My shed two weeks ago.
My shed today.
I love paint!
My shed two weeks ago.
My shed today.
I love paint!
Behold my Camellia ‘Niccio’s Bella Rossa’:
Sad, right? Let me tell you the story of this plant. I spotted her a few years ago at the garden center – in bloom – and was immediately smitten. Anxiously, I checked the tag. Zone 8, it said. Prefers acid soil. I can make it work, I thought, disregarding my alkaline soil and Zone 7 location. I have that little protected area in the side yard by the fence. It doesn’t get below 10 degrees here that often. Just because that other camellia I planted a few years ago died almost immediately doesn’t mean this one will, too.
And on and on with the rationalizing. Sixty dollars later and the sweet little thing was in my passenger seat and on her way to the inevitable slow demise (but hopefully not!) in my garden.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we buy these precious, high-maintenance plants that we know will require constant coddling and tending?
I mean, I consider myself a very practical person. I drive an old Honda. I’ve pretty much abandoned make-up and jewelry. I’d rather eat meatloaf than prime rib, rather walk my dog than play golf. I like things to be easy, sensible, and reliable.
I generally try to surround myself with easy people, too. “Low-maintenance” people who pay their bills and show up to work every day. People who don’t have giant mood swings, constant hurt feelings, or mysterious ailments and traumas. Much better to have folks in your life who don’t need deadheading, dividing, or staking, who will perform faithfully for you year after year, without your having to ask.
So why do I lust after camellias? It really doesn’t make sense. I know deep down my gardening life would be easier and more sanguine if I would just stick to the hostas, carex, sedums, and phlox that are properly suited to my Black Walnutty Northern Virginia garden. Why would I go through all the effort and heartache of inviting an acid-loving denizen of the Deep South into my life, yet again?
I mean, I should have learned my lesson with Camellia ‘Yuletide’ back in ’09, right? Talk about heartache. I first spied ‘Yuletide’ when I worked at the garden center during the fall of that year. I was transporting some plants in a little electric truck to one of the back lots when I suddenly slammed on the brakes. Placed serendipitously together in one of the overflow beds was a small Camellia ‘Yuletide’, in full bloom, flanked by a couple of large nandinas heavy with crimson fruit. This simple combination was a stunning vision in red! My heart raced.
That same week, I attempted to recreate the vignette in my backyard. I spent about two hours digging a wide, shallow hole with a pedestal of carefully amended soil on which to perch the camellia, as my internet research had advised. I backfilled a third of the way, lightly pressed, and watered. Repeated three times. Carefully mulched. Meanwhile, I am sure the viburnum sitting a few feet away was like, “this is some bullshit. She just opened a wedge in the ground and shoved me in. Pfffft.”
Alas, by spring it was clear that ‘Yuletide’ was not merry. I would check it each day, and each day it seemed yet another branch had succumbed to the dreaded “dieback.” Heartbreak! I tore the plant out and promised myself I would never do it again — with the same sense of hurt betrayal that I swore to myself years ago that I’d never date another Texan.
And yet here I am with another camellia. And here I am again with the fussing and anxiety. I planted ‘Bella Rossa’ far away from my black walnuts, so (fingers crossed) no dieback yet. Still, all week the forecast calls for temps below 10 degrees, so I rummage through the basement for an old fleece blanket and some rope. I wrap Bella up carefully to protect the beautiful plump buds that might (with luck) open into exquisite fully double blooms the color of a child’s flushed cheek.
I know deep down that’s a pretty big “might.” And part of me feels ridiculous for doting on a plant this way. Most of the time I choose sensible plants that are native to the area or otherwise suited to my environs. Toughness and adaptability – in plants as well as people – are the qualities I find most beautiful of all.
Still, each day I visit ‘Bella Rossa’ and tend to her health, hoping for a few enchanting blooms come March. See, sometimes high maintenance is worth it. I guess we’re all high maintenance sometimes, and where would we be if we never took a chance on those who required a little extra care?
Like many of you, every once in awhile I fantasize about living in the country. I’m pretty sure that if I actually lived in the country, I might turn into a version of Jack Torrance from The Shining and after a couple months of winter start chasing my family around with an ax for lack of nearby amenities.
But thankfully, every now and then it’s possible to get a taste of the country life without actually committing to it. Such was the case a couple of weeks ago, when my mother’s friend Bobbi invited us out to her farm near Harrisonburg, VA for the day.
My son and I played hide and seek in her awesome barn, which is packed with rustic farm paraphernalia…
and as for garden ornament, how about a wheel wall? I didn’t know I wanted one of these until I saw Bobbi’s…
Wouldn’t it be great to have the kind of property where an antique Ford pick up looks right at home in the front yard?
everywhere you turn, you are reminded of simpler times, of the days before texting, tweeting, and twerking…
There is even a delightful stream running through her property, where we skipped stones and looked for interesting rocks…
More wheels…Bobbi was kind enough to let me take a couple of wheels home with me!
One of the wheels Bobbi gave me, at home in my suburban garden…
Yes indeed…for me, full time country life = mental illness. But one beautiful May day in the country = mental health.
1. You just “swung by” to get some mulch but then somehow all this wound up in your car, too.
2. When the cashier announces the total, you realize it’s the same amount that Oxfam’s fundraising letter said would feed an entire African village for a month.
3. You have trouble shifting gears on the way home because you have a hardy banana plant wedged diagonally in front of the passengers seat. Also, your tiny car is so packed with plants you find pollen in your ears when you get home.
4. Your 8-year-old, who has accompanied you and overhears the total, announces that he is going to “tell Dad” how much you spent when he gets home.
5. You don’t think you’ve spent more on fabulous container plants this month than on food for your family, but you’re not really sure.
Waterford, VA, is a tiny historical town in western Loudoun County, about 90 minutes from Washington, DC. The town consists of just a few streets, a post office, an old mill, schoolhouse, and a few dozen houses built in the 18th and 19th century, now lovingly cared for by their current owners.
This weekend I was lucky enough to have access to some of the houses and gardens in a photography class I took with my sister for a birthday present. I still don’t know what 90% of the functions do on my camera, but here are some of my better shots:
Mount Cuba Center, in Hockessin, Delaware (near Wilmington), has long been on my garden visit bucket list. It is a paradise of native Piedmont plants, and an inspiration for all of us living in “suburban woodlands” here in the mid-Atlantic.
What I learned: the key to a great Woodland Garden is open shade. They had almost all of their big shade trees limbed way up, plus there were a lot of tulip poplars, which don’t have low limbs anyway. There was plenty of bright filtered light for the wildflowers to bloom in abundance.
Enjoy the photos!
“Just as the constant increase in entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy. “ – Vaclav Havel
I think this photo of my side yard illustrates Havel’s point pretty well:
After I smothered the turf from my side yard (on the right) and began planting a slightly messy mix of shrubs, perennials and groundcovers, my neighbor promptly planted a soldier-straight row of crape myrtles and Japanese holly, butted right up against my plantings. Between the hollies there is a layer of mulch about ten inches thick, which he refreshes and fluffs regularly. [Read more…]
But I’ll be back eventually.