The discouraged gardener

Do you like getting advice about successful gardening, and looking at professional-level photographs of beautiful blooms?  This might not be the blog for you.

I generally try to, at least publicly, deal with my negative emotions with a sense of humor.  As you may have guessed.  But I need to be real for a second.  My garden is kind of sucking right now.  I don’t think I have ever, in a personal garden, dealt with so many annoying factors on so many plants at once.  You know what is maybe the worst thing about it?  I live next door to such a nice family, and yesterday the lady said hi to me and I just casually asked her if she had spider mites all over everything in her yard, because I sure the hell do, and she told me that actually, there was all this stuff in the yard when they move in ten years ago and she doesn’t know what any of it is and doesn’t do anything to take care of it.  Her yard looks AWESOME.  Meanwhile, every single time I go outside I see another dying plant.  And, I keep adding new plants, and they keep looking terrible.

Let’s think this through.  I have over twenty years of home gardening experience.  I have a degree in Horticulture.  I worked in commercial horticulture for years.  I have read a bajillion books, nerded out on all the websites, followed all the Instagrammers, and joined the Facebook pages.  I AM JUST SO INHERENTLY HALF-ASSED.  I don’t really need any advice about most of my tragic garden, I know what I’m doing wrong.  Although I will accept advice and also sympathy, but not judgement please.  I just needed to vent for a minute.

So what’s going on out there right now?  Well.  I have this vine maple that rather suddenly got some brown leaves and then even more brown leaves.  I was actually surprised that there was a vine maple in this full sun bed because I would have imagined it would do better in a shadier situation, but the internet tells me I am wrong, so my theory that it was sun damage was wrong.  I went to just cut back the dead branches, and then found that the branches were not, in fact, dead after all.  Just the leaves.  I see a very small amount of stippling and very, very small amount of webbing, so I suppose it does have the currently ever-present spider mites, but I really don’t think that’s what is doing the damage.  The stems are a bit sticky?  I just don’t know.  I ended up taking off all the brown leaves and leaving the branches, maybe it will put out new healthier growth?  It’s not truly my tree since I rent, so I’m not ready to heavily prune it yet because I don’t know how much the owner cares about the eventual shape of the tree.

CBB6AF7C-D35C-439B-B272-3E40B50A2E78
This just doesn’t look like spider mites to me.  
AE446D7E-CFDC-40A2-A159-E113EEC58992
But this does.

 

07AC5C71-825D-4763-9761-0AFE22BD8BE2
Vine maple glow-up.

This vine maple is in the crabgrass bed, with the strawberries I didn’t plant right away.  The FIRST batch of strawberries I didn’t plant right away, because I AM SO HALF-ASSED THAT THERE ARE TWO BATCHES OF STRAWBERRIES I DIDN’T PLANT RIGHT AWAY.  These strawberries are actually not looking so bad, whereas the ones in the strawberry pot, yikes.  Anyway so this bed as the dying vine maple, the brown strawberries, the kinnickinnick with the aphids, whatever the hell that ugly perennial was that is now past bloom and covered in powdery mildew, and the oregano that went to seed and I did not realize would then completely defoliate, the half dead ratty sandwort, and the really beautiful when I bought it Campanula that the big kid did not notice so she did not water it at all for the first week after I put it in the ground.  It was in the high 90s that week.

F76B30EB-4AE9-4D36-AC03-C9EBD207114F
I see this every time I drive into my driveway, and it just makes me cringe.
0ED61535-9164-4E9E-AB66-A0BD8BB3DE4D
Wondering if this oregano will self-seed.
1621FB09-E9D0-4C40-89DB-0E521C61FCEE
See how pretty the red parts are? They are galls caused by aphids and I had to cut them all off.
271D3D7F-A4DF-4C2C-89C3-1972D64F3440
Wondering if something else is going on here.  Those crunchy black parts are only where the plants are meeting the rocks, maybe they don’t like the heat from the rocks? Is that even a thing?

