Monday, June 29, 2020

Editing... my garden

HALLIE EPHRON: As a writer, I'm very much a magpie. I jot down bits and pieces of overheard dialogue, clip articles that intrigue me, weed through the essays and stories I wrote when I was learning to write and even from before I knew I wanted to... all with the hopes of putting together something original and fresh. I wasn’t as good at writing back then, but details that make a scene come alive were much fresher in my mind.

In CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR I re-used most of an essay I wrote ages ago about my husband’s yard sale-ing. NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT has chunks of one of my earliest attempts to write about growing up in Beverly Hills. Bits of writing about my parents’ dysfunctional relationship with alcohol and one another stud my manuscripts.

So my "writing" is as much a process of borrowing and editing rather starting with a blank slate. My friends know that, when they tell me about something that happened to them, they have to say so if they don’t want me to put it into a book.


These days I feel as if my approach to writing has taken root in my garden.


My garden has never had a plan.
It’s a quiet green oasis, a hodgepodge that has evolved over decades.

Sheltering us from our neighbors and muffling nearby sounds of traffic are mature bushes and beds stuffed with ground cover and perennials, survivors of my haphazard watering and never fertilizing. A gigantic maple tree shades the lot. Every day I go out, even for just a short time, and weed the unwanteds and rescue ‘volunteers’ seedlings that have taken root where they don’t belong.

Some of my plants were here when we moved in 40 years ago. Though I've lost all the old-fashioned chrysanthemums and lily-leaf beatles did in all the lovely Asiatic lilies, day lilies and hot pink phlox and leggy white rose campion thrive.


Hostas were here, too, a few growing on the side of the house. I’ve moved, separated, and moved and separated them, over and over so that now there are hosta borders all through the garden. They’re about to bloom.

Then there’s the special hosta, a blue-green variety with magnificent leaves that look like quilted satin. It started as a small plant, given to us by our friend Marjorie Hovorka who died not too long ago. Whenever I water those hostas I think of her.


Our yellow loosestrife and patch of Siberian irises came from other friends. Coneflowers came from Jane next door.

On the back steps is a pot of chives – thanks to Edith Maxwell.
The creeping Jenny growing at the base of the  steps leaped the pot it came in and seeded itself among my patio stones. The plant was
given to me by a friend who, soon after, committed suicide. It's flowering now.
As you might guess, our garden, with its dense ground cover and shoulder-to-shoulder bushes, is home to wildlife. We have at least 3 families of birds nesting right now… robins (here’s a scruffy young one), song sparrows, and cardinals.

And squirrels. At least four of them. They're like a circus act.


A month ago, I witnessed a pair of  squirrels barreling toward one other along the top of a wood fence. Never slowing, one of them leaped up and the other flew past beneath him. I wanted to stand up and applaud. I keep wondering, how did they know which one would jump and which would just keep going?



And a very cute tiny rabbit I’d like to murder has decimated my coneflowers. If only he’s stick to eating lily of the valley and clover in my weedy lawn.


Where's a hawk when you need it? 



So how do you grow your garden? Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you edit and weed or start from scratch?

78 comments:

  1. Your pictures are lovely, Hallie . . . .
    Some of our garden is well-planned: the field of daffodils, the rose garden. The rest is spur-of-the-moment stuff we like and decide to plant [and my lilac bushes that cause me no end of grief] . . . .

    We have a well-planned herb garden growing on our front porch: parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro, basil, chives, and onion chives. This year we had a huge crop of chive blossoms, too . . . .

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    1. We've struggled with lilacs. The yard was full of them when we moved in, including a gorgeous deep purple South African variety. All but two bushes bit the dust, but thanks to the ministrations of a tree surgeon who knows what he's doing, they seem to be bouncing back. As with so many other things right now, we'll have to wait for next spring to see what's what.

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    2. Sounds lovely Joan, do you eat those chive blossoms?

