed…..

“If it looks like it could hurt me, it’s probably coming home with me…” A quote from my first blog as one of the things I learned about myself as a new gardener.

That being said, there’s a DISTINCT difference between “looking” and “knowing” something can hurt me and I guess that’s theme of this blog post.

So, I’m that guy you hear saying “OW!” in the nursery on a regular basis because, for some reason, I’m not just drawn to wicked things, but, I’m obsessed with the need to TOUCH them – just ask the BF.

Now, I may be a fool, but I’m not an idiot (no comments from the peanut gallery!). My curiosity ends when I KNOW that there is real and definite pain involved. It is for that reason that this “Collector’s Garden” has been void of entire “category” of plants – until now!

You might have guessed by now, given my feature photo, that I’m referring to the AGAVE. (Don’t even get me started on Cacti!) I have hemmed and hawed over this decision for some time and it’s been a process getting to this moment.

Let me take you on my journey to the dark side….

While sharp and pointy would have to wait a few years, spiky, seriated, thorny, needly and the like would all do quite nicely as a build up to the main event in the Fall of ’16.

To say that I dipped my toes into the pool slowly would be a bit of an understatement. As shown by these cordeline here from three of the four summers I’ve purchased plants for my garden, I do love a spiky purple plant! While not particularly scary, ironically, the damn one on the left almost poked my eye out and provided me my most painful plant experience to date!

Another early spikey addition to my garden was the yucca. I have one featured in three of the four main sections of my garden.. Cleary I need to expand my collection beyond the three different variegated varieties shown here ( I’m only sure of Yucca “Color Guard” on the far left since the two on the right were planted before I started keeping my tags.) I can tell you that running into the big guy on the far right while working in that bed is NOT fun! However, despite the danger, I love the texture, the color and the year round interest!

Up next are my babies…the eryngiums. I’m not entirely sure what it is that fascinates me so much or draws me to them, but my ultimate goal is get all “Pokemon Go” on them and “catch them, catch them all”!

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eryngium agavefolium 

I mean, who could not LOVE this majestic beast? I think at max height, it reached almost 5 feet and beautiful serieted leaves reached over  3 feet across! This was a “pup” from the BF’s garden and my very first eryngium. I now have a few other agavefoliums but none of them have ever outperformed this one. This year, however, this particular one remained dormant. On a positive note, that meant the leaves are still beautiful now!

Looking at the serieted edges, one can clearly understand it’s appeal to me and it’s a feature on many other eryngiums that have lured me in…

These four eryngiums exemplify “they aren’t really that pointy, right?” and I have shed a drop of blood or two with these guys over the years. I’m particularly excited about the Eryngium aff. latifolium which I found at Cistus early this spring! One of the best aspects of Cistus is that you often get to so the “full size” version of your purchase in their display garden and I was mesmerized by the size and architecture of it! Plus, I’ve not run across it anywhere else so I love the “collectibility” of it!

Last but certainly not least, there is this little monster…Eryngium varifolum. Standing only about 18 inches tall, one would never guess that these gorgeous “wicked” spikes would emerge from it’s soft flat broad leaves.

Before I get to the main event, there are some singular favorites in my garden that I’ve collected over the years that should be included in this “wicked” blog….

I love this quote for Annie Annuals…

“Mean folks stealing your beautiful plants? Now you can have the last laugh!”

Don’t let the beautiful purple flowers fool you, this Berkheya Purpurea  (nicknamed Ursula) is by far my most “wicked” specimen in my garden! Every square inch of this plant hurts and will pierce even the toughest gardening glove! So…of course, I had to by a second one for the hell strip this year! And yes, that is me being an idiot snapping a picture bare handed of it’s first ever bloom on my way to work one day…it was worth it!

Have you ever been shopping and come across something and have one of those “clutch the pearls” moments? Well, for me it usually involves shoes, furniture or decorative accessories but early this past spring on one of my first trips to Xera, it was love at first sight when I saw a solanum pyrocanthum…I mean, it looked dangerous AND there was ORANGE? How could I resist? I didn’t and I found a perfect spot for it in a large blue ceramic pot. For the first time, I’m going to try my hand at over wintering a few things this year and I’m adding this one to the list.

