Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Growing a Human: 1st Trimester Edition

For a split second, I thought I might try to compare growing a human to growing a garden. Then, that split second was over and I cringed. Nope, not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent. It would be worse than comparing having a dog to raising a child. Yes, there are highs and lows in gardening, and extreme highs and lows in pregnancy, but that's where I'm going to stop the comparison. This is a gardening blog, and I'm growing a human. I'll let you know how growing a garden while growing a human goes when Spring comes along. Fair? Okay. For now, let's talk about that roller-coaster ride we call life...while creating and growing life.

I thought standing in the garage with my hands full after work and puking macerated oranges into my dirty smoothie cup was going to be my big "low." But then, after three weeks of suffering through debilitating headaches and migraines, there was that night when Patrick  informed me, "you just aspirated on your own vomit" through a crack in the bathroom door. Even worse, I couldn't get out my response of "Who else's vomit would I be choking on, smart ass?" And then, right when I thought I was emerging from the pukey fog of the 1st trimester, I found myself shoveling a pile of vomit out of the bathroom sink with a paper plate (I couldn't make it to the toilet, just two feet away).

These were just a few of my 1st trimester lows.
This baby better be good.
Let's be perfectly honest, the knowledge that I was finally going to become a mother and see Patrick become a father didn't make the migraines, vomiting, nausea, constant dry heaving and extreme exhaustion any easier or more welcome. I don't care how badly you want to be a mom, feeling like complete shit every day really sucks.

Oh, and if you're not trying to keep your food down or battle an epic headache, there's the anxiety to keep you busy. Am I screwing this up? Am I doing everything I can? Will I be a good mom? Will the baby be healthy? Will I have the kind of birth I want? Every twinge, cramp or sickness spells possible trouble in the mind of most pregnant moms. Is it Listeria? Flu? Oh god, is it a miscarriage?
11 weeks
The possibility for miscarriage in the 1st trimester is high, and the main reason for anxiety during those fragile first three months. It's also why there's a socially accepted rule that you don't tell anyone you're pregnant until after week 12, when the possibility declines sharply. But I'm not that into rules, especially that one. For me personally -- and I want to make it clear that I know it's not the same for every woman -- I didn't think I'd want to go through the grief and healing process after a miscarriage in secret. I would want my closest friends and family to know what I was going through. Plus, you usually feel the worst during the 1st trimester, and somehow that's when you're not supposed to talk to anyone about it? That didn't make sense to me. Furthermore, keeping a pregnancy a secret involves a lot of lying and/or evading. I'm no good at either. Not to mention that pregnancy is a huge life event that practically begs to be blurted out any time you talk to anyone. Clearly, I'm not a fan of the "12 week rule" at all.
12+4 weeks
So, we told some select people as soon as the opportunity arose. And I'm so, so happy we did. I had a sister-in-law and a few close friends to talk/complain to and who I knew would be incredibly supportive of me if things didn't work out. Then, when I was 9 weeks along, we told my family in person over Thanksgiving. That was one of the major highs of my 1st trimester. They were thrilled.
Two more grandbabies to add to the Cross family!

I got to sit and talk pregnancy with my sister, who is due in March, and order my 1st maternity clothes with her input. I got to enjoy "baby hugs" from my sweet little niece and hear her chant "Go Emily's baby" as we sat in the living room before bedtime. When my oldest niece asked "is there a baby in your belly?" I could tell her "yes" and watch her big smile spread across her face. I still get to tell people about how my nephew said "I have a baby in my belly, too" after he heard the news.  I get to ask about what baby hand-me-downs I might get from my oldest sister. Memories like these bring me so much joy.

One night when I couldn't get back to sleep after another middle-of-the night bathroom run, I looked at Patrick beside me and felt the intense love of a mother and a wife. Before ever seeing or touching our child, I could feel the overwhelming unconditional love well up inside of me. Love for our child and my husband and our little family. I was imagining embracing our child with overflowing love, knowing that I'm its one and only mother, here to nourish, protect and teach it.
These were just a few of the 1st trimester highs.
13+5 weeks

Now, at 14 weeks, I'm starting the next chapter of my pregnancy. The nausea is abating, the headaches are getting fewer and I can sometimes manage to stay up past 9pm. We're clearing out what used to be the office and making plans for the baby's room. Now, pregnancy starts to get fun!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bring on the Bulbs!

Want some early-spring bloomers to help you embrace warming temperatures and longer days next year? Now is the time to put on an embarrassing high school sweatshirt and plop down in the dirt with some bad-ass bulbs. Oh, and don't forget the power tool.