Right in the middle of this gruesome bed is this tall, healthy plant that iNaturalist tells me is Fagopyrum esculentum, common buckwheat.  I…really don’t care for this plant.  It’s the one plant in this bed that is thriving other than the crabgrass, and it’s basically a weed.  Sigh.

37C5D0F9-C433-4EBD-AD56-F02A19CA1F5B
Buckwheat? Seriously?

 

 

The spider mites really got to the Veronica that is at the end of the driveway and is the first plant you really see as you enter the yard.  I had to pull out about 2/3 of the whole plant that was just straight up dead, and cut what was left way back.  It’s brutal.

I’ve spent all my gardening time over the last two days laboriously planting teeny tiny bare-root sedums.  Someone on Next Door posted they had sedums to give away so we scooted over there on the way to run some errands and grabbed the trays and brought them home.  I didn’t realize until I went to plant them that the lady had pulled them out of the ground individually and I guess shaken all the soil off, then laid them on the trays.  Each of these is just the tiniest, barely rooted bare root fragment of sedum.  But, as I said to my poor husband, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of time in order to save some money.  And truly, if they take, they are perfect for what I’m doing with them.  I think.  Remember the garbage can area that is two unidentified unhealthy shrubs and a lot of Malva that I pulled?  Well, I put the sedums there.  It’s a pretty sad soil, covered in crushed rock.  I just dug holes, dropped some decent potting soil in, laid in like five sedum fragments, and covered the roots with the ground soil and the rocks.  I also put them against the fence on the other side of the sidewalk there, then today I put them all around the gravelly perimeter of the patio.  I STILL HAVE SO MUCH SEDUM LEFT.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it!  And the lady is so nice, after corresponding a bit, she has invited me over to her house tomorrow to get MORE sedum, and also to do a garden tour to see what other extra/dividable plants she might be able to share with me.  I can’t turn it down but holy cow.  Do I just throw the sedum at a rocky area and run???

6D3CFF26-3386-42C8-8157-EC6A7B71C472
Like 1/6 of all the sedum in the garbage can area.

I guess somewhat finally, while I was planting and weeding today I noticed a little area full of tiny seedlings, most of them don’t even have their first true leaf yet.  I honestly have no idea what they could be.  I’ve had some suggestions from Instagram, but nothing that sounds correct to me.  They are near the bindweed, but don’t look right for that, plus I’ve been keeping the bindweed way too small to seed.  They are closest to a crocosmia, but the seedlings are dicots.  They are near a birdfeeder, but no birds go to the birdfeeder so they wouldn’t be scattered seeds.  I’m stumped, so I’m leaving them alone for now, but I’ll probably regret it when I figure out which awful invasive I’ve let live and start feeding its taproot.

7CE7D96C-05F0-43E0-B1D9-D01DF23A8D438E9B8A8F-CF4A-4268-88E5-9B50F1BFE1FE

Oh, finally finally, a note on pictures…again.  I just really wish they were higher quality.  My iphone is great to grab when the little one is doing a funny dance, but for a carefully composed shot of the teensiest first baby leaf, it’s terrible.  I really like photography and have done it as a hobby in the past, and this is just super frustrating to me.  Right now I just filter the hell out of everything on Instagram and then shrug my shoulders, but I’m hoping to get a macro lens for my phone for my birthday which is FRIDAY.  I have a feeling I am getting lots of garden and bunny accoutrements, which is perfect.

And that’s that!

 

AKA the broke-ass gardener

CA7DAE7B-870F-4B21-AA43-2876D4CE486B

So I was putting some strawberry plants into a strawberry pot, and I was reflecting on the name that I’ve chosen here, and how there are lots of other words I could have used to describe my gardening style.  I think “half-assed” is a pretty good umbrella descriptor, because I think maybe some of the other adjectives one could use are just facets of half-assedness.  Contributors to my half-assedness.