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Solanum pyrocanthum

Another deceptively pokey and painful bugger, barbera replicata….purple AND painful, how could I resist? One of my very first plants from Xera in 2014. It was very tiny when I got it. I may or may not have planted it too close to the house…UGH.

 

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        Barbera replicata (against the house)                                                                                                      

I must be a glutton for punishment because the BF’s hakea has poked and stabbed me for the last 2.5 years but as soon as I saw that Xera has one in stock, I scooped it up! That’ll teach that damn cat from pooping in my garden! Staking this guy was not fun!

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hakea microcarpa 

If I’m going to have an osmanthus, of course it’s going to be this one!

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Osmanthus heterphyllus “Sasaba”                                                                                                                    

This was as about as “agave” as I was able to get back in the day…lol

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hesperaloe parviflora                                                                                                                                         

Full disclosure, as many stories go, my journey ends where it begins….I did, in fact, have one agave from the beginning of my collector’s garden days. This little guys was a “pup” off of one of my BF’s agave’s and he brought it over when he brought over three flats of sedum for me (also from his garden). I wasn’t able to get an exact ID on it but this is his best guess. Anyway, as you can see, it was in pretty rough shape for a while but it seems to be recovering nicely. I often forget that it is even there as it is not in an ideal location. I have some moving to do in the spring so I’ll figure that out then.

 

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Agave Neomexicana (best guess?)

I’m not sure what finally made me flip the agave switch, but early in the summer months I picked up these two at Xera…They were added to the backyard. We will see how they do this winter.

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Agave Bracteosa

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Agave (ugh…I can’t find the tag!) could it be another Flagstaff? 

I swear the BF’s car goes on auto pilot whenever it is within a 5 miles radius of Portland Nursery! We always seem to “somehow” end up there on the way home from an afternoon out and about. Have I once complained? What do you think?

This last set of pics (with the exception of agave ‘Flagstaff’ (from Xera) are all from the “scratch and dent” section of Portland nursery a few weeks ago! They have definitely seen better days, but who could resist 50% off and I think it was the push I needed to finally go “all in”!

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Agave Mateo

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Agave lophantha ‘Spendida’

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Agave parryi Huachucensis

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Agave parryi ‘Flagstaff’

The two agave’s below seemed to be to least hardy according to the tags (see, I’m learning!) so they will be the beginning of a new chapter of my garden inspired by a visit to one of my first open gardens…

Some of you may recognize the work of Danger Garden who has been a huge inspiration for me ever since I saw her space. Her garden both fascinated and terrified me at the same time and I knew it would take baby steps to work my way up to anything like this!

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The Danger Garden Summer 2014 with the BF

As I wrap things up, who doesn’t love a good before and after? This is the where the majority of the new agaves were planted. Full southern sun and a “hillside” with lots of drainage so I am feeling hopeful for them to overwinter this year.

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my house via Google maps in 2012 – now THAT is a hell strip! 

If it said full sun on the tag, this is where it goes and there are very few things I’ve lost in this areas despite it’s harsh conditions. Dare me to cramscape a 15X60 hell strip? Give me another couple years!

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agave, cistus, arctostaphylus, grevillia, callistemon, stipa gigantea, knifophia, crocosmia, tetrapanix, lagerstroemia, salvia, penstemon and more make great bed follows in the hell strip

The agaves all found a spot towards the bottom of the hillside where there is the least amount of saturation of any rainfall or drainage from the driveway. I think they will like the heat from the street, too and they won’t be privy to much shade even as things grow in

As I finish up this Halloween morning, it is absolutely POURING and the wind is HOWLING ….you want to talk about WICKED? Not nice, nature, not nice!

Up next….

“I Never Promised You a Shade Garden…..”

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As if I didn’t have enough to deal with…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new iPhone is here! Are you ready for your close up?

