LEARNING TO GROW THINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

I started to grow plants because my friend Mary was a crazed grower of potted plants. She lived in Brooklyn. Park Slope at the time.

These years, she has a house out on Staten Island. We haven’t seen each other in a really long time. Not since right after I got back from Israel — which was August 1987.

She was the first person to encourage me to grow things. I’d really never tried. But she gave me some of the cuttings from her plants. Told me to put them in a sunny window and water them when they got dry. They did very well and soon, all I wanted to do was haunt nurseries.

She taught me how to examine a plant, make sure it didn’t have any diseases or insect invasions.

Somewhere in the course of my conversion from non-growing to a wild-eyed enthusiast, basically converted the first floor of a really big house into a giant nursery. No curtains. Plants hung from the ceiling, lived on glass shelving. I put metal trays with gravel and water in the trays so when the radiators came up, they created a nice mist for the plants to live in.

They thrived. I was also the editor of the Doubleday Garden Guild. Because I’m me, I read all of the books we published, so whatever I hadn’t gotten from Mary, I learned from reading hundreds of books about growing plants. Indoors and outside.

I never took to outdoor gardening the way I did to indoor pottery gardens. For one thing, even way back then I’d already had major surgery on my spine and although I was a lot more limber than I am now, a lot of bending more or less did me in, even then. I left the outdoor gardening to husband and son.

So when I tell you that all you need to grow plants indoors is decent light and go easy with the watering can, maybe I’m understating where I learned what I learned. Mostly, it came from Mary and other friends who grew plants. We traded cuttings, sometimes passed off our huge plants for smaller ones.

My ceilings were only 10 feet high on the ground floor and once a plant started trying to dig through to the upper story, it had to move on. Which is why, now, I have a small but a good-size Norfolk Island pine in exchange for a Dracaena Marginata I had been growing for almost 20 years. It got too tall. In the wild, a Norfolk Island pine will grow hundreds of feet tall, but in this house, 7 foot 6 inches is as tall as it can get before it moves to another house.

I don’t have the volume of plants I did. Having an entire house full of plants became a job — at least an hour or two every night going from plant to plant, pulling off dead leaves, turning plants so they would grow evenly. And how many times did I fill the watering can before I finished with all 6 ground floor rooms? It was a big house with tall windows.

Today we were passing a house on our way to River Bend and there was a little house that had the most lovely garden I’ve seen in years. All the white picket fences were lined with sunflowers and a rather wild, yet obviously well-tended crop of bright flowers surrounded the front of the house.

I took pictures. It was just the way I’d make my garden if my spine would let me.

THE NEW LITTLE GARDEN – Marilyn Armstrong

The New Little Garden – 09-13-2019

I wanted a new orchid. To bring in any new plant, I needed someplace to put them. Everything was on a leftover dining chair, a stool. There was one plant stand, but everything else was a piece of something I found somewhere in the house.

Overview

We have a dining room table that folds into three pieces, so it can be a relatively small table pushed against the wall or opened all the way, seat 8 people comfortably. When Garry brought home the new orchid, there was no more putting it off.

We settled for dropping one-third of it and pushing that end against the glass doors. I have been thinking of dropping another third until we need it, but I’m thinking about it. Meanwhile, there’s room for more plants. Not a lot more plants unless I hang some from the ceiling (which I might do).

COUNTRY GARDENS BETWEEN STORMS – Marilyn Armstrong

AMELIORATING AND JUDICIOUS WILD PLANTING OF FLOWERS IN THE TINY TOWN OF UXBRIDGE

Our lawns are essentially wild,, too. I can’t turn on the hose because that pipe broke a few years ago and I haven’t figured out where to attach the new hose, (there’s a spout somewhere, but where?) — and so the hose is still in its original box in the basement.

Watering is hardly an issue. We are wet enough for several thousand lawns.

In the spring, the back lawn is covered with dandelions, wild violets, and Mayflowers. I love the yellow and blue combination. I won’t let anyone cut it until after they have all died back. Half our “front” garden is full of Asters, Columbine, Spiderwort, Solomon’s Seal. and Daylilies culled from the roads and woods. Other than the Roses and a big old-fashioned white Rhododendron that came before we moved in, all the other things we planted disappeared.

