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(c) 2014 Trina Lambert  Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O'Toole's

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert
Hummingbird Moth seen among the flowers at O’Toole’s

Mother’s Day has come and gone and that makes me think of . . . planting flowers. Here in the metro Denver area of Colorado, gardening experts warn us not to put annuals in the ground until after Mother’s Day—which is really good advice. This year that day dawned with about six inches of snow blanketing my lawn. Much as I love my local garden centers, I’d rather support them by purchasing plants that live. And so I wait, but not very patiently.

For me, searching for seasonal colors in a place that only sells plants and trees and soil and the like is worth the extra pennies. I know I can usually find plants for cheaper at big box stores, but the quality and experience is nowhere near the same as that in a garden center—plus I really don’t want to contribute to the demise of this type of business so near and dear to my heart.

I most definitely work to support local businesses by patronizing them and by sharing my good encounters with others. However, I am only one person so I also love seeing that other businesses such as Good Monster—which creates engaging customer experiences through digital marketing—support the cause by helping the types of local businesses, such as those I mention here, build and maintain customer awareness. I want others to share in the joy I experience, but I also, selfishly, want to keep the businesses I enjoy in business. Yes, I have ulterior motives, but I also believe that others—small business owners and other customers—benefit from our support of  unique businesses and how those businesses add to local economies (and beyond) while fostering a more creative business climate for all.

And thus, my first plant-buying expedition of the season takes me to a small family-owned nursery that, despite all the development built-up around it, has more land than I ever imagined. Bonsai Nursery Inc. (Englewood) offers so many more plant options than the casual gardener I am needs. Other than providing my yard with two dwarf conifer trees and a (gift) rosebush, Bonsai mostly serves as the place where I go in order to bring home the splash and easy-care of annual plants for my containers and built-in beds.

But what splash those flowers have brought my yard over the years. Bonsai is a quiet sanctuary where I can arrive on a weekday and take my time moving back and forth between flats of plants while visualizing and dreaming. I do not buy the colorful pre-made hanging baskets—I come here to create for myself. Which palettes do I want to honor this year for each of my various containers and which of the available plants will work best together? If I pause too long, often one of the owners shouts across the space to find out if I need help. He can answer what conditions work for certain plants or when he will be getting another truckload of which plants and talk about how the current season’s conditions are affecting what is available and which plants are thriving. Not only do I get experienced guidance on the flowers and conditions, but also on fertilizers and soils and maintenance—all served up with humor from the various family members. They may not remember me personally but they most definitely do remember those who return season after season for larger purchases I can only covet. Though I wish I could spend even more there, I always spend more than I should.

My next stop on my plant-buying tour—usually a few days later—is at the closest of three metro Denver stores. The experience at O’Toole’s Garden Center (Littleton) could not be more different. Even early on a weekday May morning, the parking lot is full. I park as far away as I can to avoid all the crazy shoppers who just can’t seem to buy enough plants—once again I envy their budgets. In through the store and out to the plant patio and the land beyond, we shoppers negotiate our carts between aisles packed with almost-overwhelming options. The ever patient plant specialists working amongst the plants provide solid advice as we line up for their expertise on plants as well as for their knowledge of where the newest shipments are on site. Off to the side and across the back we can find more, more, more—maybe the hidden plants at the back corner will be even more vibrant than those on close display—the hunt in O’Toole’s can take me hours as I—and many others—waver between this and that option. All the while lively music (from the younger days of many of the shoppers) plays over the loud system—plant-buying at O’Toole’s is a party, not a solitary experience. We whisper admissions of guilt to one another about how we are just too tempted to behave properly with our purchases. Non-gardening family members enter into this pleasure palace at their own risk.

I admit I still pick up a plant or two at the big box centers—but only to round out what I have not found elsewhere. For pure magic and possibility, only garden centers provide. As I write this—full well knowing my schedule is too busy yet for my seasonal return to the garden (centers)—I am already seeing, smelling, and touching those beautiful plants that will fill my heart again this season—even those flowers I only visit in passing on the journey to finding those that will come home with me to brighten up our humble spaces.

Thanks to my local garden centers, paradise awaits.

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Starting to sound like a person who lives in the country—all I talk about is the weather. So what’s on our menu this week? Not snowy or rainy days—although afternoon thunderstorms are possible—but instead temperatures in the 80s. I am so confused by all this weather this month.

But, finally, I can bring home annuals! And I did—the first batch anyway.

As always, I started at the small, quiet nursery where I can look and think—without being run over every other minute. So the delivery truck was late and thus there were holes on the tables—that just helped me to think more creatively, right?

Every year I feel jealous of the woman who works there planting the containers—she gets to try out all sorts of different combinations in a variety of sizes. She doesn’t have to worry about whether or not she can afford the finished product because someone else can. I may only get to “play” with a few containers, but I would never give up the opportunity to paint my own summer dreams with the year’s pots and baskets.

I also have two built-in flagstone planters to fill in. Thanks to the imposing Colorado Blue Spruce and its shade out front, I’ve given up on experimentation with plants there. Impatiens, impatiens, and more impatiens are what work in that protected space. After painting our house bright colors, I felt a little stymied by palette options for the flowers. I’ve played it safe the last two years, but am mixing it up this year—won’t know how that works until the plants bloom into constant color.