One thing many people may not know about me is that I come from a family of professional photographers. We even had a darkroom attached to our garage growing up and there was always a multitude of camera pieces and parts laying around the house.  It was my twin sister who ended up catching the photography bug. She worked side by side with my dad in the dark room, studied it in college and now has her own successful Ophthalmic photography business! I have an aunt, a niece and a nephew who all work in the biz in some way shape or form, as well!

Over the years, my sister has accumulated her own amalgamation of fancy cameras but I’ve just never been able to bring myself to figure them out. I even purchased and tried a nice point and shoot but it just never seemed to do what I needed or wanted it to do! It might be patience thing. User error probably factors in with the point and shoot but who has the time or patience to read all those pesky instructions!

I’m a big fan of Apple products for a one reason – they just work! And they work with each other without having to think too much and if there is one less thing I have to think about in my life, I’m sold! So, when I heard that the new iPhone was going to have a significant upgrade to it’s camera, I was thrilled!  Thanks to the iPhone, I’ve been able to channel my “inner photographer” and, thanks to iCloud, all of my photos are magically saved and stored!

One of my long term goals of blogging is to eventually invest in a “real” camera but for now, I’m pretty excited with this phone/camera and I thought I would share some pictures from around my garden, as well as, some before and afters from my old iPhone 5s. Plus, since my blog is all about the lessons I’ve learned along the way, here is what I’ve learned…

  • for now, I like how simple and easy using my iPhone is for taking pictures for my blog. It’s always on me, it syncs automatically to my mac,  and, for now, it’s doing almost everything I need and want it to do! (anyone want to buy a slightly used Nikon point and shoot? LOL)
  • I use my camera and take a picture of the tags when I’m at a nursery when I see a plant I have that I know I’ve lost the tag. I save that pic in a folder in my computer for reference.
  • resources like Plant Lust and Xera’s Plant Catalogue are invaluable resources for researching names of plants when you’ve lost the tags!
  • you can’t beat a real camera for a wide shot..sad face.

But, what the iPhone lacks for wide shots, it makes up for in simple, easy, beautiful close ups!

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coreopsis “Cruizin’ Broad Street” 

For fellow iPhone photographers, you know that certain colors can be very problematic. In fact, I gave up on trying to capture anything red or white.

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noid mum

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Hibiscus “Midnight Marvel” 

It’s has been a pain in the butt to capture the true color of this hibiscus but I feel like the iPhone 7 has done the best job yet!

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cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Chocolate Cosmos’ 

Now it looks as good as it smells!

My old iPhone 5s seemed to have the most trouble with white…as you can see here, the iPhone 7 does a pretty great job.

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Dianthus ‘Dainty Dame’ (best guess) 

Maybe it was the light, but this picture below represents a common issue I had with the iPhone camera that still happened with my new one.

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Dahlia “Xera’s Dark Leaf Mix” 

Below are some “before and afters” from an early September “photo shoot” with the iPhone 5s and then from a week ago with my new iPhone 7.

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Aguilegia ‘Origami Red and White’ iPhone 5s

Is is weird that this aquilegia is blooming so prolifically again in the fall?

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Aquilegia “Origami Red and White” iPhone 7

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Salvia Amistad

This Salvia Amistad is one of the best examples of the improvements to the camera!

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Same with this Caryopteris incana “Xera’s Darkest Blue”. I am CRAZY for the color here!

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Tulbaghia violacea “Society garlic”

The above is one of the most dramatic shots. What I’ve been most impressed about the new camera is how it corrects the light. Now THIS is an accurate reflection of one my very favorite specimens in my garden. In the first picture, it appears much darker that it actually is.

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Coreopsis “Sweet Marmalade” 

I’m a sucker for a coreopsis. But, if I had to pick a favorite, this one would be it.  It’s hard to believe looking at both photos that they are the same plant. Finally, I was able to capture the true color of this little gem.

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The iPhone 5s did a pretty good job at a distance. This is one of my favorite contrasts in my garden in mid July. 

This next set is insane….

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iPhone 5s…not too bad…

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 noid Coreopsis iPhone 7 

It almost doesn’t even look real!