I think we have ONE remaining tulip and an azalea that’s too shady to bloom much. About twice a year, my son mows everything and hits the giant forsythia with an electric hedge cutter. Otherwise, it is what it is. Wild thing overtaking wild thing. Right now, it’s Jimson Weed with its bright purple berries (it came out of nowhere, but we have had a lot of birds and they bring seeds).

Jimson weed

We rarely go into the garden for recreation but we do occasionally hang out on the deck which is falling down. The bird feeders will go back up at the end of the month. I can’t wait until November. I want my birds back.

The dogs own the front yard and it looks like a site on which they shoot missiles. Garry cleans the pathway to the house, but otherwise, it’s pretty ripe. The other 4 acres are woods. These days, almost entirely oak behind the house and a 50-50 mix of sugar maple, oak, and our one and only decorative tree, the Japanese maple culled from my cousin’s crop (he has many).

This year, the wild grape vines are covering everything and growing insanely fast, too. As is the Bitterroot which is a transplant from somewhere else. Not on this continent.

There are a few miniature Korean lilacs I planted 20 years ago and are growing, but I have trouble finding them between the bigger trees.  Our only, very beaten and battered (and aging) lilac that is the size of a medium-size maple still throws up a few flowers. I need a very long lens to find the few we get and those are way up at the top of the tree.

Few people have much in the way of gardens. It’s dark from the canopy of oaks which shade out most other trees. We had ash and maple and we do have a fair growth of sassafras — but only along the edge of the woods.

A million kinds of grasping vines fighting for dominance. The rain has changed that. Last year it was wild morning glory which at least had a few flowers, but this year, it’s those huge grapevines. They have grown so tall they cover some of the mid-size oak trees.
I have ONE really well-grown maple right in front of my house which I treasure because it’s the only place on the property (other than the Japanese maple) that gives me real color.

Sunshine and oak trees

The deep green of the oaks become a golden bronze late in the season (November, usually) and the few remaining Ash change to bright yellow — usually now — but the rain has changed it so there is NO color anywhere.

At least I don’t have to worry about mowing because there’s no lawn. There was — for a single season — a back lawn after we had our backyard flattened and seeded, but the following year, after a wild and crazy winter of blizzards and brutally low temperatures, the wildflowers came back and the grass gave up.

It’s easier in the country. No one expects a big floral show (but a great ripening of tomatoes will bring admiring neighbors from near and far), so if you have a few daffodils and daylilies, that’s fine.

Everyone has one or more dogs. If you listen, you can always hear one barking. Occasionally, in the evening, they all get a good solid group bark going. It’s the Canine Earphone Collective. Free. No devices needed. That’s how dogs keep in touch, pass along the gossip, and let all the other canines know what’s happening out here in the never-ever lands beyond the city and suburban borders.

Back — now nearly 10 years ago — when we had our three long-eared hounds, they would sing in the morning. How I miss them! None of our current generation of dogs sing. No idea what DNA created El Duque , but the Scotties only sing if other dogs begin the chorus. Then they will yelp during appropriate moments in the finale.

AUGUST: DOG AND OTHER DAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

August 2012 through 2019

A little photographic journey around the northeastern end of the American continent.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Rockport, Massachusetts at sunrise

I didn’t have a single fire pump for Cee’s challenge, so I went back through seven years of August. From Glocester to Rockport, from Connecticut to Maine … these are the hot, humid, hazy days of late summer in New England.

NEW ENGLAND GARDENS – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Gardens

The gardens of New England are a bit tired as we go into August. Most of my flowers are early summer flowers. They used to bloom in May and June, but recently they bloom in late June and July. Right now, it just looks awful! The Daylilies are gone, the roses are pretty, but there aren’t a lot of them.

And in the water …

THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN AT RIVER BEND – Garry Armstrong

Wildflower Garden at River Bend – 08/05/19

River Bend is all about “wild.” So, not surprisingly, the gardens are entirely made up of wildflowers. I took a few pictures of them. The gardens are peaceful and the bees are always busy within.

The wildflower garden at River Bend