Mixing faux plants into living arrangements

I used to be reluctant to have faux plants; the gardener in me thought they weren’t nearly as good as living plants. Also, the ones I liked usually cost more than I wanted to pay. But then I figured out that if I picked carefully (thin stems are key), I could cut some faux plants up, and they’d go further.

I’ve been mixing them with live plants lately; Kavi and Kevin totally thought my bougainvillea was blooming, but no.  The leaves are alive, but the flowers are not. Surprise!

Also, I really like the little spiky pops of gold tucked in with my live ferns. Fun textural and color mix, and it lends a little autumn to the pots, and ties into the gold throw on the recliner (and the gold rug that you can’t see in that picture).

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Hanging ferns

Fun home decor project from Friday — that spot seemed to want something, and I had this planter stand from the front porch. Brought it in, but a) the plants were pretty close to dead, given the Chicago winter fast approaching, and b) those coconut husk and metal baskets just looked wrong.

I swapped them out (sending them to the basement until next spring) for 4 white baskets from Home Depot (no drainage, so no dripping on the wood floor), with white macramé hangers like my mom used to make. I resisted the urge to learn how to make them myself, and picked some up online ($15.99 for a set of 4 on Amazon).

Filled with four different ferns, which will hopefully be happy in the medium-to-low light conditions of that room, and they should also be happy without needing a lot of drainage; ferns like it moist. Fingers crossed — we’ll see how they do.

But for now, cute as heck! The white and green really brighten up a dark spot, a bit of cheer that’s much needed in a gloomy Chicago winter. Kind of a 70s meets the Victorian fernery vibe, the latter of which is a funny riff on my 1885 Victorian house. Home design should make you laugh, right? 🙂

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Interior design

I stopped at City Escape on the way home, and they were serving wine and all these people started arriving and taking photos, and I asked what was up, and apparently they do an annual soiree and invite select customers and some of them are home design people.
 
I admit, I was a little envious. Paid to shop! Paid to decorate! Very tempting. I turned down the offered wine, took my little ferns and went home. Alas.
 
A few people have asked me, over the years, to design for them, but the problem is that I have VERY particular taste, and I think I would be terrible as an interior designer if you wanted me to give you what you want. If you wanted to give me free rein and a reasonable budget to do what I think would look good in your space, though — that would be hard to say no to.
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Lovely Dahlia corms

Can I officially get the title of weirdo garden lady if I pull on a coat and garden gloves to go out at 9 p.m. in 35 degrees F to dig up my dahlias in the dark? In my defense, it’s supposed to get super cold for the next few days, and I started fretting that we’d get the ground freezing hard enough that I wouldn’t be able to dig them out. And also, look at all those lovely corms! It would be a shame to waste them. I even wrote a poem about that once….

While you can dig earlier, that first frost that blackens the leaves, jumpstarts the dahlia shift into dormancy. Cut off the stems, pack them in shredded bark in boxes or bins, stick them in the basement or garage, replant after May 31st next year.

You can divide if the corms have gotten big and healthy. Just hoping I can grab the gladioli tomorrow before it gets too cold; we’ll see.

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Gardening desperately in need of doing

Too sick to do all the gardening that rather desperately needs to be done, so my living room is full of tropical plants that need to be pruned and put on stands and watered and it’s all more than I can manage right now. Hopefully will be feeling better tomorrow and can get to it then.

But I did manage to step outside and clip some fairy roses for the kitchen. I’ll take it.

Autumn crocus. Planted a few here, a few years ago, spreading slowly. Thank you for not eating these, squirrels!

I have enough monkshood this year that I could try some as a cut flower without denuding the garden — but I admit, I was feeling paranoid enough that I wore gloves for the entire operation, and washed down all the surfaces and the tools I used for cutting afterwards. It’s also carefully placed where the children and pets can’t get to it. Every bit of monkshood is poisonous, so take care if you plant it! (Pretty perfect for Halloween, though.)

Last of dahlias (the frost last week marked the end for my dahlias this year) and monkshood. Next step — digging up the dahlias and storing for next year.

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The garden, before first frost

Annual salvia Amistad is a great color for a moody autumn garden.

Autumn planter, with slightly soggy mums. (Lots of rain last night. We have a roof leak that we’ll try to deal with today. Sigh.)

Peacock gladiolus, with little free library.

Many of the dahlia got quite beaten down by the rain, but some managed to stay upright. We have more rain coming, so I’ll harvest a bunch off lower stems for the house later today.

Toad lilies, cheerful little woodland autumn beauties. Require no care, spread slowly over time (and can be split easily by division). Tasty to bunnies and deer, but mine seem to be surviving all right — there’s enough other stuff for the critters to nibble right now, I guess.
Toad lilies. I’d like to get a few more varieties to mix into this woodland spot.
Dinnerplate dahlia. It’s huge!
This sunny dahlia is almost too yellow for me — but in the autumn, I’ll allow it. 