My bulb-planting station last weekend: two kinds off Allium bulbs, a sharp trowel, power tool and planting guide
I've been getting a lot of questions from friends about bulb planting, so this blog post will be based on all of the questions that I've heard lately. I've planted summer and fall-blooming bulbs in the spring (Gladiolas and Crocus), but this is my first experience with spring-blooming bulbs, so all of the following information comes from a lot of research and just a little bit of experience. If you've been reading my blog even a little, you should be used to this by now.

When should I plant my spring-blooming bulbs?
When low temperatures start dipping into the 40's and threaten to sink into the 30's, it's time to get your fall planting into gear. You want to get them in the ground before it freezes solid, and after the leaves start falling. The end of September and pretty much all of October are generally a good time to plant both hardy perennials and spring-blooming bulbs-- even if we have an epic snowfall or two, which is bound to happen here on the Front Range of Colorado.

What kind of conditions do bulbs like?
Depends on the type, but there is a saying that "bulbs don't like to get their feet wet", which means that they don't like to be sitting in wet conditions. Yes, that's actually a saying, and yes I'm a nerd.  It means that they don't like water-retaining, slow-draining soil like clay, and they shouldn't be planted in areas that tend to hold water, like the bottom of hills. I am trying to defy nature by planting some bulbs in both conditions this year, so I'll tell you in the Spring how that worked out for me.I figured we don't get enough rain in these parts to worry about too much moisture, but still, probably not the smartest thing I've done.

Tulips love sun, Ipheion can handle a lot of shade, Allium and Daffodils like both, and Muscari (Hyacinth) will grow pretty much anywhere you drop the bulbs. The bag of bulbs will tell you what kind of sun they need. Keep in mind that the early-spring sun conditions will be different in your garden than in mid-summer (Science!), so plan your planting accordingly.

There is no need to fertilize your bulbs when you plant them -- the bulb itself is an energy-storing device that provides plenty of food to get the bulb growing when the time comes (again, Science!).

How do I plant them? And how deep?
Power tools! You don't need an electric screwdriver to plant bulbs, but it's a lot cooler if you use one. A couple of years ago, I bought this sweet oversized-corkscrew attachment that you use in an electric screwdriver to create holes in the ground for bulbs. It makes planting bulbs a little easier, but really I just use it because it makes me feel powerful. If you aren't lucky enough to have this, just use a gardening trowel and your hands to make space for the bulb.

Most bulbs need to be planted down to 2 to 4 inches, and the large bulbs need to be planted down to 6 to 8 inches. The bag of bulbs should say right on it what it needs, but if you aren't sure, you should be safe in the 4-inch range unless you have a very large bulb.
Bulb depth planting guide.

Starting an 8-inch hole for large Allium "Mount Everest" bulbs. I dug the hole deeper with a trowel and my finger(nail)s.
As for spacing, I noticed that all of the bags would say how many bulbs to put in a square foot, not how many inches apart they should be, like regular perennials. That's because you can plant some bulbs right next to each other. Bulbs per square foot can range from 3 for large bulbs to 16 for small bulbs. Taking all of the bulbs I planted this fall into account, I'd say a safe average is 10 per square foot. The huge Allium bulbs I planted, called "Mount Everest," are a rare type of bulb that needs to be planted deep and given space.

What kind of bulbs did you plant this year?
This is a common question between gardeners, and you'll need an answer if you want to join our cool-kids club.

I planted two kinds of Tulips together:

"Little Princess"

Two kinds of Allium (a.k.a. Ornamental Onion):


"Mount Everest"

I planted two miniature species together:

Mini Iris "Harmony"

Mini Daffodil "Tete-a-Tete"

 And, I planted white Ipheion in my shady, already Hyacinth-filled flower bed by our front door:

Ipheion "Alberto Castillo"

Muscari "Grape Hyacinth"

What bulbs did you plant?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

First Frost

I suffered some real late-season garden fatigue in August; I didn't really do much in the garden except come home from a week or weekend away and violently pull bindweed while cursing like a sailor. Now, we are bouncing back from our first frost and I'm all sad about the summer coming to a close. Gardening can be one hell of an emotional rollercoaster!
What it looks like when Bindweed takes over -- this can happen in a week or two if I don't fight it.
Just as I was taking the unusually wet summer and lush landscape for granted, I get reminded how short-lived our growing season really is around here. We had our last snow storm on May 11th, and our first frost on September 12th. It got down to 35 degrees on Thursday night, so I had the garden and large deck containers covered for two days. I brought all of my smaller containers inside and harvested all of my cucumbers and quite a few tomatoes. There are still a ton of green tomatoes left, so I'm holding out hope for several more to ripen on the vine, but with these short days, it's not looking good.