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iPhone 5s

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Monch’s Hardy Aster iPhone 7 

Again, what a difference in light and color adjustment!

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Berkheya Purpurea iPhone 7

Before, I would have never been able to take this picture in the middle of the afternoon with such bright light. FYI, I cut this back to the ground after it’s first incarnation…you may remember “Ursula”…what a nice surprise to have it come back for a second time!

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Ursula …. June 17th (point and shoot) 

The next are some “up close and personal” shots that kinda blew me away!

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Berkheya purpurea

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Lobelia Tupa

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Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’

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Trachelium caerluleum ‘Dark Purple’

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Inula magnifica Elecampane

I think I like this more as it fades away!

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Blue Mist Hebe

Overall, I’m very happy with the performance of the iPhone 7 camera. In no way shape of form, is this meant to be a technology review. If you knew me, you’d be rolling on the floor! What this it is meant to be is another chapter in my journey of gardening. From the moment I bought this house, I’ve taken as many pictures as possible. I can assure you that there was never any intention of putting the pictures to use other than reminiscence and reflection. But, as I started gardening, and beautiful things started happening, I couldn’t help but want to capture them in as realistic a way possible.

I feel like I’ve made a significant move towards that goal.

 

Move it ….. or lose it!

For those of you who have been following my blog since the beginning, this entry focuses on just two of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a new gardener…

  1. If you don’t like where something is, then just move it!
  2. If you don’t like something, then lose it!

I’d like to say that I came to these conclusions/revelations easily but for the most part, there was a lot of sentimentality and stubbornness that I had to work through in making some of the decisions along the way.

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These carex were some of the first plants I moved. There were 5 relocated to my giant hell strip. Still not sure if it was the best idea but they are all still alive after 3 years. 

When faced with a massive project like I was, I felt it was smart utilizing as many existing plants and shrubs to save money. But, for those who really know me, it’s because I’m impatient and it was nice to have full grown specimens filling up empty spaces!  Below is just a few days ago and they are all still going strong. I’ve even moved one BACK to the backyard to help provide some support to an overgrown and flopping kniphofia.

One of the day lilies made the journey to the hell strip and performed very well. But, of over the past few years, I’ve come to really hate Hemerocallis Stella de Oro and the one on this hell strip was the first to go when I “moved” my Caesalpinia. There are 4 more that are on the chopping block for my fall garden “reboot”! If anyone wants them, let me know!

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Here’s where sentiment became an issue

I got one of those Facebook reminders the other day celebrating a 1 year ago memory. It was a post I had made of this next picture…

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“After coming to the realization that this hydrangea was NOT the reincarnation of my dead mother, it was time for it to go!” 

The sentiment was very real to me. When I found this house, the big magnolia grandiflora in the front, the azalea and rhodies all around the property and especially the goddam big blue hydrangea in the back yard, all reminded me of the home where I grew up. They spoke to me and the thought of removing one of them, especially the hydrangea, was just too much for me to deal with the first couple of years.

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The two azaleas/rhodies were relocated to the front yard but they fell victim to the blight of 2105 and I lost them. Oh well, more room for new stuff! 

In preparation for the loss of the hydrangea, Xera came to the rescue. They had CRAPE MYRTLES!!!!!! If there was anything more reminiscent of my childhood home than a hydrangea, it was a crape myrtle! We had no less than three of them wisely (lol) planted next to our driveway so we were constantly picking/brushing flowers off our cars. You really don’t appreciate how beautiful they are when you are surrounded by them all the time…

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This is one of three that I have blooming in August of last year. It’s JUST beginning to bloom now! 

Okay, so here’s one more lesson…

  • In situations where sentimentality plays a factor, replace it immediately with something else! AKA – denial. LOL

So here is a situation where “losing it” was a necessity. There is a high probability that I “did not read the tag” on this one but it’s also possible I bought this at Hortlandia and there wasn’t a complete tag available. But, as you can see, this guy (I still don’t know exactly what it was) got HUGE! While I loved it for it’s vibrant color, long lasting blooms and the fact that it played a big part in my “purple, green and gold” spring, I think it was going to turn into a tree! So it had to go – to make way for my “shade garden”.

