Clutter: How to Manage a Garden Center Disaster Zone

Gardening clutter can creep up on us without warning. One day your garden center is neat and clean, organized to within an inch of its life, sparkling and shiny, everything in its place.

Clutter is not the enemy. Lack of putting stuff away is!

After (or possibly before) a major catastrophe

And the next time you head back into that formerly perfectly organized garden center, it looks like it’s time to call FEMA, since it seems like nothing less than an M8.5 quake struck since the last time you looked at it in daylight.

Ok. I use the term ‘you’ pretty loosely up there when really I should be saying ‘me’ — and I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

So what the heck happened? (Warning: This could get philosophical.)

Like Water, Clutter seeks its own Level

For me, what happened was two years of waiting for things to sprout, watering every day and carefully trimming unruly upstarts, tending the shoots and trimming the sprouts carefully and lovingly – in another room (which is, I might add, relatively clutter-free).

For me, what didn’t happen was two years of repotting and reorganizing, of clutter busting, thing-throwing-out’ing, and careful attention to levels of inventory of peat pots and planters, potting soil and peat moss, vermiculite and whatever those little rocks are — somehow I have a bucketful and I don’t remember why.

Convenience + Procrastination = Clutter

“OH, I would never let that happen in MY garden center!” I hear you tsk-tsking and glimpse you shaking your head. I know. I said the very same thing when I started this little learn-to-garden adventure two years ago. Clutter would never get the better of MY garden center, I swore!

Truth be told, I can’t blame it on the clutter. It’s not the clutter’s fault.

It was easy to just slide open the glass door between the TV room and the patio, rest a bucket or a planter inside, wave a scout’s honor sign in the air that I’d be back REAL SOON to put the item on the shelf or in the stack where it belongs.

It was easier to blame the lack of a working light fixture for the darkness in the room, rather than take the ten steps to where a flashlight is stowed.

And that’s when it dawned on me – the mighty metaphor.

Gardening isn’t about the Easy

There is no ‘easy way out’ in gardening, in the long run. Sure, there are shortcuts and life hacks – just like in any pursuit.

On balance, though, gardening is about waiting for the seed to decide to sprout. Checking the water levels. Tending the rows and pulling the weeds. Fretting over the blossoms. Picking off the icky looking bugs. Waiting for the right time of day. Amending the soil with just the right mix of this ‘n that. Walking the long path. Repeatedly.

So… How to Manage a Gardening Disaster Zone?

In answer to the question: The best way to manage a gardening disaster zone is to treat your garden center like you would treat a plant. Take that extra step and pick up the flashlight to put the empty planter pot where it belongs. Not just when it’s convenient to do so – every time.

Here’s hoping tomorrow I can post a much nicer “After” picture.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Gardening #FAIL: If at first you don’t succeed, you’re normal

VegTrug Lesson #1

VegTrug Lesson #1

I stopped gardening for a while. About nine months.

That’s how long it’s taken me to stop moping and grumping and beating myself up for not “succeeding at gardening” — and admit that not everything I plant will grow and flourish. After all, I’m a gardener, not a Norse god.

Granted, all this not-gardening time hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve watered plants (or thrown ice cubes at them) daily. I have put some seeds in some dirt. I have thrown a lot of that dirt into my cute little compost spinner thingie, ungerminated seeds and all.

Our patio looks like the set of Gardening 101, the Outtakes Edition.

And that’s okay. I learned a lot about gardening, even if I didn’t learn much about how to garden.

Gardening Successful Failures – and Lessons

Don’t Try So Hard

  • Patience is less a virtue and more a necessity.
  • Rushing seedlings makes for ticked off veggies (or impatiens…).
  • Not everything grows up.
  • Not everything grows everywhere.
  • Not every seed will make a plant.

Listen to your Instincts

  • Gardening slows your heart rate.
  • Listen to what the seed wants; seeds don’t write seed packet instructions.
  • Talking to plants is fine; arguing with plants is pointless.
  • If you hate cucumbers, don’t grow cucumbers.
  • Nobody is running around the forest pushing each seed 2/3 of an inch into the dirt.

