Category Archives: garden

gardening on a budget: 5 steps for propagating hostas

My interest in hostas began with an inspiring podcast from Margaret Roach and a chance encounter with a sum and substance with a fragrant bloom at my local nursery, which I wrote about here and here and here.  (I’m surprised it’s been four years since I’ve planted it!). Over those four years, it’s weathered drought while I was traveling during the heat of the summer and an early season hailstorm that pulverized the tender leaves. I’d like to dig it up this fall and propagate it into a movable container. I won’t live here forever, and I want to be able to take that puppy with my when I go.

But, so, on to the newest hosta developments in my life. Last summer I bought three unremarkable hostas and used them to fill in flowerbed space. You can see one of the hostas pictured in last year’s flowerbed:

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hosta, bottom left

The one pictured above is a medium-sized hosta with lightweight, light green leaves–similar to sum and substance in color and texture, but much smaller. Another is medium in size and variegated, green with yellowish green border (american halo). I wanted to move it because you can’t see it where I planted it in the flowerbed (pictured/not pictured above). Both of these were pulverized by slugs and/or grasshoppers over the summer, but everything survived/is surviving.

The other is a small variety with leathery leaves (labeled elegans, but I think it’s actually a halcyon because it’s much smaller), pictured here:

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hosta elegans (or halcyon)

Since I’ve got lots of flowerbed space to fill, and I don’t want to spend money on a lot of new plants, I decided to try to propagate all three of these hostas for the first time. Here are some factors: I’ve never propagated hostas before, they’ve only been in the ground for one season, and two of the varieties were severely damaged by bugs.

If you’re propagating hostas for the first time, you can learn from me!

1. Propagate the hosta in the fall before it starts to fade, but well before the first frost of the season. This will allow it to readjust before winter hits. I’m in zone three, and the winters here are bitter. So, I completed the process in early August. (Incidentally, this is also before my work schedule gets to crazy and gardening falls by the wayside.)

2. Dig a deep, wide hole around the hosta, but nothing too crazy. In reading up on how to propagate hostas, I was astounded to read about the root mass these plants have. Two times the width and depth of the plant! Look, in reality, I didn’t find these particularly challenging to dig up. I didn’t put the spade in all that far away from the plant, and yes, I’m sure I accidentally broke off plenty of root system, but there was still plenty to work with in dividing the plants. For your reference, here’s a picture of the root system of the first hosta I dug up:

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hosta root system

3. Divide the plants. I started off by finding logical divisions in the plant and gently, slowly, steadily, and sometimes really firmly pulling (sometimes tearing) them apart. In doing so, I accidentally broke off a few chunks with very little root system. Though I don’t have much hope for their survival, I planted them anyway. I read that I might need an ax, a saw, a knife, anything sharp and sturdy, but these plants are relatively small, and I found it easiest to gently work the dirt away from the root system and then separate the plants with my hands from the bottom of the root (opposed to holding on to the plant and putting). Even though you can easily see the separate stems from the top, surprisingly, I found it easier to divide the plant by holding on to the root system and tearing upwards toward the plant in areas where it naturally seemed to spit. This allowed for much less leaf breakage and a more natural division of the plant.

4. Plant the hostas. Dig new holes to accommodate the newly divided hostas. I tossed in a little fertilizer and spaced everything at least a foot apart. That’s a little on the close side for some of these varieties, but I want it to look relatively full next year (which, I know, is a lofty and possibly unrealistic goal to have the first season after plants are divided). Sprinkle with more fertilizer and water into place.

5. Finally, prune. Cut off any of the leaves that were damaged or broken in the process. I bent several leaves in the propagation process, and so I just cut those off. I also cut away some of the leaves that had been most damaged by insects. I left a few leaves to help the plant absorb sunlight for the next few weeks as it adjusts to the new division. In about a month (hopefully a few weeks before the first of the bad frosts), I’ll cut back all leaves entirely.

As you can see here, I’ve turned three little hosta plants into a new little hosta garden. I transplanted all three into a new area. They are looking pretty ragged right now, but should start to be more presentable when they come up again next spring. Summer 2019 should be amazing…that is unless the bugs continue their raid and I continue to dig them up to divide and expand my hosta garden!