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    3. Yes, Lucy . . . you just crumble the flowers. They're a light purple color, so they can add a "pop" of color to a dish. They have a very mild onion taste.
      You can sprinkle them over scrambled eggs or stir them into your biscuit batter. I have a great potato salad recipe with chive blossoms as an ingredient.

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    4. I am using a new recipe to make chive blossom vinegar. It has been 2 weeks in the cupboard, and the vinegar is turning a lovely pink. Can't wait to try it.

      I like using the chive blossoms in a salad, but those suggestions for scrambled eggs or potato salad sounds yummy, too.

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  2. With a limited space, my balcony garden has to be somewhat planned. All edibles or herbs, no flowers. But I have more than doubled my usual amount of plants this year since Ottawa's FM were closed until mid-May and my local FM is still just starting to open part-time.

    The perennials are all here: chives, 2 bay leaf plants, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint. There are 6 varieties of basil (my favourite herb) and a lemon verbena. I have several salad greens, including different lettuces, arugula and Swiss chard. I am trying to grow some container veggies such as radishes, and beets. I also have a huge lavender plant for the first time and am just harvested/drying my first two bunches. And i am growing 2 or 3 different kinds of microgreens indoors with a growlight: broccoli, radish and spicy mixed greens.

    Now if I could only keep the squirrels away. I have lost several plants so far. At least the rabbits and groundhogs can't climb up the stairs to the second floor of the building!

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    1. HANK: I forgot to mention that your scallions discard idea is working brilliantly! I was a bit skeptical but only keep the ends in water for a short while and then plant them. The scallions are thriving in the planter with my chives. I would normally buy a bunch at the grocery and throw out half unused but not so far this year.

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    2. I'm imagining the wonderful smell! And that sounds like a pretty spacious balcony. (6 varieties of BASIL! I am so impressed.)

      Grace, what do you do with lemon verbena?

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    3. You are a master balcony gardener Grace! I've never seen a bay leaf plant. Where did you find it and how large does it get?

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    4. Hallie, yes my balcony is on the largish size...about 15 feet across. So I have 5 balcony rail planters and about a dozen 10" pots in total.

      I use the lemon verbena leaves in both savoury and baked sweet dishes, as well as steeping them in hot water for a lemonish drink.

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    5. Lucy, I have 2 bay leaf plants. The larger one is about 18 inches tall, almost like a mini-tree and I have had it for 6 years. The smaller one is about 6 inches tall, and I have had it for 2 years.

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    6. Lucy: Sorry, I forgot to answer your other question. I bought both bay leaf plants at my local FM in the spring season (tiny 4" pots).

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    7. Grace, i had no idea your container garden was so big, even though I've seen photos.

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    8. Karen, the large balcony size is great but I only have partial sun (3 hours+) in the late afternoon so I am limited to what I can grow. I have been on the waitlist for a community garden plot for 6 years, with no luck so far getting a spot.

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    9. Grace, you are such a rockstar! And so pleased that the scallions worked. Brilliant.

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    10. HANK: You are doing well with your tomatoes and herbs, too. Bravo!!

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    11. So kind, Hank and Lucy, but like every gardener, I did have some FAILS this year.

      I tried to grow two kinds of spinach twice (from seed) with no luck. Why is it harder to grow spinach than my other leafy greens? And some of the radishes are mostly greens with tiny roots but I am trying those again.

      Never stop learning or trying...

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  3. Lovely photos, Hallie.

    My garden in Florida was planted when we arrived. After Hurricane Irma destroyed most of it, we had it replanted by a professional with Florida plants that thrive in our crazy hot/dry/wet (pick the day) climate.

    Our Maine garden was a work in progress when we left. We have wild day lilies that show up wherever, same with the cone flowers, fire weed, and lupines. Our hosta was in place when we bought - now I know I can propagate it - thank you. It's too late to do much this year but clean up. That will give me a chance to make plans for next year's garden.