Waiting for the rest of the story.

Waiting for the rest of the story.

The next question is: has the puppy/dog grown up enough to leave the back yard’s exposed bed alone? I’m tired of planting marigolds for their odor—I want choices! Think I’m going to risk it, but for that bed I’m going to have to venture out to the crazy, bustling large nursery where plants are tucked in every corner—and every corner might yield something I didn’t know I wanted.

After all, my “hanging” wall is one basket short of being empty. Who knows what colors might yet blaze against that white wall? Not me—yet.

Oh, it’s finally the season to dream again—and then to plunge my hands in the dirt and make those dreams come true.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

This year’s unusually long, dry growing season is coming to an end—yet I’m not ready to let go of the colors. Despite the early start to summer—that I could not believe in enough to plant early—and despite the rain that rarely fell, I managed to keep the color going all season long, even if our lawn’s color could not properly survive so well with such low moisture.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

Even though Mother Nature helped so much more during the past three summers, I could not sustain the color quite so well. Last year my body was in too much pain for me to put much care into my flowers and the two summers before I was distracted by care for my mother. My view was so inward that I was lucky to water my plants, let alone fertilize the low maintenance plants I seek out.

Even with the best of summer conditions, I am not anyone’s careful gardener. However, with just a little focus on watering, fertilizing, and pruning, the plants I choose can and do thrive—and that’s just how I maintained this summer’s riot of colors.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

When last week’s forecasts of snow and/or hard freezes came, I was too greedy for color to let Jack Frost take my flowering containers just yet. Knowing I’d probably lose all the flowers outside in the ground and that the covered flowers in the beds, though protected, would still lose much of their original vim and vigor, I brought inside numerous hanging planters for a little respite from our, no doubt temporary, cold temperatures.

After the sun came out again, I brought those containers back to places of outdoor prominence. And, the flowering vines that had suffered from the cold? I tore them down so as to let the color that remained not be marred by those tangled and dying vines’ proof of the looming end for summer growth.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

Oh, I will not miss the overly hot summer we had this year with its fires and droughts, but I will miss the colors intensified by the light from all that sunshine we received.

Even though fall is my favorite season, I hate saying goodbye to my glorious flowers. Can you blame me for prolonging their days just a little longer?

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

I’m late . . . but not too late. Thankfully, unlike last year, my body’s not the problem. It’s just that we’ve had some pressing business to handle (back to that “other people’s stuff” on our back porch—stuff which gets in the way of good watering habits) before spring planting could happen. On the other hand, this Memorial Weekend is the first one in at least six years when we have not had any graduation parties to attend. Zero, zilch, nada. For once, we get to stay home and get ready for summer.

Oh, I’ve been so good—didn’t even go near a garden center earlier this month since I needed to focus on other priorities. Just been pruning my existing plants and weeding—OK maybe not even as much as I should have, but I did do that before I “let” myself go to the garden centers.

But let myself go I did this week. My flower fast has ended! Not only that, but I’ve planted all my containers already. And I’ll plant our built-in planters once my Mr. Wonderful turns the beds and improves the soil as he always does for me. (Thanks in advance, Sherman!)

I have a little routine I follow. First I go to Bonsai, my favorite small nursery (the one that tended my orange rosebush) in the middle of the week in the late morning or early afternoon and experience the opposite of the plant-buying rush. I pick up plants, change my mind, put them down, and then grab others. I love this calm space which gives me the room to visualize what could be—maybe—in own yard. Luckily, one of the owners is usually in the greenhouse to provide me with advice and/or bad jokes. I spend a lot of time there thinking and not too much time buying—which is a good thing given how much I could spend if I followed my impulses.

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

Well, maybe I should say I had a little routine, which has now been altered. My next step for over a decade has been to check out the local Sato’s outlet set-up in temporary tents—but all I found this year was a For Lease sign. So I went home to strategize just the right time to take the final stop on my spring planting tour.

Take the word “final” with a grain of salt—I know I will! Anyway, O’Toole’s is a large local nursery and choosing when to visit is a crucial decision. Chaos reigns there due to the sheer quantity of plants available as well as due to the large carts pushed by many people who must have flower budgets hundreds of dollars over mine. Timing really only determines whether a visitor experiences minor chaos or major chaos. But the selection . . . leads me into the far corners looking to see if the newest shipments have delivered even better options than I’ve spied so far. The thrill of discovery takes this claustrophobe in between tight racks stacked high with multiple colors. This shopping experience is so much the opposite of my Bonsai visit that I start discussing out loud—with myself—about which plants to choose—and I’m far from the only one.

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

Choices, choices—everything seems possible until I realize I’m never even going plant anything if I spend all my time dreaming in the garden center. Why, I think I managed to get out of there today in around two hours.

Some years I leave so exhausted by the process that I have to wait a couple days to regain enough energy to plant my final choices.

Not this year, though. It may be late, but I’m going back to the garden. Not only is my back “up to” playing in the dirt, but also it’s up to shopping for something to put in that dirt. Yes, after long months when just stepping into a store caused my right side to go numb, on my recent oh-so-long garden shopping trips, I didn’t even have to think about any other pain than the pain in my wallet or the pain of not getting to take home a certain plant.

And that, my friends, is like coming home to my own little paradise.

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