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newly propagated hosta garden

 

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raspberries! (canbys)

My parents put in a raspberry patch years ago, and it has been a source of low-maintenance deliciousness for years now. Worst case scenario, the patch is neglected all year, watered for a week or so before the berries are ready, and then we get all of the beautiful, delicious, plump raspberries we could ever want. Not only are the berries delicious, it’s a thornless (or mostly thornless) variety. That means me and my nephew can pick to our heart’s content without getting poked by itchy little thorns.

The inland northwest is a great place to grow berries, especially raspberries that seem to thrive in cooler temperatures. Since I love berries (I’ve been known to drive and hike and walk and bike to get to berries in the wild), I’ve wanted to plant berries of my own for several years, especially now that I’ve got the perfect place for them in Idaho.

Last summer, I decided I wanted to get starts from my parents’ plants–species that have proven themselves over the years. This spring, as the weather improved, and I was wanting to be out in it more and more, I also really started to want my own raspberry patch. Though I was planning on propagating plants from my parents’ patch, a sunny weekend got the best of me, and I started looking for starts to buy here locally. Nurseries in Utah and Idaho had root stock, but everything had thorns. I even called a private ad and was hung up on when I said I wanted a thornless variety of raspberries.

Here’s how the story ends: I found these Canbys at the local grocery store. I went home and did a quick google search and found that Canbys are thornless (or mostly thornless). It rung some subtle bell–like maybe this was the same variety my parents planted years ago. So, I went back to the store and paid way too much for these sweet little gems. I put them in the ground and then spent a lot of time just staring at them.

I still plan on filling out the patch with starts from the old raspberry patch back in Oregon. In the meantime, I’m love watching these little ones grow.

Behold:

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just look at this beauty, would you?

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ok, back up and you can see that they’re actually pretty small

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the tag, fyi

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40 by Jillian VanNostrand and Christie V. Sarles

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image from amazon.com

I’m not sure how I came across Wild Woman’s Garden: 7 Radical Weeds for Women Over 40, but I knew I was interested in reading more about these seven herbs that support women’s health. (I think I somehow missed the “Over 40” part in the title.) This text works best as a very short reference guide on how to start using herbs—as teas, tinctures, and oil infusions. (I also liked the drawings!)

I’m familiar with all of these herbs. Black cohosh is powerful and used in birthing communities. Chaste berry is used for fertility. This short book focuses specifically on the gynecological issues that many women face as they go through the “Change” [their word], such as fibroids and hot flashes.

After reading the book, I found myself searching for images of these different herbs. Were they cold hardy? (Yes to black cohosh, st. john’s wort, and yarrow.) Would they attract bees? (Yes.) Would they be attractive in a garden? (Yes, many of these herbs appear to be very floral.) Were they too weedy? I didn’t find all of the answers, but I did find myself emboldened to try some of these in the garden. I’ve been enjoying more familiar herbs like sage and yarrow in gardens for years. Maybe it’s time to try something different, like st. john’s wort and black cohosh.

Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs

Before reading Lessons from the Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs, I also checked out The Wild Garden by William Robinson and Rick Darke and My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner. The latter two weren’t really my speed. The Wild Garden had some beautiful photographs, but I didn’t find the text to be very reader-friendly. My Summer in a Garden has a great title. I wanted to get lost in that book, but the tone and approach didn’t speak to me. When it comes to gardening, I want something that is real, and true, and earnest, and beautiful–like a garden. While some of these titles do offer that, it’s always along with the same kind of self-deprecating humor that doesn’t really speak to me.

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image from amazon.com

I enjoyed reading Lessons from the Great Gardeners. This book also had some lovely pictures. I liked the way it was organized. Each section named a gardener, provided their biography, a description of the garden, some lessons, and pictures, which included both beautiful photographs of the original gardens and beautiful botanical illustrations. Of course, there are only so many ways to say, “Experiment with color!” And, “Don’t be afraid to take risks!” And, “Think outside the box!” Still, this was a book I could get lost in. And did.

Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols

Before reading Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols, I quickly scanned Old Herbaceous and The Gardener’s Year, two old books on gardening that aren’t really about gardening, but more like old-timey, self-deprecating insights on the human condition.