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    1. I've tried and tried to grow lupine with no success. They're so lovely when they're blooming.

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    2. I simply pop the pods when the flowers are done and scatter the seeds. I'll send you some after the blooming season. If they survive Maine - they'll be fine in MA!

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  4. I love your garden, Hallie. My flower gardens are like yours, with many of the plants coming to us as gifts from friends or from former houses. I have one of those huge hostas from my late friend, Annie, Asian irises from another, and those big showy pink fragrant-flowered...damn, lost the name...that I moved from Ipswich. In fact my Shasta daisies have survived four moves!

    The veggie garden has to be planned, because it's not big and I make good use of it. But there are two healthy volunteer pumpkin plants I'm letting grow that came from the compost!

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    1. Edith, we've had pumpkins and gourds grow out of our compost also. One year I looked up at the flash of orange in the scraggly cedar near the garden. It was a pumpkin about ten feet up!

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    2. Shasta daisies! I put the in one year and provided a feast for a flock of Japanese beatles. (We lost several geneartions of daffodils to enterprising squirrels.)

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  5. I generally think of garden as a never ending art project, but I like the cutting/pasting/editing analogy, too! And my favorite thing is walking around and thinking of where it all came from: Megan gave me this, or Molly gave me that, or this is from that weird lily farm in the middle of nowhere. A story I tell myself.

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    1. Exactly! It’s like browsing through an old album of cherished photographs

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  6. Years ago, I hauled lupines from Cape Cod to my Cleveland, Ohio garden, assuming Cleveland was an environment close enough to Maine for them to thrive. Alas, I learned Cleveland summer nights were too warm and humid. Now in Cincinnati, we're having a glorious daylily year.

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  7. When we had a vegetable garden, that was planned. How many of what plant, what went where, etc. But after several years of "more work than results" The Hubby took it apart.

    Everything else is...there. We buy petunias for the flower boxes and front planters both because we like them and because they are easy. The front gardens have hostas (they will survive the apocalypse) and boxwoods because...easy. I wish I could get rid of whatever mint-like thing is there (in creeps everywhere and I cannot get the root system out). It's actually overcoming the hostas by the mail box. There is a clump of daffodils out there, a few hyacinths that keep coming up every year, and a lone tulip. The cats ate my cat-mint, but I have two Asiatic lilies.

    The front garden is rather a mess right now. The Hubby pulled out all the mint and Queen Anne's lace from one side, but the other? Horrible. At this point, I think the summer is a bust and we'll hit it next year. With the pandemic, we just never got to the garden center for the things we needed to do in April.

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  8. Rabbits! Grr. I've never had any trouble with them before, in all my years of gardening, but so far they've eaten two colossal ferns a friend gave us from their garden, and one bit a kerria at the ground, one I'd just bought and had not had time to plant.

    Your garden is lovely, Hallie. I had to laugh at your no-fertilizer approach. That's me, too. Once I've amended the soil and plunked stuff in the ground, it's sink or swim in my garden, too. A good friend (you'll see how good) just brought us a truckload of rabbit manure. Might as well be gold!

    All the garden stores this year have low stock, and ran out of so many things. And they're mostly closing this week, except for the big box places like Lowe's. I stopped in to one favorite place the other day and picked up some more perennials, and two huge pots, all 30% off.

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    1. Yes, seeds and seedlings are the new TP and hand sanitizer. I would love to try growing more things but it is almost impossible to find what I want.

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    2. Rabbit manure?!?!? The bunny giveth and the bunny taketh away...

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    3. Ha! I didn't think of it that way.

      Yes, rabbit manure is supposed to be really good, and can be used without much aging, since it doesn't burn plants. I'm anxious to try it.

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  9. Loved seeing your pictures, Hallie and hearing your and everyone's plant stories.