I was thinking about it because these strawberries looked truly awful.  Perhaps it makes more sense to go to Portland Nursery and get some beautiful packs of strawberries that don’t have a single brown square centimeter, then immediately put those plants into a brand new pot with fresh, perfectly amended soil.  But see…we’re broke.  Like, not scary broke!  We’re fine!  I think.  But I want (NEED) lots of things (especially plants) for our house and yard, so I really have to be strategic.  NextDoor and my neighborhood Buy Nothing group have actually both been hooking me up lately!  So the other day a neighbor posted that she wanted to get rid of her strawberry pots, and I immediately was like OH MY GOD ME PLEEEEAAAASE ME because my kids are genuine freaks about strawberries, and also I have done pretty well with them in the past, and also strawberry pots are cute.  Then the very next day, a neighbor wanted to get rid of strawberries.  Perfect!  The only issue is that I was picking up the plants yesterday, and the pot today.  But, like…it’s free!  And I’m half-assed!

I genuinely don’t remember exactly what the plants looked like when the lovely woman gave them to me, but they were definitely in rough shape when I planted them, after a night in my trunk.  Veeeeery wilty, some dead brown leaves, and the roots seemed very crispy and dry.  But I dunno!  Strawberries are, in my experience, pretty badass, so I planted them and watered them in, and we’ll see what happens. Thanks, people of the world, for giving me free things.  I will try not to destroy them.

I’m also, in case you wondered, the sloooooooow-assed gardener.  This is definitely the main reason I am not in commercial horticulture anymore.  I really hated having to make a quota of how many grafts an hour.  I never, ever hit my goal.  Like I made it twice in all the time I was doing it.  Today, I veeeeeery sloooooowly weeded what I am calling the garbage can area.  It has a nice ring, right? It’s got these two little shrubs that are doing so badly, and those two little shrubs are surrounded by Malva neglecta.  Weeding Malva is so demoralizing, because it’s actually really pretty even when it’s just leaves, and then the flowers are sweet too, and also, it’s got one of those stupid fragile taproots that just breaks the second you pull on it, and you know there is no way you are getting it all, and it’s going to come back immediately.  Much like that bastard field bindweed that I am constantly battling.

One thing that’s been really nice lately is that my big kid has been actually helping in the garden.  Like, not pulling one weed and then wandering away (although that also totally happens), but really sitting down and working, and listening and learning!  But it was as we were pulling that Malva that I discovered my new favorite super-identity – The Lopsided Gardener.  See, my brain understands science.  Pretty well at least.  I think because I can get away with understanding big concepts, and connections, and I don’t know, my brain just likes it.  I am not so good with disciplines like history.  So we were weeding and I was explaining taxonomy to her.  She really, really did not get much science in elementary school, which is tragic, so the idea of Genus species was pretty new.  So, my poor, poor daughter says to me, “Who speaks Latin anyway?”, and I say, “Oh, nobody anymore, it’s what they call a dead language.”  And she says, “Oh, well who did speak it?” and I sat there in increasingly uncomfortable silence, until she says, “The Romans, right?” AND I SWEAR TO GOD I SAID, “No, silly, Rome is in Italy, the Romans spoke Italian.”  And my genius child persisted, “But then why did the Romans use all the Latin stuff in Percy Jackson?” and I was beginning to be horrified and thinking, “Wait, was it the Romans?  Uhhhh, it was someone…ancient, so like…the Greeks, but they would have obviously spoken Greek….” Until my husband, who is very, very smart and much better educated came out, and luckily he is also very sympathetic so I was able to laugh as if I was not dying inside and say, “Hey, I know this is dumb, but who spoke Latin?” and the poor guy said, “The Romans!  Who do you think spoke Latin?!?!?”  This all has very little to do with my gardening, but I thought it was funny.  Also, literally the very next day I told the same kid that Napoleon was Italian.  I think I had Napoleon mixed up with the word Neopolitan.  I wish I was kidding.  You do not want me on your pub quiz team until it’s Life Sciences Night.