Plan Ahead but not TOO Far

  • It is silly to fill a VegTrug with subpar soil and expect stuff to grow.
  • Don’t fill a VegTrug with soil then decide you shouldn’t have positioned it in brutal desert sun.
  • Harvest veggies when they’re ready, not when you’re ready.
  • Invest in a great hose once or a cheap hose ten times.
  • The hose won’t reach.
how not to dry rosemary

The wrong way to dry rosemary


Fret Less, Not More

  • Not all plants want water every day.
  • More plants die from drowning than neglect.
  • Staring at plants does not make them grow faster.
  • When they say to turn compost every few days, they don’t mean every few hours.
  • Unless there’s a seven-foot monster eating the seedlings, panic is pointless.

Trust Your Failures

  • The supermarket is less than a half mile away.
  • Broccoli was not designed to GROW in 104-degree desert air.
  • Good soil does not sprout clouds of gnats.
  • Raised beds are for your peace of mind, not rabbit control.
  • Rabbits can fly.

Sales People Sell Stuff

  • Home improvement stores will sell you anything without asking what you need it for.
  • Not every gardening invention is your new best friend.
  • Life’s too short to mourn a manicure.
  • Clean your tools.
  • That twelve-foot-wide cedar-walled raised bed looks better in the pictures than it will on your eight-foot patio.

When It’s Time, It’s Time

Over the past nine months, I’ve learned more about gardening than I did during my initial Garden Lass forays. By watching what plants survived my beginner’s luck approaches, by pausing before taking on too many more seed starter sets (and looking at the results of the ones I did take on).

By asking questions and listening to the answers my good friend, Master Gardener Mia Myers of Smart Seeds, patiently gives me.

By sitting on my hands instead of buying new stuff, (“But it’s such a lovely shade of lemon!”) and learning to use old stuff smarter.

Now, two packages of peat pots and a bag of EXCELLENT potting soil lure me, siren-like, back to the potting bench, though I do better at potting when I’m near a sink and can safely lean my elbows on the counter.

I’ve missed the bulk of the Planting Season (whatever that is – some call it Spring), and I still haven’t got any sense of what to plant when and where. But I’m done moping and grumping and griping and beating myself up for my failures.

Now it’s time to begin again.

To more successful failures!
Casey — the Garden Lass

Hidden Gardens: Jill Crawford

It is the end of July, and out here in the high desert, it’s working up to major humidity. So… it feels like a great time to focus on a hidden garden.

doors to nowhere

Doors do not need to go to other places. This one heads to a spot in the imagination, and does it quite well! Dahlias in foreground.

Today’s hidden garden belongs to Jill Crawford, “someplace in California” (I didn’t ask the city – we don’t need to know).

We were chatting on IM this afternoon and she asked what I was up to – I told her about Garden Lass. I could almost hear the squeal of delight in response. Her garden is “going gangbusters!”  Of course I immediately begged for pictures, and here they are.

Jill Crawford’s Hidden Garden

First is a door they found when taking down a shed. They propped it up against a plain wall, et voila! Add a little bit of repurposed wood, a handful of brilliantly-hued dahlias, and you’ve got a major case of:

sorta shabby chic old world Tuscany hint of Florence while passing by Barcelona on a cloudy day.

To which she said, “May I quote you?” – of course, Jill!

lovely pears for dahlia

What a pear harvest this will be!

Second is a lovely overhead of the pear harvest. I personally think pears are some of the most graceful fruits in existence and deserve to be painted at every opportunity. If I were a painter…

Finally, the piece de resistance (which I just know I’m mangling spelling-wise):  The Garden itself.


the sort of hidden treasure garden I adore

This is exactly the sort of hidden treasure garden I adore. Welcoming and playful, casual and unpretentious, arms open. If I had the skill and the rainfall, I would grow this garden. Luckily I know someone who has.

Here she’s growing corn! Peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, peppers. Just look at that gorgeous space of intentionally relaxing green!

I hope this photo comes out in the same crisp beautiful wildness as her iPhone shot did. It’s a lovely montage of comfort and real producing garden, with not a stuffy bone in its body.

Your Turn – Got a Hidden Garden?

Do you have a hidden garden – and want to show it off just a bit? Just let me know, here or on Facebook. Let’s chat!

New Gardener Birthday Present: Vegtrug

I have been walking somewhere between Cloud Nine and 27 all day – I found out last night that I’m getting a Vegtrug for my birthday, and I’m stoked!

