Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Importance of Being Ordinary


I could tell when I looked at his face that he was not happy. Now, my boss is a very kind man and has a voice that works like Valium on a hectic day. But when his clients aren’t happy, those of us who are his underlings will be greeted with a thin lipped smile rather than his big toothy grin. And then the interrogation begins. Mine began with a drive around the city to look at competitors’ annual color displays.

Spring Trials - California 2013

Spring Trials - California 2013

Downtown Chicago 2013

Downtown Chicago 2013

 But maybe I should back up a little to bring a little perspective:
            I. Am. A. Plant. Nerd.  You see, this post is not about my boss. He’s a hard-working man that cares deeply about making his clients happy. It’s about what I am learning through the landscaping world about life. I love plants that are unique and I love creating displays that march to a different drummer and stand out when the summer heat rages. One of the problems this summer was that we did not have summer heat rages. The other problem was that while I and my plant nerdiness love unique plants displays, a large majority of people are really most comfortable with annual color displays that are…. Ahem… ordinary.
I once said that I wanted my annual color to be Begonia-free and Alternathera-free zones. But as I drove around the city with my thin-lipped now not smiling so much boss, and I strove to look through his eyes at the landscapes around me, I saw that the look that our clients kept pointing to as “what we want to look like” was the very thing that I worked hard not to look like. And you know what? It did look good. Deep into our rainy, cool summer those Begonias and Alternathera were showing off like bratty sisters and grabbing the attention from everything around them. And COLEUS, that multi-named marvel of horticulture displays, was often the queen of the show. All my heat and drought-loving Scaevolea, Angelonia, and Cuphea Flamenco Samba barely even moved past being green and languished in the liquid coolness of this summer.
Then I think I finally got it – the lesson that has been tapping at the door of my conscious for so many years. I was remembering the comfort of home-made spaghetti, the consistently blooming iris that my grandmamma would share, and the comfort of the simple tunes in an ageless hymn. These are the ordinary things that make me feel safe, that stand the test of time and present themselves as reliable.
As the middle child of a very large family, I understand being ordinary. With a big sister who was a nationally ranked tennis player, brothers who were stand-outs in just about anything they did, and younger sisters who were stunningly attractive, I found comfort and place in being the ordinary sister who was consistently reliable to be there when needed but never garnered the meteoric attention of a superstar.
Yes, I wrote a book. It has received an ordinary amount of attention. But you know who love this book? The new gardeners who need the basic, ordinary instructions on how to do container gardening, who write me to say that this is the first time they have ever been successful in gardening.  And I wrote some songs. They were ordinary songs that never garnered much national attention. But what made the effort of writing these songs were the people who would come up to me and say, “I keep thinking of  (….. lines in a song) and it has encouraged or help me in this way”. Ordinary songs but reliable to be helpful when needed.  
In a society that has an almost fearful aversion to ordinary, I am finding that ordinary is a powerful emblem of its own. Jesus took 12 ordinary fishermen, ordinary tax collector, and ordinary people to build a church that covers all nations today. Being able to turn on the lights and turn up the heat in the morning is an ordinary delight that many of my winterstorm-weary friends have learned to appreciate. There is something in the ordinary that makes us feel safe, that is reliable, that does not wax and wane with the popular opinion, that begs me welcome it though my pride would defer to the unique. 

Yes, I will continue my lust for the unique and exotic plant. But I am learning to appreciate and embrace the ordinary in horticulture, and in doing so I find myself embracing the other ordinary around and within me.  Ironically, my company’s motto this year is “Be the Best in 2014”. At first I thought that by being earnest in my ordinariness, I would be negating the company motto. But ordinary is not average, nor is it not being the best. Ordinary is better because it is something you can count upon.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 Everyday for the past few weeks I've fielded some kind of question about the abysmal state of the pansies and other winter weary botanical beings in our area. For the landscaper in me, this harsh winter is sure to guarantee lots of work for the spring and summer. But for the home gardener in me, a walk around my little acre (and I'm not referring to Kylee Baumlee's place) revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Pieris japonica only intensified in beauty with all the cold weather
Full of buds ready to break open into rosy strands of flower bells

This heuchera 'Silver Scrolls' never faltered.

Red twig dogwood always is a winner in winter
But my hellebores took a beating!

As did my Loropedulum 'Suzanne'

I've never seen my ivy turn this dark maroon

This once always faithful and beautiful Ephorbia 'Blackbird' might have finally bit the dust.

I haven't given up hope on my new baby camellias, but it isn't looking too hopeful

Yea for the buds on my flowering quince!

 And daffodils are exploding through the ground.

This bridal veil spirea will be stunning in a few weeks

 Even my sycamore tree takes on a majestic look this time of year.

 The flowers on my Tulip polar tree are delightful in the late afternoon sun.

 And I am crazy about this Nandina 'Obsession'

My Mahonia 'Soft Caress', which I adore, has lasted 3 years here. Really wondering if it's really gone.

 There are signs of hope among the hellebores!

 And nothing like a little witchhazel to cheer my winter blues

Naked ladies! Or otherwise known as Lycoris, starting to make their clothed appearance, then they will die to the ground and return mid-summer to earn their moniker.

 Magonia "Elizabeth" buds are well protected for the next cold snap this week.

Never knock junipers if you've haven't tried 'Saybrook Gold' - a stunny look in the winter!

 Chinese Snowball Viburnum buds - one of my favorite spring displays

 And signs of blueberries to come...

 There is definately the bad from this winter - like this Mediteranean Heather (Erica) that I'd had for almost 10 years which looks like it may be toast,

But there is plenty of good to enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Redeeming The Dirt

 "It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence."
- c.s. lewis
And by redeeming the dirt, spring erupts into new life.

Monday, January 27, 2014

One Hot Heuchera of Blackberry Ice

Along with most of the rest of the country, middle Tennessee has been deep in the throws of one of the coldest winters in many a year. We've seen days of temps down to 3 degrees at my house, with the following days never breaking the thirties. 
 I just took this photo a few days ago after weeks of sub-freezing weather. The day I took this photo it was in the lower forties - a heat wave for this January. This Proven Winners Dolce Blackberry Ice must have ice in it's veins because it has not flenched in the cold. I planted it last April and watched it thrive in the heat of summer, but it's winter performance has me singing it's praises. This will be my new go-to Heuchera for winter containers!
This Heuchera grows up to 12 inches and spreads to 22 inches. Mine has thrived in it's part sun, North-facing location.