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image from amazon.com

I, however, am in the mood to read gardening books, and so I settled on Nichols’ book because, while there was a lot of inappropriate humor (jokes at the expense of everyone besides wealthy white males), it was also about gardening. Nichols is clearly obsessed with every detail of the garden. I enjoyed reading about the painstaking work that went into his seeds and sprouts. I liked reading about the close relationship he had with his parents and their shared interest in gardening. The competitive relationship he has with the neighbor, Mrs. M, is enviable.

Here are some of the lines I liked:
-“I believe in doing things too soon. In striking before the iron is hot, in leaping before one has looked, in loving before one has been introduced” (9).

-“There are certain very definite rules to be observed when you are Making The Tour. The chief rule is that you must never take anything out of order” (39).

-“And yet, not quite silence. For if you hold your breath, and listen, you can hear the plants growing…” (211).

-“It took a few million years to make a snowdrop. Surely one is justified in spending a few hours in studying the results?” (265).

and the words I liked:
-effluvium (157).

-Elysian fields (173)

recommended flowers:
-aubretias (128).

-“[S]imple, hardy flowers…forget-me-nots, schizanthus, nemesia, and sweet peas” (212).

-“I would suggest the little purple vetch, the ragged robin, the scarlet pimpernel, and the speedwell” (222).

We Made a Garden by Margery Fish

I think I first stumbled upon We Made a Garden by Margery Fish when it was mentioned in a podcast. When I did, it opened up an entire catalog of charming old gardening books. This book was first published in the 1950s, and as a reader, I had to take that into consideration when reading Fish’s self-deprecating humor and sexist attitudes between her and her husband. (I think she even refers to her husband as “Lord and Master” at one point.) Still, the love between them is obvious, and their mutual joy of gardening is contagious.

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image from powells.com

Fish begins as an amateur gardener, but quickly grows to love it. I was charmed by her endearing attitude toward her plants, calling them her “babies” and her “children” and referring to certain groupings and cuttings as “cousins,” “nieces,” and “nephews.” I strongly identified with this sentiment. I love my houseplants. I love many animals too, but I find myself reacting to my plants in the same silly, joyful way that people react to their pets in YouTube videos.

We Made a Garden is the perfect book to read in the dead of winter (huge white snowflakes are falling outside as I write this). Fish shares her favorite plants, in a thorough glossary that had me googling late into the night. My outdoor gardening space is limited, and I will probably always been constrained by living in cold zones, but I found myself daydreaming about the possibilities.

Fish works relentlessly at her garden and shares funny and fussy opinions about the proper way of doing things. Last night, on a freezing cold winter’s night, I found my neighbor outside tinkering in her garden, picking up scraps to go out in the yard waste bin the next day. You either get it or you don’t.

Fish’s garden is a kind of wild, informal cottage garden. Clearly years of thought, labor, and love went into it’s making. Today, decades later, visitors can still see the garden. While I don’t know that I’ll ever make the trip, reading the book has inspired me to visit more public gardens and pay even closer attention to the different plants. I’ll also be reading as many of these old gardening books as I can find.

Lines I loved:
“The plants will show their gratitude by giving even better blooms than they did before” (66).
“They come up year after year and I am quite glad to see them” (93).
“[I]t didn’t work out as he had hoped, so gladioli were banished from our garden” (98).
“I often wonder why some zealous gardening relation did not slay me with fork and spade in my unenlightened years” (104).
On Asiatic primulas: “It seem a pity to waste a position so admirably suited to their taste, so I dug out the heavy clay and filled the channel with a good mixture of leaf mould, sand and compost and here the Bartleys, the Postfords, the Millars and their foreign relations enjoy life, with their feet in deep damp earth and their heads in the sun” (118).
“Everyone should have an herb garden–a little oasis of old world plants and delicate fragrance, with clipped hedges of box or lavender, rosemary of santolina” (136).
“Everyone has their own ideas of what they want to grow in a garden” (144).

