Sunday, June 20, 2010

Confessions of a Patio Gardener

Fuscias on the back deck

I love flowers. There are few presents which give me as much joy as a big bouquet of brightly coloured flowers or a potted plant chock full of blossoms. I love gardens – beautiful colourful gardens full of magnificent flowers, shady trees, attractive stonework and fountains. And I love to grow things. Um......let me amend that: I love to plant things.

A gardener I am not. I lack the patience, the knowledge, the strong back, or the interest in minute details like ph balance and soil construction and ratios of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium.

Each year, I buy or receive as gifts perennial cuttings, carefully put them in the ground, water them the first few days…..and then neglect them. By next spring, I don’t even know where they are or what they are called, and as I madly yank out things that I assume to be weeds running rampant, I inevitably yank out the perennials too. Those that do survive soon become infested with aphids or caterpillars or slugs or other little creepy crawlies who munch holes in the leaves, strip the branches, and turn beauty into beast.

I compare myself to the person who buys a dog thinking if they just provide a bargain brand dogfood, some water, and maybe a place to sleep, the dog will spontaneously become Lassie and save Timmy from the well. No work necessary - the hand of fate will miraculously turn a pup into a loyal, intelligent, social, amazing pet. Sure it will!

I buy plants. I stick them in dirt, add some water, occasionally go look at them to make sure they are still alive, and envision a future with blossoms everywhere, friends and family agog at my beautiful, well trained plants. Yeah, right. The bugs and weeds win every time and before you know it the poor abused plant is being dumped at the nearest shelter…er…compost heap.

The reality is that what I love, when it comes to gardening, are flowers that grow spontaneously, surprising me one morning with a shock of blue colour here or a red blossom there, peeking out amid the weeds. The self-seeding, over-productive flowers that are the bane of other more disciplined gardeners are pure delight to me – hence the flower bed in my front yard, full of those bright orange flowers whose name I forget but which every neighbour has warned me I need to pull out lest they take over the garden.

Orange flowers spreading like wildfire among the weeds

But dreams seldom die, and so once again I have put my hand to trowel and, with visions of blossoms dancing in my head, planted a garden. My approach this year was different – instead of working the rock-hard clay and stoney dirt that surrounds my house, I decided to build a patio garden, full of pots and planters and hanging baskets of bright geraniums and petunias, impatiens and trailing white bacopa, cascading down the fence and surrounding my 8x8 patio, complementing my beautiful Tuscany-like bistro table in colours of red and white and touches of sky blue.

Bistro Table

I have never found gardening to be an inexpensive hobby – flowers, soil, fertilizers, tools, one can spend one’s life savings in just two or three visits to a nursery. So I scoured garage sales for planters and stands and garden-type brick-a-brack. I cashed in Air Miles for gift certificates to the garden centre of a local home and garden store, I lugged home a small tree from another garage sale and friends gave me gifts of plants. I did end up paying cash for a few things that I couldn’t find elsewhere – a couple of long planters, some wrought iron shelf brackets, a string of solar-powered dragonfly lights, and a small outdoor area rug to put under my patio table.

I was pretty proud of myself. I built shelves on my sturdy cedar fence for the long planters, from which would cascade red and white showers of ivy geranium and wave petunias; I potted and planted and filled baskets and positioned a bird bath/fountain, carefully choosing which plants needed the shady location, which the sunny spots. And after several days of work, I finally had it finished – everything except the daily watering and waiting for Mother Nature to do the rest and produce my magical patio retreat.

South Side

West Side

House (East)Side

Dogs checking it out

I took photos, and as I sat at my computer looking at them and preparing a blog, I heard a crash. Outside. On the patio.

Forty dollars worth of wrought iron brackets and two eight inch wide planks of 1” cedar are not sufficient to hold two twenty dollar long planters full of dirt and flowers and water. The long planter had come crashing down on the flowers below and the new outdoor area rug, bringing the dragonfly lights with it. The planter smashed to pieces, the blossoms and tender leaves were crushed, the dirt was everywhere, and like the negligent dog owner who blames the dog for the mess on the floor, I swore at the plants.


I let the mess sit there for a day or two before once again tackling the problem of how to suspend planters from the cedar fence. I bought two wrought iron half-circle fence planters, dug out some narrow red brackets from a box, salvaged what I could of the broken plants and dirt, and started again. This time the fence planters were attached directly to the thick, wide cross board and while I must now stand on a stool in order to deadhead flowers or check the soil, the twelve heavy 2.5 inch screws (and the additional security of a new shelf underneath) should stop these plants from tumbling down.

