Saturday, June 30, 2007
Sweet Peas, Sunflowers and Grrrevillea
It was a big work day in the garden. But the showiest, most abundant plant in our garden right now is the sweet pea bush, for which human hands cannot take credit. It was a volunteer: it showed up unannounced, we gave it some water, it repaid us with masses of purple blooms with a sweet, almost grapelike fragrance. I can see it from my kitchen window when I do the dishes. It humbles me. I like to give a bouquet to my friends when they are feeling low.
What the human hands did today was thin the sunflowers, repot the aloe plants, weed, and dig out the dirt under the new gate. My husband and I don't garden together much, so it was nice to be part of a team.
The sunflowers have been needing to be thinned for a couple of weeks, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. It's a classic mistake of the beginning gardener, according to Amy Stewart's "From the Ground Up," the story of her first garden. Joyanna recommended her book about earthworms to me (thanks Joyanna!) since I have been enjoying the worms' antics, so I got both books at the library and am reading them at the same time. I will share the revelations about earthworms in a later post. The book about Stewart's first garden is inspiring and comforting to read: inspiring because she is passionate about the joy of learning how to garden and comforting because I'm not the only one to make mistakes. She agonizes over the spacing of her seeds, hoping to avoid having to thin them at all later. "After all," she asks, "how could I waste any one of those seeds, those beautiful, zany seeds?" I felt the same way. After all that attention I had lavished on them--all those saucers of beer, all the smashed slugs, the hand-watering--how could I cast them upon the compost heap?
My husband ended up chosing which ones to go, and spaded them up for me. It was obvious, actually. Healthy, knee-high sunflowers alternated with spindly ones that reached only part way up my calf. The runts had to go. But I couldn't abandon them. I found a spot for them on the side of the house and staked them so their puny stems wouldn't blow over in our stiff onshore breeze. We'll see how they do. But the tall ones looked better right away. They seemed to be sighing and saying, "Finally, some room to breathe!"
Now I confess the really dumb thing I did. I bought a Grevillea that didn't look completely healthy in a lapse of impulse control. I really really wanted it, it was the last one, and, since it was from a highly respected nursery in Berkeley, I disregarded my doubts about its condition. That was on Tuesday. Today the leaf tips are curling and yellowed and it has patches of what I suspect is powdery mildew and it looks terrible. I feel stupid. I will probably have to drive over to Berkeley next week and ask them to take it back.
My husband and I saw a different species of Grevillea at another nursery but they wanted over $100 for it in a 5-gallon pot. So I determined to look around to see if I could find a smaller, less pricey one. Grevillea are native to Australia, and many species have these amazing red or pink tube-shaped flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds. In fact, the one I bought is called Hummingbird Bush. They have Grevilleas at Home Depot, but not the species I wanted. My Grevillea adventure will have to be a lesson in patience for me. I will get the one I want, but just not this instant. Grrrr.