    My property was originally all woods without a level area anywhere. The soil seems to be very poor and rocky as can be. So I have one smallish raised bet where I have planted tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley. I also have a tub planted with basil and lemon thyme. I've tried planting other things around the edges of the "lawn" but so many things don't want to grow here. I do have hostas on one side of the house but then the deer will get into them. They come right back though.

    There is a tiny lilac plant - can't really call it a bush - that I got years ago from the Arbor Day foundation. Every year it has a few nice leaves but it doesn't grow. Maybe something is eating it? Perhaps you people with rabbit problems would like to borrow my cat. Last week I caught her with a half-grown rabbit. I won't tell you what a gruesome sight that was seeing the animal in two pieces!

    Really wish I could get raspberries to grow but I finally gave up after I discovered the berries on the last one I had were nowhere near as nice as the wild ones. But my blueberry bushes are doing well, so far.

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    1. Lilac needs sun to flower... I'm sure you know that. I've killed my share of lilacs despite sun.

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    2. Hmm, that can't be my problem - it gets plenty of sun. Probably critters.

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  10. Our garden is flourishing, too, this year things seem to have come into their own. We have a huge swath of fairy roses across the front of our front yard, and they are in full bloom right now and absolutely glorious. The climbing hydrangea has covered the entire back fence, and the regular hydrangea decided to be pale blue this year. Our gorgeous patch of pointy leaved slivers of yellow iris has just left us, and the dahlias are growing so quickly you can almost watch them get bigger. And I am so incredibly happy about our vegetables! Our tomato plants appear to like where they are, and one of them is taller than I am, with so many tiny cherry tomatoes —still green, but we are getting there! And we have green beans! Still tiny tiny tiny, and we are so protective of them. We have discussed taking four hour shifts to make no little vicious ceatures invade.

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    1. Yay for the veggies...so happy for you, Hank!

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    2. My green beans are showing up, too, Hank!

      And I just bought rabbit fencing (see above tragic story) to make sure we actually get to eat them.

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    3. Hallie, I am the same kind of "throw everything in a pile and pick" writer. Which is probably why, I'm just realizing, my garden is such a mishmash. Hmm.

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    4. Repeat after me: "Mishmash is good."

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  11. This year, I hired an editor for my front shade garden. That is, I hired a professional to give my own design and managing efforts from the past 10+ years some serious help. It's been wonderful. Tim had the muscle and the nerve to dig up a bunch of unwanted lamium, divide several hostas I wasn't brave enough to take a spade to, build two short 'boardwalk' paths into previously unkempt areas so that there is now some clear definition in the space -- and a clean way to walk from the patio to the wood-mulch path along the front...and he created two new beds and planted Bleeding Hearts, Lungwort and Meadowsweet.

    I could (probably) have done all that myself, but hiring it out made sure it actually happened. And I'm not always brave enough to kill the little darlings that really need to go. Know what I mean?

    Yesterday early morning, I spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around the little space, watering and weeding the energetic unwanteds, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Hiring the professional was definitely the right call for this gardener!

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    1. oh my goodness, Amanda that sounds so lovely! I'm happy when it rains and I don't have to water...

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    2. Hiring the professional was a great idea, Amanda!

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    3. Grace: When I started out, all I knew was that I wanted a "lovely shade garden". Whatever I managed to create came from loads of reading, lots of trials, and quite a bit of luck. For example, quite without knowing the impact, I created a sloped bed, bounded by a not-very-high retaining wall, resulting in different levels; with different-height plants, the effect was pleasing. #beginnersluck :)

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  12. Alas, no garden, just three potted plants. The one plant that I'm trying to not kill this year, has been around for more than 30 years and three moves. I just keep repotting it, When I have neglected the water it usually bounced right back but it's a bit leggy right now, will need to wait to see if I can save it again. Two orchids, both of which I neglected this winter. One has new blooms but the other? Well, my sister thinks she can save it. Only time will tell. I have some beautiful pots just begging to be filled. Hopefully I'll do better next year.