6A3A979B-1947-4AC4-BAAF-52BBCD104606

I started this post three days ago and I kept thinking of other “The __________ Gardener” things but I can’t think of any of them now and it’s very sad. I am just now finishing because I’ve been dealing with this “bunny condo” debacle that I won’t even go into, and I only have one picture of the Malva and one of the strawberry pot, so I’m adding a picture of the bunny because she’s cute.  Perhaps more people might follow me on Instagram if my pictures were not all of weeds and dying plants?  Just a thought.

8EF5D8F4-120C-4C06-AF7D-CD95CC560660

Hell is other people’s weeds

2B03FC60-4228-4CC4-A812-3B6FDC6E3A03
My view from within the crabgravel

Y’all, how is it that when you google that with quotes it returns NOTHING.  I can’t believe there is not a wacky t-shirt with that saying on it already.  If I was in any way an entrepreneur I would make one, but…I’m not.

But it’s the truth.  Other people’s weeds are my hell right now.  Namely, the previous tenants of this house and my neighbors.  I am, let’s face it, not staying on top of them, even though I’m trying so hard.  Which, of course, means that my own crabgrass going to seed is someone else’s hell.  I’m sorry, person!

Let’s discuss what I’m battling, and my strategies.  Well, I have this perennial bed in the front yard, which I dislike immensely anyway, and am going to try to adjust so it flows a lot better.  But, as mentioned previously, this thing truly seemed almost more like a lawn than a flower bed.  The crabgrass was SO THICK.  I hand-weeded all of it, because it is my understanding that crabgrass can regenerate from root pieces.  This is my first experience from crabgrass, so I’m taking someone’s word at it.  I did manage to get most of it before it went to seed…but…right on the other side of the chainlink fence is my neighbor’s crabgrass, so, I don’t know.  That bed also has a ton of Euphorbia maculata, spotted spurge.  That stuff is everywhere in this yard.  It’s probably my lowest priority weed though, because it is actually so easy to pull usually, and I haven’t seen it rooting along the stems so far.  I am making sure to get it before it goes to seed though, because I know that is bad news bears.   I had intended to put Preen corn gluten meal down in this bed to try to prevent new crabgrass, but then I noticed some lupine and some columbine are naturalizing in it, and I really want that to continue, so I guess I’ll keep up the hand-weeding for now.

Oh, more crabgrass, by the way.  There is this super awkward rectangle, maybe 2′ x 5′, that runs between my entryway bed and the fence, and is covered in gravel.  It’s a bit hidden, and I did not notice that it had gone batshit crazy, because, when my kid is mowing, she can’t mow back there because of the gravel.  And I just spaced it.  So, this is definitely where my weeds are someone’s hell.  That grass was like a foot high and all seeds.  Luckily, it was super easy to hand pull, because it’s basically gravel over landscape fabric, and most of the roots hadn’t gone through the fabric.

While I was working in that area, I was thinking about how much I actually enjoy weeding.  There is obviously a satisfaction in looking at a cleared area, but beyond that, I really enjoy the physical sensations of both gently pulling a shallow-rooted weed to make sure nothing gets left behind and trying to get the most solid grasp on a taproot to take as much out as I can.  I honestly think there’s almost an ASMR quality to it, as you pull up something and hear the roots quietly separating from the soil.  Yesterday I knew I was going to be weeding for a long time, so I turned on some music, and after maybe five minutes I actually turned it off and weeded in silence.  It just felt better.