Revised West Side

The completed project - second time around.

And so I still dream of a patio full of flowers, cascading down fences and rising up from planters, a soft patter of water in the fountain, a steaming latte or an ice cold tea served to friends at my table, a place to read and a place to laugh and a place to dream.

Please hold me accountable – check back in a month to see if I have kept watering, weeding, feeding, and deadheading those plants in order to achieve my goal, or if the patio is surrounded by dried pots of dirt with shriveled up leaves and dead, brown blossoms. And if the latter, please ban me from owning plants – for life.


Anonymous said...

Oh my... you need broom?????

:-) :-) :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

Jean your patio look lovely and I'm sure you will get lots of enjoyment out of it.
PS I'll send you a daily reminder to water.LOL


EvenSong said...

"You're a better 'gardener' than I, Gunga Din!" I may be able to grow baby horsies, but I'm death to plants. It's taking all my discipline to nurture the tree-lings I've put in over the last year (so far, about 60% survival rate).
I hate geraniums (from childhood memories) but think petunias are sweet. Suffice it to say, the hanging planters on my front porch are filled with plastic flowers. :-}

Erika said...

So pretty!!

Caroline said...

you can get these globe things that supposedly hold water so you can actually forget about it for a few days.

I am like you, LOVE flowers, LOVE gardens and always admire other people's hard work.

I found that for me, stuff that can take care of itself does best, lol. I love lavender, herbs as they flower so pretty, ground covers and other easy stuff.
I think you will find that a small area is easy to maintain so I bet you will be able to keep it up.

Black Jack's Carol said...

I could feel your pain when that planter crashed! Smart move to let it sit for a day or two:) In the gardening department, you are WAY ahead of me! Your analogy of the person who doesn't take care of their dog seemed a bit harsh, but it was interesting. I will remember it the next time I know my plants need watering. Both before and after pics are gorgeous, but especially love the very first one in the post.

Sherri said...

Wow Jean, its beautiful!

I love flowers too, and since I rent the only way I can garden is in pots. I can't wait until my patio is finished so I can get more pots full of flowers to surround it. You've inspired me!

Jean said...

Ahhhhh...broom and plastic flowers - that shall be my fallback position for next year! LOL

Caroline, I do have some of those globe things, but I find they (a) don't hold enough water for any but the smallest pots and (b) tend to clog up with dirt very quickly and therefore don't drain well. However, for my cherry tomato plants I found planters that have a reservoir below with a wick and supposedly self-waters for up to two weeks.

Oh, and I have killed so many bunches of lavender that I have given up on it even though it is one of my favourite scents! Same thing with herbs of any kind. Plastic flowers begins to sound better and better.

Carol, those fuscias (which hang on my back deck) have particularly full, pretty blossoms - makes them very easy to photograph. But I agree with you - that is my favourite pic!

Anonymous said...

Jean, your patio is beautiful! Are you serving lattes?? (I will be there!). Don't forget to fertilize with something like Miracle Grow and the flowers should get really big! That's all I know about gardening! Bev B.

Anonymous said...

Your garden is gorgeous..I love gardening..(taking a break right now from it) It can be very tiring and back breaking and upsetting..
Slugs have devoured many of my lovely perennials this year..all the rain..but yours in the pots look grand,,maybe I should do that as the slugs would have to climb high..the tender plants that smashed will come back..just cut off the broken leaves and flowers..
Looking forward to pictures as the summer goes on..
PS I find those globes are the same..the dirt plugs them up and nothing comes out or they go quickly..


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Jean -this looks lovely. I saw it when it was just a bare fence and that wonderful table. Now it looks like a restful retreat.
I too have problems remembering to water etc. Am doing better this time with a north north west facing
balcony. I'd love to have hanging baskets but the wind blasts through here and even knocks my chairs over. As for the yellow flowers -let them grow. it is better than weeds and adds a spot of colour.
Two things I have found very durable outside are two plants people(or yourself) give as gifts.
Over the years I have found those little miniature rose bushes thrive well when planted outside in a flower bed and have lived as long as I have been there. Also chrysanthemums. In a flowerbed the plant grows quite big -and may be a different colour because of the soil. Both may sulk for a while but come back the next year better than ever. Recycled and cheap.

Keep us updated on how it goes. Loved the bird pictures the other day.

Big Sis and the bear

Jean said...

Thanks everyone - I shall post occasional updates so you can see how it is doing.
And Bev B. - your latte is getting cold! When the heck are you coming to visit??????