Peacock gladiolus. Will be digging these up with the dahlias once frost hits, and storing them to replant next spring. Their graceful fall counterposed with the bending stems of Russian sage.
This is probably the last week for the old English roses, with a nighttime low dipping past freezing predicted for next weekend. They’ve given a long, gloriously scented show this year. Planted near the sidewalk, so the neighbors can enjoy the aroma as they walk by.
This artemisia is sort of randomly plonked in there — I think it’s the only one that survived from a previous year’s planting — and I keep meaning to move it, but never get around to it. Oh well. It seems happy, anyway.
A few last centaurea montana — I can’t resist that deep purple-blue, and their unique spidery petals.
Mums! Sometimes a little dull on their own, I think, but contrast with silvery-white-purple ground cover (alyssum, artemisia, ajuga, lamium), and they pop.
Hydrangea. I think I like them when their beauty is fading even more than when it’s fresh. Old-fashioned autumn quietude.
Alyssum. Sprinkle seed in spring to have it fill in bare spots all season long.
Mums. Hardy perennials (if you get the right varieties in the ground early enough), no care required. Although if you don’t have plants supporting each other, they do tend to flop a bit, esp. after rain. I had to lift this bunch up to get this shot. 
Hydrangea Pinky Winky. I like the framing of this shot, with the ivy trailing down.
One last, intense burst of lush color from rosa “The Fairy” in my parkway garden. This tiny rose has been blooming for months and months and months.
Malva sylvestris, I think, or possibly malva zebrina? Sylvestris is native; I’m not sure if zebrina is. It’s thriving, possibly a little too aggressively for my parkway patch — I’m going to dig some up today and try planting it in the back garden for next year. IF I finish getting my bulbs planted first!
Calamintha nepeta, long-blooming. Attracts bees.
Monkshood! Fabulous color for autumn, very dramatic, deadly poison. Garden with care.
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I love this shrub

My grad school classmate, Nicole Walker, has a book, _Sustainability: A Love Story_, tiny lovely essays that are mostly centered on how we want to do good things for the planet, but it’s hard and we are lazy and so often we don’t live up to our ideals. My burning bush is one of the places where I fall down.

I love this shrub. It’s really more of a small tree. When we bought our old Victorian house, we had an arborist come by to assess the trees on the property — they said they’d never seen a burning bush get so big, and estimated it was at least a hundred years old. The lifespan of burning bush is 250 years, so that seems plausible. Since it’s planted right by the front door, and the house was built in 1885, it’s entirely possible that the first homeowners planted this when they built the house.

For over a hundred years, the burning bush has graced our front door, turning a brilliant crimson to herald the autumn. When almost everything else in our yard was destroyed during the construction and renovation process, we were careful to protect it, and it survived. A little triumph of nature, or so it seemed.

Then this year, I learned that burning bush can be invasive in our region. The bush itself is well-behaved in our garden — it doesn’t send off suckers or anything like that. (We’re *still* trying to eradicate the tree of heaven, ten years later.) It doesn’t bother the neighbors.

But it turns out that burning bush seeds are dispersed by frugivorous birds that eat the fleshy arils and spread their seeds to new locations. Once established, burning bush can form dense thickets, displacing native vegetation. It’s native to northeastern Asia and was first introduced into North America in the 1860s for ornamental purposes. (Ah, I can imagine that young mother in 1885, thrilled by the exotic shrub that she can add to her new home and garden.)

I know I should remove it and replace it with a native. Probably a serviceberry; their clusters of little white flowers would be beautiful in early spring. In summer, they’d produce lovely berries (different varieties offer red, almost black, purple, purplish-black, or blue-black). And some varieties have glorious orange-red leaves in autumn. Overall, a serviceberry would be a net gain over a burning bush, on both the ornamental and the ecological front.

And yet. On the one hand, removing and replacing a tree is costly, esp. if we want to put in a larger tree so we can enjoy it while we’re still living in this house. My garden budget is spent (and overspent) for the year already.

More of an issue is that I’ve grown attached to this burning bush. It has a story and a history, and I hate the thought of cutting its life short, perhaps only halfway through. I know it’s ridiculous, but if I could pick it up and move it to somewhere it wasn’t invasive, I’d seriously think about doing that. But that’s really not practical.

For this year, at least, the burning bush will stay. I’ve just trimmed off a partly broken branch that was hanging down and blocking the path, using it to make four different fall arrangements for the house. These berries, at least, won’t be eaten by birds and then deposited in fragile native woodlands. Maybe next year, the pangs of mother-Earth guilt I feel when I glance at the tree will outweigh the vestiges of attachment.

Maybe I’ll put my sentimentality aside then, and go serviceberry shopping. I can see those white spring blossoms already. And if that young mother in 1885 could consult with me over the decision, I think she’d approve. She worried about her children’s future too.

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