Where have I been? Well, shortly after my last post in July 2014, I started a new job. It's a very good job, objectively speaking, and I am lucky to have it blah blah blah. But until quite recently, it left me so drained that I was unable to even contemplate writing this blog. Let's just say it's been an adjustment.
Partly it was the life-style change: I had been working primarily from home for almost 10 years, and all of a sudden I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning, put on decent clothes, brush my hair, and drive 25 miles each way in hideous traffic. If I were a plant, you would have said I had transplant shock.
I survived the transplant. That's the good news. The bad news is that I am not "the right plant in the right place." On the contrary, it has become increasingly obvious that, at my no-longer-new-job, I am precisely the wrong plant in the wrong place. I am a shade lover in full sun. A hellebore trying to be a rose. Call me Phony Rose.
Hellebores like to work in the background. They hate being "on." They are realists, even pessimists, and they are prone to cynicism (I'll bet you didn't know that about hellebores). If you lie on your back and look up into their downward tilting flowers, you can see that they are rolling their eyes a little.
While hellebores may thrive on neglect, roses are always ready for their close-ups. They practically scream "Look at me!" They are relentlessly enthusiastic and upbeat. They are experts at small-talk. They say "awesome."
Take it from me: it's hard to be a hellebore impersonating a rose. Phony Rose is "on" all the time. She is warm. She is eager to please. She makes a gallant attempt at "bubbly". She sprinkles her emails with exclamation points, as if she were 12 years old, for crying out loud, then signs them "Best wishes" (hellebores prefer "Sincerely"). Frankly, she makes me sick.
And so I am giving my blog another go, as a much-needed antidote to my work alter-ego. It will be a relief to be me again. Here I can say quite bluntly that my front yard has been a failure. That after 10-plus years of gardening, I am still hopeless when it comes to garden design and have yet to create a decent-looking container planting. That my neighborhood is overrun with deer and rabbits and between the two of them nothing in my garden is safe. That you can add snowdrops to the list of plants that in fact are not critter-proof. That while I have always considered myself an animal lover, I am secretly rooting for the hawks.
There. I'm feeling better already.
Week five in the new house: with the inside shaping up, it was time to pay some attention to the outside. So we took advantage of the picture-perfect weather this Fourth of July weekend and did some pruning. Let me introduce you to our new plant family.
The Three Tenors line the driveway. Actually, they are Saucer Magnolias, but they look as if they are about to burst into O Sole Mio, so I call them the Three Tenors.
In the front yard is a very nice weeping Japanese maple which I have christened Cousin Itt. Itt could use a good haircut.
Standing on the opposite side of the lawn from Cousin Itt is Alfalfa, which I'm pretty sure is a weeping birch. My photo isn't very good, but if you look closely, you can see an errant stalk standing straight up in the middle. Hence the name.
We also have some boring foundation hollies. I've nicknamed them Boring Foundation Hollies. Get it? They're so boring they don't even remind me of anyone.
I took the back yard. My mission: slim down the Three Tenors.
Ron took the front yard. His mission: trim the boring foundation hollies. I didn't think they looked too bad, but Ron likes things neat. Plus he wanted to try his brand new hedge clipper.
As for Cousin Itt and Alfalfa, my thought was to leave them alone for the time being. I have no idea how to trim weeping trees, and I didn't want to turn them into Ringo Starr or Moe.
By 3 p.m., our work was done. We changed places to check out each other's oeuvre.
This is what Ron saw where the Three Tenors had been. Looks like someone got carried away with her new pruners.
And this is what I saw where Cousin Itt and Alfalfa had been. Looks like someone was having a bit too much fun with his new hedge clippers.
Well, you met the shrubs. Now meet Ron.
It's only fair I show myself too.
After a whirlwind couple of weeks, we are all moved in to our new home. We absolutely love it.
More than a few of my siblings have pointed out that the new place bears a remarkable resemblance to our childhood home in White Plains, New York. Of course it does. That's partly why I fell in love with it.
We also love our new neighborhood, which feels like a throwback to the 1950s. Everywhere you look there are front porches, picket fences, and little kids riding bikes on the sidewalk. How I got here I have no idea. True, gritty urban chic was never my thing, even when I lived in New York, but I wasn't exactly the Donna Reed type either. Yet without knowing when or how, I seem to have entered a new phase of life: the cranky "everything-then-was-great-and-everything-now-is-rotten" phase. What makes my 50s nostalgia truly ironic is that I wasn't alive during the 50s.
Yup, I am definitely getting old. Not only am I fondly recalling places and times that I never experienced, but I am losing my zeal for DIY. At the last house, we painted, put down flooring, even did a complete bathroom remodel. Most of our efforts were "galloping horse" productions, meaning they looked fine if the lights were out and you didn't have your glasses on. But lately I've come to see the beauty of making a few phone calls.
For example, we hated the wall colors in our new house. Someone - no doubt the real estate agent - had talked the seller into painting the house dreary shades of mushroom and taupe. Obviously they were going for a neutral palette, but the effect instead was to make you want to pull the shades down and sit in the dark, the better to contemplate the meaninglessness of your empty existence. Time to dial 1-800-I-Like-Service. In came Norberto, painter extraordinaire, who had the whole thing wrapped up in 3 days. Above, our homage to George Washington's dining room at Mount Vernon; below, our sitting area, done in something called "Field Poppy."