Tomatoes harvested early and ripening in the windowsill. Covered deck containers and garden in background.

Frosty sunflower Saturday morning

First Frost - Veronica ground cover
Covered veggie garden - I gave up on my green beans; they didn't fare well this season.

I'm getting over the disappointment of an underperforming veggie garden. My cucumbers and green beans didn't even do well! Sing it with me: "Let it go. Let it go-oooh!" At least I have tons of carrots and onions? Looking for some silver lining here. It's so strange that our wettest summer was such a disappointment in the veggie garden department. I'm guessing it's because we didn't have a lot of sun and heat to get things off to a good start in May and June. Well, my flower garden did awesome this year, and for that I can be grateful.

The sun is shining, the sky is that clear "Colorado blue" and the temperature is back up in the upper 70's. It should hold steady there for several more days, at least. I have a ton of fall planting and maintenance I want to do, so it's back to work for me!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why We Take "Before and After" Pictures

I took a stroll down memory lane the other day and clicked through our "New House!" photo album from over three years ago. Boy did it make me feel good to see how far we've come.

I highly recommend this confidence-boosting exercise to everyone -- whether you're a gardener or not. Take a look at the very first photos you took when you moved into your current place, look at old photos of your kids, and definitely look at throwback high school and middle school pictures to feel the rush of pride at how much you've grown and changed since those pictures were taken.

After looking at pictures of our yard taken in the Spring of 2011, I feel like I can do anything.

The first picture is the earliest picture of the back yard that I could find.
Old deck, old dog run in the background and young pup in the foreground
Awww look how little Scout is! We moved the fence and gate to create a landscape side and a fenced-in garden side
Unfortunately, I haven't retired that "outfit" yet. Not really something to be proud of, but whatever.

The family before us used the back part of the backyard as a dog run, so I spent a couple of weekends digging up weeds and picking up large piles of dog poop

What I call the "wildflower patch" to the right of the garden beds

Inside of garden fence 2011. Hollyhock in left corner has now abundantly self-sowed through this area.
 Like I said in my first post back, I like to embrace growth and change. Especially when it looks like this:
View from deck in May 2014

Landscape in early June 2014 - green grass complements of a wet Spring
Full-grown Scout and always-growing landscape in July 2014

Landscape in July 2014

Inside of garden area with self-sowing Hollyhocks dominating, July 2014
Other side of garden fence, July 2014

Veggie garden in early June 2014
Garden in early July 2014

Wildflower patch and garden in 2014
Wildflower patch in 2012

Wildflower patch 2014 - Wild Four O'Clock below sunflowers

When we were visiting my in-laws in Wisconsin over Memorial Day weekend, my mother-in-law told me she gives me credit for getting anything at all to grow in our less-than-ideal gardening conditions. I replied humbly, "I give me credit, too!" It's a good feeling to allow yourself to be proud of what you've done. If I compared my little beginner garden to the those of more experienced gardeners, I'd never feel proud of what I've accomplished. So I say forget about comparing yourself to others; compare you to you and let yourself enjoy the pride of how you've grown and changed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Low-Maintenance Perennial Favorites

In the beginning of the summer, a couple of friends asked me for some plant recommendations for starting a new perennial garden in Fort Collins. I figure there's more people out there who wonder what proven performers they could use in their new or established gardens. So, I've come up with a short list of my favorite perennials from my low-maintenance, drought-resistant and clay-soiled Zone 5 garden. The list consists of plants that have proven to be dependable performers year after year, super low/no maintenance and just plain pretty. A few are only appropriate for Western, arid gardens, but others are great for the Midwest, too.

Pink Wild Penstemon  (Penstemon palmeri). Short-lived but oh-so-lovely, this tall, showy beaut only lasted two or three years and has now been retired from my garden. I'm not sure if it's truly short-lived or if my clay soil was just too much for it. I think it was probably the latter, as it needs really quick-draining, rocky soil to thrive. It blooms in late summer. I have it on this list because it had the most gorgeous flowers I've ever had in my garden; and the hummingbirds, sphinx moths, bees and butterflies all loved it. It's also very low maintenance and needs no water after it's been established.
2012 in my garden

I ordered mine from High Country Gardens
 Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus). These are native to the region, and I can always count on them to come back stronger than the year before. These are for Western gardens only, as they need dry conditions and strong sun to thrive. I also love them because they are a favorite for butterflies in our garden.
2012 with pink Penstemon Palmeri to upper left
2014. Salvia on left, Rocky Mountain Penstemon on right. Lady in background.

