Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

7 thoughts on “Plant Survivialist

  1. Finally had time to read your plant story… at a campground tonite in OR (Baker City)…. and very much enjoyed! The photos too! We are on the home stretch after 20 days on the road. Great trip but ready to be home. Tomorrow we’ll stop at the Olympia Costco to get stuff. Do you need a TV or anything else? :)). The offer is sincere. Xxoo

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • Ha ha! Thanks Jane, we’re fine on TVs etc! Look forward to seeing you soon, bet your garden will surprise you with blooms when you get home!

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  2. Penney, I love love love this post! Your plants are BEAUTIFUL!! You and Mike are just as beautiful, hardy and tenacious, too!
    Love, Shaun

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    • Thanks Shaun. We’re not feeling so hardy these days, but still tenacious! These plants are inspiring, I was amazed how many have been with me for so long, there were several others but the list was getting long! They may not be as old as your oaks, but when I think of the ones from the farm, that were there long before I lived there, I wonder what stories they could tell!
      PJ

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