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For those of you who know my garden, this is closest thing I have to any sort of shade. One plant gave it’s life for many…

In the next photo you will find an example of a move it AND a lose it combined. The first year, I decided to relocate this rhodie to the back yard. It was so poorly placed that it obstructed the walkway to the backyard. As you can see in the adjacent picture, it provided much needed nice immediate evergreen structure to the backyard. Unfortunately, it was not a healthy specimen and, again, was something that I just didn’t see as part of the long term plan for my garden. Besides, I needed a home for the awesome feijoa sellowiana that the BF bought me!

Speaking of the BF…there is nothing like testing the strength of a relationship (and of your boyfriend, lol) than enlisting him to help with bamboo removal! Of all the poorly chosen and placed plants for this house, this bamboo ranks up with the worst! I’m assuming they did it for some privacy since it was placed so that it kind of blocked the large living room window.

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This give you a really good idea of what we were working with…it was small clump…how hard could it be? 

Well, several hours later, one snapped in half shovel, countless profanities and several IOU’s to the BF for payback (his future painted Shedtaeaux and patio were my penance) and the bamboo was gone.

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A job well done! If you look to the left down the slope, you can see the tiny plant that turned into the giant shrub/tree in a year!

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Who doesn’t love a before and after? 

Remember when I mentioned stubbornness? Well, the plum trees in my back yard are a perfect example. For those of you who have ever moved into a new home with a fruit tree, you might understand. The first year it’s all “oh, I’ll make cobblers and pies and we’ll have fresh plums all summer!” Well, that exactly what I did the first few months of summer and it was awesome. Then reality set it. You can’t possibly use all the fruit. Plus, stone fruit is disgusting when it drops and gets hot. Plus, one was not healthy as it seemed to be competing with the other one since they were planted just a few feet from each other.  So, the next year, I figured I’d at least get rid of the sickly one and keep the good one because I had no other shade in the back yard. Plus, I was till going to make cobblers and pies, right?

Well, I don’t exactly remember the time sequence but with a lot of hazing/nagging from the BF, I finally gave in and took the second one out and I haven’t looked back since! Look at all that beautiful space!

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Still evolving but I’d say the plum trees gave their lives for the greater good! 

I can easily say the toughest “lose it” moment for me were the variegated willows in my front right bed. This was because they were a combination of sentiment AND stubbornness! They were part of my original plantings and one of my first “groups of three”.

Over the years, they were a constant, reliable “fixture” that I felt provided a great backdrop to the rest of my garden as it evolved. I loved the variegation, how they seemed to match perfectly with the house, the billowy branches and how quickly they grew no matter how much I hacked them every year.

But, this past February, it was time to bite the bullet and let go. Funny, while I was ready for them to go, they were not. That was seriously one of the worst days of my life. I thought removing bamboo out of dry clay was bad. This was February when everything was still nice and soaked and soft and these bad boys did not want to go! And to make matters worse, I finally decided to take out the last of the cotoneasters!

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This was a baby. The two I took out this day were 3 times the size. It took months to finally dispose of everything from that day! 

I can honestly say that I despise this shrub. The only reason these ones stayed for so long is that I was scared of what was living under them!

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I really should have done this a long time ago. This bed is gorgeous. To the right of the bed is where the cotoneaster was. That’s how much space they took up! I had a LOT of plants to buy this year! 

I’m throwing in another lesson…

  • sometimes it’s worth it to hire someone to do your dirty work! I was smart enough with the plum tree but I thought I could handle this one on my own. I think my back went out a couple of days later!
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Remember what I said about how to deal with sentimentality? Denial and replacement! I’m blanking on the name of the tree! 

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You know you’re dating a gardener when you get plants for Valentines Day! Swoon! 

I won’t say that the BF hated those willow, well, yes, he pretty much hated them. But, as I’ve shared, they meant something to me so I put up a fight for some time. He was very thoughtful and this beautiful Hamamelis helped soften the blow!

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Farmington Gardens made everything better! I even picked up a couple of camellias to help with the southern theme! I’m working on winter and year round interest – no judging! 

