[No, it’s not what you think, but the expression “a riot of color” is apropos to these colorful blooms amidst the bleak days we are muddling through now, between the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.]
Not so very long ago, if someone asked me what my hobbies were, without missing a beat, I’d answer “gardening and reading” … that was before the walking and blogging bugs bit me.
The saga began in 2005 when I decided to try my hand at growing perennials, although I still planted annuals in pots and baskets around the front, side and back yards as well. I perused countless gardening sites on the internet, subscribed to Birds and Blooms magazine and my e-mail inbox groaned with many gardening mailings. Soon I became obsessed with the garden, getting up at the crack of dawn daily to hand water, weed and deadhead the blooms before catching the bus to work. Weekends were spent toiling in the front and back yards, but mostly in the back where the majority of flowers grew. I simply could not rest until there were no weeds, nor a single piece of mulch out of place, no matter how often the Robins flipped mulch pieces every which way while digging for worms. I catered to the birds with four birdbaths in various sizes and two feeders plus Birdola birdseed cakes. It was a lot of work and for much younger legs. 🙂
And then a new neighbor moved in behind with a dog that was left out 24/7/365 and soon we had rats. The pest control service we hired said I needed to remove the feeders and birdbaths since the rats would seek food, but more importantly, a water source as the poison slowly dried their insides.
It was horrible – the birds were lined up along the chain-link fence, questioning looks on their faces – no more food or water? Why? I moved about the yard with trepidation, as there was not a single inch of the perimeter of the yard that was bare. The bushes and plants, once a place for bunnies and squirrels to go, now gave the rats plenty of places to hide. In the heat of the Summer one year, I went out to water and found two dead and bloated rat bodies – I was just beside myself.
Two years later, in 2008, the pest control service gave me the okay to resume feeding and watering the birds, after the neighbor, his dog and his garage filled with chickens, moved away six months prior. I learned of the chickens from the neighbor that bought the house. Once again I began logging lots of hours in the yard, until my mother remarked “you spend too much time out there – relax already!”
After my mother passed away in January 2010, I decided to try my hand at climbing roses and make a small memorial garden. I got three “Stairway to Heaven” climbers and an umbrella trellis and spent countless hours, not to mention dollars, battling black spot and I finally ripped out the climbing roses before they spread the disease to my shrub roses which had never been problematic or disease prone.
I also had a slugfest with slugs in 2010 and used a product called “Sluggo” which turned into a congealed white and sticky goo once you watered the plants or it rained. The slugs persisted in chomping on my Hosta and Lily leaves. I placed copper wire, so they would electrocute themselves as their slimy bodies traveled over the copper, but that was a wasted effort. My next plan of attack was putting mushroom-shaped soapstone containers filled with beer around the yard. The beer was supposed to entice the slugs to gravitate to the yeasty liquid where they would enter the two holes on each side, then feast, get drunk and hopefully drown. Oh what fun, on a hot and humid August morning to rinse out containers of stale beer filled with floating slug bodies.
Despite these disease and buggy issues, I enhanced my backyard paradise by turning it into a haven for butterflies. I researched and bought books on what flowers to plant, and added three Butterfly Bushes and some more pink Coneflowers to attract butterflies. I set out puddling dishes where they could sip water from cool sand, sunning rocks to stretch out and bask in the sun and even wooden houses with thin slits where they could slide in to avoid predators, or seek refuge on a windy day. I devoured every article I could to make my backyard a safe haven for birds, bees and butterflies and even got the yard certified by the National Wildlife Association as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
I’d probably still be fine-tuning my green thumb out in the backyard paradise, if not for the one-two punch of the back-to-back Polar Vortex events in 2014 and 2015. Southeast Michigan was part of the “2014 North American Cold Wave” which lasted from early January through March. We endured wind chills that dipped to -45F (-43C) and while our furnaces huffed and puffed and we hunkered down in the house, little did I know that my garden likewise took it on the chin. Despite the fact I was mindful of the proper planting/temperature zones for every single plant, Michigan had never seen the likes of the brutally cold, record-setting temps we had that year.
When Spring began to unfold, I walked around the backyard, taking stock of the roses and perennials that lined the perimeter of the yard. I was horrified and heartbroken to see many of them dead as a doornail. The vibrant red “Home Run Shrub Roses” and delicate shell-pink “Bonica Shrub Roses”, once so hardy, ever-blooming and low maintenance, were now brown and lifeless. One small pink shrub rose bush had survived, a dollar special at the end of the growing year circa 1985, with a moniker of “Dream Cloud” which was protected by lilac bushes. Unlike past Springs where I welcomed budding and blossoming plants and would whip the yard into shape, instead I spent my weekends yanking out dead bushes and pruning the roses to the ground willing them to live. I decided if they lived, so be it and I refused to buy new plants and bushes to restore the yard to its former glory and have maintained that mindset.
The following Winter we had a second Polar Vortex event which wiped out all but one of my prized clematises. I decided I’d had it. Disheartened, I left the garden alone, grudgingly going there just to weed, then got out of Dodge. I decided I needed more “me time” for walking and blogging, so I vowed my gardening days were done – I had no time for all the nonsense and expense. The rats returned – I saw their star-shaped footprints and tail tunnel tracks in the snow. I did not hire the pest service but removed all traces of bird amenities for good.
The advent of Homer the Hummingbird and trying to entice hummers to the yard, plus admitting to being a wee bit envious of all the nice landscaping and flowers as I walked through the neighborhoods in May while Council Point Park was closed, was the kick in the pants I needed to take pride in the garden again. I spent all last weekend outside, and in the end, I felt like a Mack truck rolled over me, but it passed muster, though the backyard will never be restored to its former glory as I let it languish too long.
Though I have a love/hate relationship with flowers now, it does not mean I cannot enjoy the beauty of colorful flowers – here are a few I saw along the way while walking in the ‘hood. It gives new meaning to the song “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” doesn’t it?
Enjoy this eye candy! I’ll leave you with this quote:
Photography is the art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them. ~Elliott Erwitt