With the inside coming together, we're turning our attention to the outside, where a typical North Carolina summer is unfolding. It's 95 and humid pretty much every day - not ideal weather for planting. And maybe that's just as well. Before I can even consider putting anything into the ground, we have a fence to replace and a yard to remodel. We're thinking a picket fence, a pergola, a brick seating area, and as much garden space as possible. Now if we could just get someone to return our phone calls. I don't do fences.
I will be the first to admit that my dry shade garden by the side of the driveway is not the showiest. It consists mainly of Hellebores and Euphorbia robbiae, and their subdued palates are appreciated only by garden fanatics like me. Then there are those pesky bare spots. Even in spring, when it is at its best, it looks a little sparse.
I have been working at this particular section of the yard for years now. The Euphorbia robbiae is finally covering a good bit of territory and the Hellebores are filling out nicely, but all in all the garden still deserves the name I gave it long ago, The Valley of Death.
You can see that I am not delusional about my talents. This blog is called Galloping Horse Garden for a reason. Some of my gardens are pretty nice; others, like the Valley of Death, are not. And when we put our house on the market a few weeks ago, I certainly was under no illusions that my garden would help to sell the house. On the contrary: I assumed it would be at best a non-issue, at worst a liability. But I have admit that it never dawned on me that my garden - even my worst one - would be mistaken for a parking spot.
And yet a real estate agent actually pulled up to our house and decided to park her car not here:
So there you have it. Nine years of costly, backbreaking, but emotionally fulfilling labor to transform my wasteland of bad grass and hard clay into a garden, and someone thinks it's a parking spot. Could there be any more appropriate end to this Galloping Horse Garden?
Because yes, we're moving. The house sold, we bought another one in Raleigh, and Galloping Horse Garden: The Sequel will begin next month. The yard is small, but it's full sun and there's plenty of room. I envision an arbor, some shrubs, a few perennial beds, and maybe a car or two. Stay tuned.
Several years ago I read an article on how much landscaping can add to a home's value. Obviously a house with a pretty yard and garden will be more appealing to potential buyers than one with a patchy lawn and some scraggly hollies. But this article actually claimed that certain plantings - Japanese maples, for instance - were the horticultural equivalent of granite countertops. Take it from me: they're not.
I bring this up because we developed a sudden urge to sell our house and it's going on the market any day. The real estate agent recently did a walk-through and while she was very complimentary about the many improvements we made, she never once mentioned my Japanese maple.
'Shaina,' the Japanese maple in question, dates to 2007, or two years after we moved into our Cary home. Still a relative novice at gardening, I fell for Shaina's picture in the Wayside Gardens catalog (top photo). Needless to say, what I received (take a gander at the photo above) bore absolutely no resemblance to the tree in the Wayside Gardens picture. What it resembled - and what it resembles even now, seven years later - is a lollipop. The branch canopy has yet to catch up with the stick-like trunk, and while the foliage color has lived up to its billing, I think we can agree that 'Shaina' looks a little ridiculous.
Had I known then what I know now, I never would have ordered a Japanese maple through the mail. Now I know to pick out a Japanese maple in person so I can be sure it has a nice shape from the get-go. And next time - if there is a next time - I'm going to spring for a bigger model. Japanese maples are way too slow-growing and I am way too 1.) impatient and 2.) old to wait for them to morph from ugly duckling to swan.
But back to the subject at hand. Even if my 'Shaina' looked just like the Wayside Gardens 'Shaina,' I doubt we would be getting rich off it. Nor will I be getting rich off my Edgeworthia (a real looker), or my side garden, or my wetland garden, or any of the other thousands of things I did in the yard in the nine years we have lived here. Not that I'm complaining: I made the garden because I wanted to, period. My only problem is that I've gotten quite attached to my plants. If I knew where we were moving, I might even pot some up so I can bring them to the new house.
Not 'Shaina,' though. 'Shaina' is staying.
Before I was married I spent a fair amount of time staring at the telephone. I'm not proud of it, but since the dawn of the telephone millions of single women have done the same. Today they check their cell phones endlessly, but in the corded, landline days of the 80s and 90s, I would simply pull up a chair and wait. Periodically I would pick up the receiver to check for a dial tone. Pathetic.
I like to think that I have matured since then and gained a modicum of self-respect. However, for the past few weeks I have found myself staring obsessively at two conspicuous bare spots in my garden, hoping that Dianthus barbatus 'Heart Attack' will call me. Several times a day I make a thorough examination of the dirt, looking for anything new that may have poked up out of the ground in the 3 or 4 hours since I last checked. I know. Pathetic.
I planted 'Heart Attack' early last spring and fell madly in love with its deep red blooms. Everything seemed to be going fine and I was looking forward to years of happiness. Of course I knew that most Dianthus barbartus were biennial, but 'Heart Attack' (named by the famously offbeat Tony Avent of Plant Delights) was supposed to be a perennial. Tony says it comes back bigger and better each year. I have no doubt that it does - for him.
However, over in my yard, things were going downhill fast. By August, 'Heart Attack' was a shriveled up bundle of sticks. I cut away the dead stems and let the ruminations commence. What had I done wrong? Maybe nothing. It might have just gone dormant in the heat. Plenty of spring bloomers do that in North Carolina, so why not this? Bad sign - it's nearly April now. If it intends to bloom in May it had better hurry up and get out of the ground. Maybe I'm deluded. Maybe it's never coming back. Then again, it's been very cold this winter. It might just be behind schedule.
Call me? Please?
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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