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The same bed this morning….feeling pretty good about the decision. Not bad since February! That hibiscus Midnight Marvel is EVERYTHING!

One of the unexpected benefits of working on this blog is that I get an opportunity to stroll though memory lane every time I sit down to write. I’m so thankful that I was a crazy picture taker over the years and have such wonderful documentation of the evolution of my garden. I’ve learned so much over the years and when I think about these lessons in this blog, I realize that I’ll never stop using them. How I implement those lessons will evolve just the way my garden does!

 

 

 

My Collector’s Garden begins

For those of you who have been following my story, you know that I’ve been sharing the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Well, let me give you a visual of the ultimate lesson one can learn as gardener..

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Everyone remember the storm of February 14? There were few survivors.

What is that saying, when one door closes another one opens? Now I had a blank canvas to work with it this spring!

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Along with surveying the damage, this was my first time seeing all the spring bulbs that were scattered throughout the garden! I’ve given up trying to tame them and resigned myself to their “chaotic” spring interest

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One of the first projects was to relocate the rhodies! The yarrow was moved and scattered throughout the garden rather than in one cluster. 

Well, as fate would have it, in late March/early April, I would meet someone who would dramatically influence my gardening style going forward – the BF. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. To say he has had an influence on my gardening style is an extraordinary understatement.

In an effort to keep this post succinct, I’ll focus on the topic at hand. Seeing his garden for the first time, I was inspired by the sheer variety of plants but also on the countless unfamiliar ones. Clearly I had a lot to learn! Perhaps most inspiring was his passion and personal connection to the world he created. This is the moment I “got” the difference between “landscaping” and “gardening”.

The evolution of my collectors garden was about to begin.

First things first, I had to clean up the mess I created the season before. If I remember correctly, the wallflowers, speedwell, the Russian sage and yarrow were the only survivors. As you can see, the butterfly bush made it but would not remain part in the picture for long.

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Now what?

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So much better! 

So as not to lose sight of my lessons during this time of my gardening journey, I was soon to learn…

  • a collectors garden requires a LOT of plants
  • $3.99 and $4.99 plants grow into the same plants that $12.99 and $14.99 ones do!
  • “crampscaping” is seductive and inevitable
  • you can try but you can never get really get rid of bulbs!
  • there are AMAZING places to buy plants other than Home Depot!

Here are my regular “haunts”….

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The “fancy” plant store

Apparently I’d known about Cornell Farms as I bought my magnolia grandiflora here last year. Why it didn’t register to shop for anything else I’ll never know.  This picture begins a series of pics of me taunting the BF while he is at work and I’m shopping for plants!

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Two locations for your shopping addiction

I was very fortunate to have a break between jobs this spring and was able to devote myself pretty much full time to my garden’s “renovation”.

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I’m the worst

This would later evolve into what we call “plant cheating” on each other. While plant shopping together is one of our favorite past times, our work schedules just don’t match up as much as we’d like, sooo….

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MECCA

It’s safe to say that approximately 75% of my garden consists of Xera plants!

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Me walking into Xera for the first time! 

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One of my personal favorites! 

I always seem to find something unusual here!

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I’m not sure the top of this barrel was ever clear that summer! 

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I love that I still have most of these in my garden!

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My first round of the new style 

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Crazy to look back and see where it all started…

Most of this bed was relocated a few weeks later. This bed would later be filled with the fruits from my first “Peony Pilgrimage” to Adleman’s Peonies in Brooks, Or a few weeks later! But, that’s another blog post!

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And so it begins…

In the front right side of my garden, the dianthus and the willows both not only survived the winter but came back strong in the spring. I love looking at this picture and seeing what is still there and how tiny it was when it went in!

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Looking at these pics, I notice certain plants were moved 6 inched here, a foot there…evidence of my future cramscaping. 

Now that the initial rework of my garden was done, it was time to make it all stand out! It was time to MULCH! And there are so many lessons I learned the hard way here!

I would probably have to say that after “reading my tags”, there is one other lesson that I learned but continually failed to learn…

  • DON’T BUY BAGGED MULCH!