So anyway, this crabgrass gravel, OR CRABGRAVEL IF YOU WILL (and I will, because I love portmanteaus) was super satisfying to weed but while I was there I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach.  One, coming through the fence, was Ranunculus repens, or creeping buttercup.  EFF THAT STUFF.  It was one of my all-time worst weeds about ten years back and I am absolutely terrified that it’s coming into my yard.  I mean, I guess I will just try real hard to keep it from rooting in my space, but it just feels really hopeless.  I’ll do more research, but all the literature I read today basically said, “Dang, that sucks.”  Also, if I am correct, I believe my neighbor has an Ailanthus altissima (tree-of-heaven) growing in his yard.  My guess, based on the glimpses I get of his property, is that he’s not going to cut that thing down.  Sooooo….that’s gonna suck.  Again, feels pretty hopeless.

E085B3B8-6ED2-485B-A772-B53893DC7CB2
I hate you, creeping buttercup, even though you have a cutesy name.
801F7340-D853-4497-9173-E93D5EC5C015
Stealth picture of possible enemy tree.

In the walkway between the front and the back, I’ve got two very sad looking shrubs.  They look a bit better than when I moved in, but they are still not very happy.  I thought they were a Daphne, but iNaturalist is telling me something else, so I’m just not sure.  But the gravel area around them is COVERED with Malva neglecta (so many cute common names, I especially like cheeseweed.) I have no idea how I’m going to deal with that.  I guess it’s also low on the priority list, because it’s so slow growing and won’t go bananas if it goes to seed, but still, I know they’ve got burly taproots developing under there, taking away all the good stuff those sad little shrubs need.

130F2862-7CCF-4247-9CDF-4B8D695971E3
Imagine this but times a hundred.

More effing gravel in the backyard.  Ugh.  All around the patio is pea gravel, where the spurge is constantly sprouting, but the worst is the tons of Convolvulus arvensis, field bindweed.  It’s partly in the gravel and partly in the adjacent bed.  I’m trying so hard to deal with it, but this is another one where all the literature basically says to set it on fire and run as far away from your house as you can.  I’m at least trying to keep it small, so it doesn’t go to seed or choke out the nearby plants, and I’m hoping maybe if I keep cutting the top down the roots will starve, but I’m pretty sure that’s wishful thinking.  The stats on this and the Ranunculus are so disturbing, about how far they can spread in a single season and how resilient their roots and seeds are.  I just feel totally screwed.

On the upside, I think the neighbors might have heard me complain about the blackberry that was creeping over the fence, because they got rid of it!  Me 1, plants 1 billion!

Lastly, sort of, I’m trying to figure out what to do with what I’m calling the “firepit area”.  I call it this because I want to put a firepit there.  And I think the previous tenants might have had a firepit there!  But, I don’t have a firepit.  So right now what I’ve got is a sort of baseball diamond shaped dirt patch, where I think they cleared away the soil.  Ideally, I guess I’d like to put flagstone down?  But like, I don’t even own this place, and also I am broke, and also, that is way beyond my sphere of understanding.  Whenever we’d get into hardscaping when I was in school I would just completely zone out.  So I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but for now it’s just a very happy landing place for weed seeds.  And, I have to be honest, today I used a product called Pulverize on them.  I give a LOT of thought before I use anything on weeds, and I give a LOT of thought as to what I will use.  Without going into detail about how I chose Pulverize (that can be another post), I’ll just say the following:  this is the first time I’ve purchased it and the second time I’ve used it, and I’m not super thrilled.  It, like most “organic” herbicides, does not translocate to the roots, it just kills the top part of the plant.  So that’s discouraging.  Also, it is getting really foamy and doesn’t spray very well.  But I’m just looking at it as buying me some time until I figure out what my permanent strategy is.

52CF8816-5173-434A-84A6-2F94DA5F6C1F
Wouldn’t this be dreamy with a nice patio type thing and a firepit? And some smelly nice vine planted behind?

So.  There’s my essay on all the weeds in my 5000 sq ft lot.  Today was overcast, which was actually lovely for dealing with weeds, although I guess it will probably decrease the efficiency of the Pulverize.  And, I only use any kind of chemical, no matter how theoretically safe, when my littlest one is at school and won’t be home for a few hours, so today was good for that reason as well.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  What horrible pernicious weed will I discover next?!