Swallowtail butterflies, sphinx moths, hummingbirds and bees love this dependable perennial

 Yarrow (Achillea spp.) of any kind grows and blooms vigorously all summer long. Some Yarrow is known to aggressively self-sow, so be sure to get one that doesn't if you want it to remain in one spot in the garden. I have two non-self-sowing kinds. A large, yellow "Moonshine" and more compact, white-flowered Greek Yarrow. White-flowered Yarrow can also be used as a medicinal herb. Yarrow makes a great cut flower and is so bright that it shines on moon-lit evenings.

I planted the Yarrow in 2012. Yellow flowers on right are Moonshine Yarrow, White-flowered Yarrow to left of them.

Two years later, it's thriving. Rocky Mountain Penstemon shoots up in between white and yellow Yarrow flowers 
Cut Yarrow flowers last a really long time in a vase and add a bright pop of color to bouquets

May Night Salvia (Salvia nemorosa). In my experience, Salvia does well anywhere. My dad had some (not sure which but it looked similar) in our garden in Northern Illinois and it did well there, too. I have May Night planted in the front yard in partial shade, as well as in the South-facing backyard in full sun. They all grow and bloom vigorously. They also self-sow moderately, and are always coated in friendly honey bees all summer long. Even when I'm dead-heading spent flowers (a must for Salvia), the bees have never bothered me. You'll notice that Salvia is a major player in my small landscaped area, where it's growing next to other favorite flowers.
nom nom nom. Bees loooove May Night Salvia

This Salvia has self-sowed to create a long string of plants. Pull out self-sowed seedlings if you prefer a  manicured look

Salvia is great for cut flowers, and is always a major player in my favorite vase all summer long
Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber Coccineus) self-sows mildly and likes both full sun and part shade. It blooms from late spring through late summer with deep-red flowers. I wish I would have given it more of a front-and-center role in my landscape design, but you can still enjoy it if you look for it in the corner. I've learned from my newb design mistake! Jupiter's Beard does well in the Midwest, too, where it gets more water. I like it combined with Salvia, where the purple and red flowers, and dark-green and light-green foliage complement each other.

Salvia to left, Jupiter's Beard in Corner
Nobody puts Jupiter's Beard in the corner! Except silly ol' me
Deep-rooted Wild 4 O'Clock (Mirabilis multiflora) needs way more space than I planned for. It's taken up a big corner of my little wildflower area, but I still love it for its dependable summer-long color and extremely xeric (no)water needs. It is also deer- and rabbit-resistant. If you use it, make room for it! Also, my Midwesterner friends will not be able to use this one, as it only does well in the dry air and soil of the West.

Flowers open in the afternoon
Evening Primrose (Oenothera) is a new favorite for me. I'm pretty sure I have a Missouri Evening Primrose, aka Ozark Sundrop, but I can't be sure because I didn't buy it. My mother-in-law brought me some hardy flowers that had been divided from her landscape in Northern Illinois a couple of years back, and quite a few have done surprisingly well in the completely different conditions of my Xeric garden. Primrose is one of them. Now that I have it and have grown to love it, I'm noticing it in a lot of others gardens, too. That's proof enough for me that it's no fluke that it's thriving in my garden.
I've noticed that the Primrose spreads slowly, has pretty reddish-purple stems, buttery yellow flowers, really cool speckled sepals and blooms all summer long. Even the spent flowers look kinda cool, with an orange-y color tone. Oh, and they're super easy to deadhead, unlike Salvia. It's a true-blue surprise favorite for me and I'm so grateful my M.I.L. brought it all the way from IL to CO. 

Clear picture of newly opened flower with speckled sepals

reddish-purple stems visible in this photo

Iris can always be counted on for Spring color and beautiful, delicate blooms in the Midwest and the West. Plus, it spreads pretty easily, so you can transplant it into other areas after a few years. I don't know exactly what kind of Iris I have because it was one of the few plants that was already planted in our backyard when we moved in. I transplanted a few bulbs to a new area three years ago, and it has grown so well that it may be time to do that again.
Mine are planted in front of lilacs, and tend to bloom right after the lilacs have lost their color

If you are just getting your flower garden started, I highly recommend all of the perennials above. They have been low-maintenance, low-budget tested and approved over the past three years. I'm sure I'll have a bunch of new favorites to share with you next year. Let me know what your favorites are, especially if you think they might do well with little to no water!