As you can see from the size of my garden, no matter how many bags of mulch I brought home, I ALWAYS needed more! My problem was lack of patience and wanting to do things immediately rather than wait for someone to come dump a load of mulch in my driveway!

I could probably write a blog post on just this topic. In summary…year one….endless trips to get more and more bags of mulch. Year two….ordered 10, yes TEN, yards of mulch that took an entire summer to finally finish using! Year three…ugh, I did it again…more bags….

All that being said, creating order out of chaos brings me great joy and no matter the process, the end result always seems worth the effort!

Looking back at the timeline of my Photos on my computer, it appears I was able to get all of this done my mid May of ’14. Thank goodness because in just a few weeks I would be starting my new job and I’d no longer have the luxury of spending my days consumed in my new found passion!

As I sign off on this blog post, here’s what I learned and/or discovered about myself…

  • the more I mixed shape, color and texture in an area, the more I loved it!
  • when you fall in love with something at a nursery, you will eventually figure out where to put it, so just buy it!
  • there is more out there than just perennials…I’d work on that next year! Can you say winter interest?
  • I will be spending a significant portion of my life watering….and watering…and watering…

Next up in my series….

“Can a relationship withstand BAMBOO REMOVAL?”

 

 

The Home Depot years …. Let’s try this again

After several sessions of blood, sweat and tears doing initial cleanup, I made my first trip to Home Depot. I went armed with zero knowledge of plants and certainly no gardening experience. In retrospect, I guess I was trying to “landscape” rather that “garden”. I could probably write an entire blog about that statement but I think many of you get what I’m talking about.

With “landscaping” in mind the only thing I had to draw on was my 15+ years of visual merchandising experience. So, there were a few things that I remembered from the old days…

  • repeat focal points – (colors, shapes, pieces) throughout and area that tie a larger area together and move you through the the area either physically, visually or emotionally.
  • group things in three’s – assymetry stops the eye and makes things more “interesting”.
  • pyramids and rivers – this makes sure things aren’t “flat” or “boring” and bring the customer in as things “cascade” down. Again, it moves the eye through the display.
  • repetition – there’s no better way to make a statement and make something small seems big than to group a bunch of them together nice and neatly!
  • if you move it over just a 1/2 of an inch, it’s much better (inside joke for the biz)

What follows is a somewhat comical interpretation and implementation of those principles. I have to admit, I’m somewhat embarrassed looking back at some of these pictures. There is a lot of “what was I thinking?” “seriously?” “really?” going on but I have to tell you, there is nothing like making mistakes to help you learn a lesson.

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The poor freesia that never stood a chance, a topiary ceanothus (cringe) and the eventual giant butterfly bush

If I’m remembering correctly, the bed above was the very first planting in the garden. In the following photos, you will see examples of the many hard lessons I learned from my first attempt at “gardening/landscaping”. One of my main goals for this blog is sharing the trials and tribulations of my own gardening journey. Here are some important lessons I learned pretty quickly..

  • find out what “zone” and hardy/not hardy means
  • read the tags
  • figure out how much sun/shade the area of the garden gets and when it gets it
  • read the tags
  • do research especially when “adopting” a plant, shrub, tree from someone
  •  my soil was crap
  • don’t buy “topiaried” things (this is just a personal thing!)
  • did I forget to say read the tags?

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The umbrella palms that were not long for this world

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The cordyline was an expensive mistake as my “focal” plant. notice the missing ceanothus? I think it lasted two weeks till then it died. The yellow yarrow is one of the few remaining original plants but they are scattered throughout the property. They are the original “gold” inspiration for the name of my blog.

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My first grouping, completely unintentional, of purple, green and gold. Of course, none of the purple made it through to spring

In this photo you can see all three “focal” cordyline. and yes, there are four, not three, dianthus. For some reason I felt it needed to be four in that spot.

Not every lesson was a bad one. During the process, I began to take note of a some things that appealed to me and would help me shape my garden over the years to come.