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

As usual, I’ve had a hard time finding the right thing to read lately. I want something that’s light and easy–a break from difficult scholarship. But, I also want it to be substantive. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day was the perfect solution during the holiday break. First of all, I had to read it with a title like that. (When I saw her face on the cover, I also knew I had to read it.) Secondly, I am always fascinated with and inspired by women who are doing things a little differently than the status quo, and Dorothy Day certainly has. The book is about her experience with community and the sacrifices she’s made in pursuit of her beliefs about the best way to live.

image from amazon.com

The first two-thirds of the book was of the most interest to me personally. In the first third of the book, she writes extensively about her childhood, about her friendships, her family life, and the reader can see the subtle ways these experiences influenced the choices she made later. Her descriptions of various little girls she befriended seemed tedious at times, but I think it helped make her larger point–that these connections and interactions we have with people are the stuff of life and far from inconsequential.

Next, she wrote about being a young women, her unconventional “marriage,” the birth and joy of her daughter, and the decisions she made to convert to Catholicism. In this section, I was deeply interested in her relationship with her partner and her response to her baby. I identified much with those very human experiences, even though I haven’t had them myself exactly.

The last third dragged on and I had to force myself to finish. I didn’t identify quite as strongly with her decision to convert to Catholicism. Like much of her thinking and decision making, as a reader, I sometimes had a hard time understanding her motivations. She’s very matter of fact about everything, and I found myself responding, “Yes, but…” That said, I love her unapologetic descriptions of joy and love earlier on, and I don’t need her to explain “why.” Still, the social activism, the writing, and the experiences with various people are a part of her story, but I was less interested, in part, because it was less about her and more about them.

Here are some insights I gained from reading the book. Day is unfaltering convinced that we must live together. After living alone for the bulk of my adult life, I am feeling ready to not live alone. I have felt loneliness and fear–something that was quite rare for me throughout my twenties. That’s fine. I was pursuing other things. Now I’m in a new stage, and I want to live in meaningful relationships. I have a much stronger urge to connect to other people and invest in them. In this way, Day’s message really resonated with me at this time.

Here are a few lines and ideas worth further consideration:

  • One hundred years ago, there were free medical clinics. If you were not poor, there was also affordable medical clinics that were a little nicer.–I can’t imagine how freeing it would be to go through life knowing that, should a major medical event occur, you could go on living without being forever indebted to a financial institution. We are living in fear or modern slavery.
  • Much of Day’s life’s work is in writing and writing for The Catholic Worker, and she understood what I am only being forced to understand now, which is just how crucial freedom of the press is and how important it is to communicate with the masses in this way.
  • “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore” (285).
  • “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that that only solution is love and that love comes with community” (286).

By the end, I sort of just wanted to rise with the sun, and garden and bake bread, and pray and read and meditate, and wake the next morning to do it all over again.

last summer

At the end of each year, I update the last of the pictures from my phone that I want to add to the yearly album I keep on Facebook–this year labeled “2016.” Each year, I scroll back through the photos and reminisce about the previous year. This time I came across a few photos of the gardening I did last summer, and I thought I would share here–an update to the “gardening” post I did at the beginning of the summer.

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flowerbed near the end of the season

Plants that struggled:
The zucchini. This poor little thing was transplanted at least twice, and it just never succeeded. I also think I crowded it, which didn’t help–that, plus the cool summer and the somewhat shady location meant this little plant tried to bloom, and made a few tiny zucchinis, but nothing much.

The hostas. I’ve had lots of good luck with my “sum and substance” plant, which I’ve written about here, here, and here. When a hailstorm destroyed my big hosta for the season, I was missing those big, beautiful leaves. So, I bought and planted more. Many more. But, they never seemed to flourish. I’m hoping they’ll pop up in the spring for a fresh start.

The honeysuckle. This plant might’ve been crowded, and I’m hoping it will flourish in the coming year, but it promptly lost it’s petals and was nothing more than a few fronds of leaves for the entire summer.

The coleus. I want to like coleus because all of the garden gurus seems to love it, and it’s a splash of color, and yadda yadda yadda, but they don’t really speak to me, and anyway this year’s coleus got leggy, couldn’t stand even the mildest cold, and then died.

Plants that thrived:
The sunsatia lemon nemesia hybrid. I didn’t really want to like this plant because it’s a hybrid, and I tend to like traditional plants that have stood the test of time, but I have to admit that this plant was perfect for last summer’s conditions. It bloomed all summer and offered a bright burst of color to the flowerbed.