I should explain. I found out ‘cuz my Far Better Half told me, not because I overheard something I shouldn’t. Besides, I’m past the age where surprises are what get me through the year. In fact, I’d rather not be surprised.

So, without further ado… *drumroll* The Vegtrug!

Vegtrug™ Patio Garden with Covers

Vegtrug Patio Garden with Covers

Soon to be MY Vegtrug!

This set includes the Vegtrug Patio Garden, the Vegtrug Frame & Greenhouse Cover and the Vegtrug Insect Cover. The Vegtrug Patio Garden lets you garden at an easy working height; no bending or kneeling to plant, tend and harvest. Elevated bed means no weeds and fewer pests, too. The V-shape makes efficient use of space and planting mix – grow deep-rooted plants like tomatoes in the center, shallow-rooted crops along the edges. Includes a fitted fabric liner to keep soil contained while letting excess water drain. Plastic feet protect wood from wet surfaces. Easy assembly.

Why I’m Cheering for a Vegtrug

Ok, I see I’m the one doing a lot of the jumping up and down for glee, so I’ll explain why I’m so completely thrilled. For the most part, my gardening is happening indoors (see various mentions of containers, lack of bees, indoor gardening challenges).

The Vegtrug will mean that I can garden outdoors without having to worry about bending over and kneeling, neither of which I can do with any reliability.

  • I’ll be able to plant without falling on the ground.
  • I’ll be able to water without filling up a dozen juice bottles and milk jugs each day.
  • I’ll be able to weed without spending the next day begging for painkillers.
  • I’ll be able to harvest without worrying about spreading dirt all over the dining room.

In short, the Vegtrug answers all those pesky questions that come up with bad backs, arthritis and age in general.

Sheer heaven! Yes, I’m dancing a bit. I’m definitely looking forward to this year’s annibirthday! (We celebrate both our birthdays and our anniversary at the same time.)

Partly Cloudy, 100% Chance of Gardening

partly cloudy sculptures

Partly cloudy over the Sierra Nevada range at 6:55 am

This morning was one of those hopeful cloudy mornings where the wind had sculpted miles of clouds into fantasy drawings. It’s rare to get this sort of calm, cloudy, overcast morning out here in the desert, or for the clouds to last much past daybreak if we do.

So at 6:55 a.m., all the signs were in place for it to be a great cloudy gardening day.

Why rejoice at cloudy mornings?

A few reasons for looking forward to cloudy mornings come to mind. The temperature is a bit cooler, the little humidity we get is a bit higher.

The air is standing still, which means not having to chase leaves and seed packets and trash bags down the hill every few minutes.

Cloudy mornings are easier on seedlings waiting to be transplanted. There’s less stress on their leaves, less tension in the roots since they won’t have to stand up to 40 mph gusts.

The ground doesn’t dry out as fast when it’s a cloudy morning. This means there’s less need to keep sprinkling the soil while planting seeds into the ground or hardening off seedlings from indoors to out.

The sun isn’t as blinding on a cloudy morning, which means the dark RayBans can stay indoors for a change and we can enjoy the beauty of the true colors of flowers we’re moving from flat to ground.

We get clouds more often than we used to – or perhaps I’m noticing them more now that I’m gardening. It’s a morning smile, even if it brings rain – even more of a rarity to this part of the desert.

What tasks to save for cloudy mornings?

Keep a list and be prepared, if cloudy mornings are rare in your neck of the woods. Some ideas for your list:

  • Deep soak watering
  • Deadheading flowers and trimming
  • Preparing seedlings for hardening off
  • Seeding vegetables into outdoor rows
  • Mulching and weed blocking
  • Hose and sprinkler repair and rerouting
  • Footpath and stepping stone maintenance
  • Patio and driveway sweeping

Sure, some of these can be done on sunny mornings and quite often are. But some require spending time in the bright light and heat of the high desert – and when it can be 85F by breakfast time, it’s important to schedule outdoor work carefully (and buy lots of sunscreen).

So take advantage of your cloudy mornings when the weather is 100% perfect for a serious gardening session.




R.I.P. Bunny Buffet Summer Squash

lizard onlooker

“Sad state of things,” Lizard McSkitter commented from the safety of his home tree.

The brief but eventful life of Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3, a high-yield summer squash hybrid known for its robust and daring lifestyle, came to an end at (approx.) 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time, 16 July 2012.