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    1. Patience with orchids! They can surprise you... and are surprisingly hard to kill.

      I keep a collection of indoor plants, too. I have a huge split-leaf philodendren which we got as a gift at around the time my younger daughter was born (more than 30 years ago.) It got so pot bound that I had to cut it out of its last pot in order to move it into a larger one. It looked so sad and traumatized for about two years, but now finally it's rebounding with a vengeance.

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  13. I never thought of gardening and writing that way, Hallie, but I'm definitely a pantser when it comes to gardening. But I'm also fearless about moving, cutting, separating plants. My favorites seem to be the ones that self-sow, though--the oriental poppies, pink campion, columbines. I did rescue my Crown Princess Marguerite rose from the raspberries this year--and it seems to have survived the move, although I doubt there will be any blooms this year. I chopped out a Chinese wisteria that was here when I moved here, finally, and now my Cardinal Richelieu rose has produced more blooms than I've ever seen! (The wisteria kept trying to strangle it). A never-ending process, gardening.

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    1. Campion and columbines are colonizing behind my garage - Wish I had poppies but really not enough sun.

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  14. I'm in a condo, so I don't have a garden, although I have put some impatiens in my flower boxes for the first time in years. I'm enjoying having them again, although I expect the summer heat will kill them. My balcony gets direct afternoon sun, and they don't do well with heat. If they die, I'll replace them with some heartier.

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    1. Try New Guinea impatiens. The need regular watering but they're happy in direct sun. And they're gorgeous.

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    2. I will have to look for those.

      My balcony doesn't get that much direct sunlight, but it's the heat from the afternoon that I think got them.

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  15. When I bought my house it was surrounded by circa-1960 foundation plantings of holly, privet, and red tip photinia, all of which needed to be pruned into squares on a horribly regular basis. They were the first to go.

    I hired a landscape planner and spoke to him of English gardens full of flowers--roses that climb and drape, iris and flowering natives that love our hot, dry weather. He returned with a plan for low-maintenance evergreens just like every house in suburbia, no roses, and a giant patch of the back yard planted in things my dogs would destroy the first time they went after a squirrel. Clearly he hadn't listened to what I told him I wanted, and thought all dogs were like his own Yorkshire terriers when it came to yard damage. I told him where he could "plant" it.

    So now I'm going it alone, or with advice from Debs and other gardeners I admire. I'm reading up on Texas natives, and attending native plant sales. My house is ruthlessly horizontal in its lines, so I'm going for things that soften and break up, soar above and spill over those hard horizontals. Bush by bush and bulb by bulb I'm turning it into something I like. There is a long way to go, but I have roses now, clematis, and lots of coneflowers.

    It turns out the previous owner had a grandmother with a green thumb, who shared plants from her own garden. So, as I chop out the photinia and privet, new stuff is sprouting from long-forgotten heirloom bulbs, including Byzantine gladiolus, tiny white narcissus, and red spider lilies. It's a continuous adventure. Now I love my garden.

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    1. Gigi, that's horrible that the landscape planner didn't understand what you wanted! I wonder how many clients he has happy with the normal suburbia low-maintenance system, blah. I am glad you are slowly designing your own ideal garden.

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    2. Lovely writing this morning, Gigi!

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    3. Gigi: That's what I truly love about gardening -- the never-ending surprises that come up out of the earth when we give it a bit of attention. So fun and rewarding. Well done you!

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    4. What a lovely story, Gigi! Gardening as a voyage of discovery. But you do have to put time into it, don't you... hard as the summer heat ratchets.

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  16. We have limited space for flower beds. I lost a lot of plants one year to a hard freeze and to workmen trampling on them. I haven’t had the desire to buy anything new to plant. I don’t think anything can kill elephant ears or banana trees or the carnation of India bushes. My little brother gave me a volunteer from his angel trumpet and that thing has shot up. It is almost as high as the second story porch. I gave up trying to grow tomatoes but keep pots with basil, chives, and rosemary. The latter two generally winter over.