The strawberry plants. These hardy little plants had bright green leaves, sent out feelers, and made lovely berries (that the birds and grasshoppers usually got to before I could), despite a rough transplant. The little berries were tasty, and I’m hoping they return next year, even bigger and better than before.

The yarrow. There was already some yarrow in this flowerbed when I began, and so I planted more, and sure enough, this hardy herb did just fine. They also inspired some nice photos!

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pink yarrow

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yellow yarrow

Plants that are doing okay:
The dianthus. This is a hardy plant, and I think it will thrive next year, but this year it was completely average looking.

The pansies. These are cold hardy, and they’re going to thrive here, but they weren’t very inspiring this year. I’m sure I’ll be grateful for them in the spring when they’re the first thing to pop up.

The black-eyed susan. This is another plant that should thrive here. They didn’t do much last year. They plant wasn’t very full. They bloomed. Maybe next year they will do more.

Plants from container gardening:
Thanks to watering help from my Very Generous Neighbors, I also enjoyed several months of delicious zucchinis and tomatoes as seen below:


Right now, it’s the middle of winter. The temperature is -8, and there’s a windchill that’s making it even worse. Meanwhile I am dreaming about sun-warmed soil, and fresh chard, and garden vegetables, and raspberry bushes too, of course.

2016: the year in review

My 2016 “best nine” according to IG.

2016 was a whirlwind year. I loved. I worried. My heart shattered. I got sick. I figured some things out. I remembered “authentic self” stuff that has helped me re-engage with my values and interests. And so I got better at being me. I worried some more. I got better. I loved.

Now, as with most December 31sts, I feel quieter, more restful, more peaceful than celebratory, or loud, or exciting. These are long, cold days. As a species I think we’re supposed to be lying low, eating root vegetables, and conserving energy to get through winter. Still, in a little while, I’ll probably pull on my giant fuzzy snow boots and be with the smiling, happy people.

In 2015 I traveled. I felt blocked creatively, and so to occupy myself, I tried to say yes to all of the people I loved, and even liked, and ended up making a few long road trips and even made a solo detour on a trip to visit my best friend and ended up seeing more of the Oregon coast than I’d ever seen before and felt small next to the tsunami warnings and did wheel pose in the warm sand with my mom, whom I love so much.

I felt like my urgent travel mode was coming to an end in 2016, but I still ended up traveling a lot. I flew to Louisiana. In February, I road tripped back to Utah through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado (in the snow!). Then I flew to Houston for a conference that ended up being a good bonding experience with my colleagues, even though I was also really emotionally raw during that trip. I made a quick trip home for my nephew’s birthday (a date I rarely get to make because of my work schedule). Later in the month, I attended another conference in Atlanta. The conference was great, but the trip felt a little solitary. When school finished up, I took off to the high mountains of Idaho, and then made my annual trip to Oregon, came back to Idaho, and then I did another quick trip to Utah.

Before school started, I road tripped to Phoenix by way of the Grand Canyon (a first for me!), Flagstaff and Sedona. In Phoenix I ate some of the best pizza of my life, drove on to the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson, where I had last been 15 years earlier on my way to a school trip to Mexico. That trip, and the saguaros, left an indelible mark on my psyche, and my return to them did not disappoint. After having my face melted off by a lovely little jazz quartet, I went on to Las Vegas, where I ate at the Peppermill because it’s iconic, and I had recently seen Jerry Seinfeld interview George Wallace there for his show.

After school started, I did a quick long weekend in Seattle to visit the loveliest of people, where I felt the humid, highly oxygenated air wash over me, and after that I went back to Las Vegas for a nice little conference that also felt quite solitary, and after that I went to San Diego for another conference, but this time I also got to walk along the warm California beach and see some of the city and just detoured (quite) a bit in general.

So, there was a lot of travel, and I was grateful for the good company I was able to keep, and I felt highly motivated at times, editing, grading, book reviewing, and proposing all manor of scholarly work. I also rested. I ate tomatoes and zucchini that I grew myself. I knitted, and I read, and I put seeds out for the birds. There’s more of course, but for now, this is probably all I need to say about 2016.