This transplanted desert denizen of barely two months found itself on the receiving end of a passing bunny rabbit’s breakfast appetite and, being already rather low on the regional food chain, lost its battle for survival.

Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3, who had chosen to venture out on its own after a territorial clash with a belligerent mint, had shown early signs of success on the outstretches of Bunny Buffet, deftly fending off approaches by the neighborhood jack and visiting bunnies for several weeks. However, the effects of last week’s protracted heat wave left Hybrid #3 in a weakened state.

“Sad state of things,” pondered evergreen dweller Lizard McSkitter. “Tweren’t nothin’ anyone could do. When that larger bunny attacked, whewsh. All she wrote.”

Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3 is survived by two older indoor-dwelling cousins, Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrids #1 and #2, late of sunroom fame for producing three female blossoms simultaneously.

At the request of the Squash family, no services will be held. Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3 will be buried on Layer #9 of the compost bin.

Perfect Garden: Promise and Propaganda

Managing expectations of the perfect garden is one of the greatest challenges a new gardener faces. We sigh happily over lush green pictures in garden supply catalogs and upscale home design magazines.

Versailles Gardens

Looks a lot like the Versailles Gardens, no? That’s because it is.

Everywhere we turn, we see a picture perfect garden beset with koi ponds and white wrought iron tea tables and, of course, matching chairs and a full ice tea pitcher with glistening slices of home grown lemon.

Carefully weathered cedar gazebos, copper-patina wind chimes tinkling, surrounded by delicately twining vines of ivy, climbing rose, perfectly trimmed hedges, flagstone paths to make your soul weep. And it’s all green, Green, GREEN in the way that the newly watered perfect garden is supposed to be. Not a petal or grass blade out of place.

Not a weed in sight.

garden site

Before. See the perfect garden superimposed? No? Ok. That’s my head.

Seeing a Perfect Garden is Believing

We buy into this perfect garden mythology, we new gardeners, because we must. Nobody says to herself, “YES! I am going to go kneel in the ankle-deep mud and choke on the blowing sand while I dig out 80-pound boulders to make room for a 20-foot square garden which will yield two tomatoes, 47 huge tomato bugs, three heads of pre-wilted lettuce, and a squash that looks like a prune!”

Relying on Perfect Garden Mythology

We look at that empty 20 square feet of weeds, rocks, dead saplings and bird poop – and we see the Versailles Gardens superimposed in all their perfectly tended glory. We weed and dig and push and shovel and hoe the existing muck out of the way in the hope of revealing this perfect garden.

We need the promise of the perfect garden. It’s what keeps us digging and watering and hauling and shoveling and hoping.

A Nifty Gardenwarming Gift

garden sign pauses to get its picture taken

New garden sign from Mom is a wonderful gardenwarming gift!

This little metal sign is a gift from my mom and dad, who visited on their way to a wedding in San Diego. It’s become the official garden marker for Garden Lass. Later it will go on the patio door or on the gate by the north plot when that becomes a garden  – but for now it’s in the patio room leaning against the wall just behind the planting “table.”

For now, also, it’s wired onto the back edge of the mythical wooden cart that shows Garden Lass dreams, above. Miracles of Photoshop!

For the first time, I feel like a real gardener.

Big Box Store: Donate Extra Seeds to Schools

all my leftover seeds

I am glad to donate my leftover seeds. Who wants them?

Today I stopped by a local big-box-national-brand store, hoping to find tomatillos in the great big seed display I saw last month.

Not only did they have no tomatillo seeds but they have barely any seeds at all! (Lots of flower seeds, but I’m not ready to grow flowers.) Thinking they moved the display to a sunnier spot, I tracked down a floor manager, who shook her head sadly.

“Unless they’re there, they’ve gone back.”  Gone back? To..?

Turns out that retailers return seeds to their vendors on a certain timetable in order to get credit for them if they’re not sold. I suppose that makes sense.

But instead of returning them, why not donate them? What’s the worst thing that’d happen if this massive national chain gave its nearly out of code seeds to the community or schools or parks, with no guarantee except that of best wishes.

Maybe a kid gets curious about growing a garden. Maybe a family gets a healthy meal from a community veggie plot. Maybe it makes the difference between eating veggies or not eating at all. That’s a choice some families are making these days.