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    1. Guessing you're not in New England, Pat... going to look up angel trumpet.

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    2. Nope. Semi-tropical Houston.

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  17. Hallie, you’ve seen my house— perched on a hillside with hundreds of deer. So almost no soil and the deer eat everything except oleander and lavender so that’s what we have. But my son in law has grand plans to fence off the level area to keep out deer so then I may get in a proper landscape planner and enjoy real plants!

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  18. I should be more like Mark, with some flower boxes, instead of the person in charge of 3 1/2 acres. Two are in fields, so we "only" have about an acre of garden, but that's a LOT to manage. Thank heavens for my Guest Boy, who's out there every day it's not raining, bringing back all the shaggy, neglected parts that have been overgrowing since Ross passed away.

    Unlike my writing, I would love for my garden to be planned. One of dream-list items is getting a professional landscape/garden designer in to work up a plan for all the various areas around the house and barn.

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    1. Julia, I wish I could borrow your Guest Boy!!

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    2. Julia: Does your local college have a landscape horticulture or greenspace management program? My gardener, Tim, is a graduate of the college where I work (in fact, it turns out I was his communication teacher!); he came highly recommended by his core teachers, my colleagues. Maybe you could get similarly lucky with either a graduate or a student-wanting-experience?

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    3. I can barely manage my sixth of an acre (part of which is my house!)

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    4. Wow, I have land envy, Julia! (Is that even a real term, lol).

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  19. Hallie, your garden looks beautiful, a true oasis. Ours is a mishmash. We started twenty-five years ago with a few old and ugly foundation plantings, although unlike Gigi's 60ish, ours were probably from the 30s. All that's left of those is the Nandina on the north side of the dining room. We started with a landscape designer and a plan, and almost entirely native plants. Some things flourished, some didn't, other things got stuck in, more beds got dug and more flagstone laid. A few years ago we lost at least twenty-five roses to rose rosette disease, including the Cecile Brunner that completely covered our pergola. I have replanted some but live in fear of a recurrence. But it is all a very creative endeavor, like a constantly evolving painting. Oh, and I'm lucky to have a good friend who is a Master Gardener and a landscape designer, so I get lots of advice.

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    1. I love the pictures you've posted of your garden, Deb - and your weather is challenging.

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  20. Late to the party again! I slept in this morning...

    Your garden is gorgeous! We do Not have a garden. When I was a kid, my family lived in a small village near Berkeley, CA that looked like an English village. We had rhubarb plants and we made rhubarb pie from the plants. There was a greenhouse.

    Loved what you said about overhearing conversations. I wondered if you can read Sign Language? If you saw someone signing, would you borrow their words into a story?

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    1. I am so envious when I see people signing... on a noisy crowded subway train to one another from across the car? So special.

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  21. Oh, Hallie, I have such garden envy. Being in the desert, I can't grow the variety of vegetation that you can, but I am equally haphazard in my planting. For the first time in many years, I got it together enough to plant my sunflowers on the back wall again. The largest is about 14' high! They're mammoths so the birds have been sitting on the telephone line above them just watching and waiting for the seeds. It's quite a show!

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    1. Of course I want to know: What kinds of birds? 14' high sunflowers? How fabulous.

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    2. I saw photos of those sunflowers on FB, Jenn. Gorgeous and huge...well done!

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    3. We have rogue rosie cheeked lovebirds - pets that were released in the 80's that have become acclimated to Phoenix. They're all over the Valley now. Terrible squawk but very cheerful, colorful birds.

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  22. I have one tomato plant and chives, dill, parsley, and thyme. The rest are ornamentals. Although I make a plan each year, when I get to the nursery, I go crazy and then have to figure out where to put everything. Right now volunteer portulaccas, vinca, and celosias are coming up. I won't relocate them until they get bigger because sounds as if we are going to have a heat wave. Stay safe and well.

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