  • to this day, if it looks like it could hurt me, I’ll touch it then probably buy it (except for agaves and cacti – I’m scared of those!)
  • if it’s maroon or purple, it’s probably coming home with me
  • if it’s variegated it’s probably coming home with me
  • I liked plants that had long bloom times
  • I was attracted to “architectural” or structurally unique things

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The willows filled in quickly, which was nice the first summer, but eventually grew way too big and became unwieldy every summer after that

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One of my the best lessons I learned this year is that if I don’t like where something is – move it. Little did I know how much I would use this in the coming years!

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An example of one of the many azaleas/rhododendrons that were selected to be a part of my very first “relocation program”. The all survived the relocations but all did not survive the great blight of 2014

As I reflect on my first summer with my garden and all the trials and tribulations I experienced, there are few things that, to this day I will always remember…

  • follow my instincts and what I’m drawn towards
  • there is absolutely NOTHING like getting dirty and feeling connected with the earth.
  • this is MY garden. It’s a reflection and expression of me and it’s deeply personal. I bought this house during one of the worst times of my life and discovering this new form of creative expression has been a transformative experience for me.
  • READ THE DAMN TAGS!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the second “installment” of my blog. Next up…

My “Collector’s Garden begins…”

The Home Depot Year…And everything needs to be in three’s, right?

After several sessions of blood, sweat and tears doing initial cleanup, I made my first trip to Home Depot. I went armed with zero knowledge of plants and certainly no gardening experience. In retrospect, I guess I was trying to “landscape” rather that “garden”. I could probably write an entire blog about that statement but I think many of you get what I’m talking about.

With “landscaping” in mind, I drew on my 15+ years of visual merchandising experience to help me figure out what to do. There are some golden rules of retail visual merchandising

  • repeat focal points – (colors, shapes, pieces) throughout and area that tie a larger area together and move you through the the area either physically, visually or emotionally.
  • group things in three’s – assymetry stops the eye and makes things more “interesting”. Also,
  • pyramids and rivers – this makes sure things aren’t “flat” or “boring” and bring the customer in as things “cascade” down. Again, it moves the eye through the display.
  • repetition – there’s no better way to make something small seems big than to group a bunch of them together nice and neatly!

In the beginning…

I bought this house on April 26th, 2013 when I was still working for Apple. While I wanted a home that I could make my own, I knew that I would not have the time, or the patience, for any sort of renovation and I lucked out and found this beautifully restored 1945 Craftsman in Hillsdale in SW Portland. Clearly, as you can see from this picture, there was still a way for me to make this place MY home and that was through the garden. While I had only a tiny bit of experience with any sort of gardening, I was excited for an opportunity to express my creativity in a way I’ve never done before.
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April 2013

The “palette” I had to work with consisted mostly of dead shrubs of varying nature, MOUNDS of overgrown thyme, strawberry ground cover, cotoneaster, day lilies, bluebells and more bluebells, and some bamboo thrown in for fun! I still shudder when I see Dusty Miller.

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Thyme anyone?

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Sickly Japanese maple that eventually had to go and one of many poorly placed rhododendrons throughout the property

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Did I forget to mention the sloping beds?

The back yard was a completely different beast. While the front was all deep, sloping beds with existing plants the needed to be be ripped out, it was mostly a barren and flat wasteland. One thing it did have in common with the front was more poorly placed plants/trees!

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Seriously? Who does this? Notice the poor dogwood suffocated in the corner with the two plum trees so close together! Who needs two plums trees? As you will see later, who needs any, actually?

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Day lilies and carex were repeated throughout the back yard

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What you can’t see is the hydrangea planted 6 inches from the back doorstep. Most of it blocked the door.

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And I cannot forget the hell strip from hell! This is one of the last areas of my garden that I worked on. This time, it was St. John’s Wort that had to be removed. The entire area is about 15ft deep and about 60ft long! And the incline gets worse as you go further back! And the kicker – it faces south!

So, in an effort not to make this the longest blog post in history, I’ll pace my garden’s journey over the next several posts…up next…”Everything has to be in three’s, right? Oh, and from Home Depot!”