The garden centres are starting to wake up a bit here, which means that all kinds of new varieties are showing up. I saw an amazing double hellebore yesterday, which I was going to buy until I saw that it was $24.95. I mean, I like hellebores but really. Who buys these things? Oh wait, I know: people with lots of money. Right. Well, that's not moi. I am a Bargain Gardener. Today's column is Bargain Gardening.
This is a good time to buy new plants for your garden: now is when all the nurseries sell off their stock cheap, to make way for new spring items. You can sometimes even barter with the manager. I've done this a few times, because I want the plant but I don't want to pay full price for it. And that's how I ended up with this Rose of Sharon at long last. There was the charming but rudely overpriced Blue Bird, which I had been vaguely coveting, sitting there looking particularly well shaped, but the garden centre had removed their All Deciduous Stock 30% Off signs. I was feeling rashly ebullient, so I went over the manager and said "Would you sell me this Rose of Sharon
I have been vaguely coveting for the past 10 months just because it's a weird shade of blue and I love weird shades of blue and give me a 50% discount because it's old stock?" And he said "Sure!" Then we both stared at each other as if shocked at our own reactions. There were two garden staff near us listening and they too looked shocked. The woman at the till said "You sure got a good deal." I tried to smile bashfully but I'm not very good at bashful.
Which brings me to another aspect of Bargain Gardening: Garden Centre Memberships. This is when a garden centre has a Clever Marketing Manager who is very good at getting gardeners to part with their money and so comes up with schemes to make it look like the gardener is getting a Super Good Deal when all they are really doing is spending yet more money at the Garden Centre. Sometimes these deals work in the favour of the gardener. The deal is usually this: the gardener pays $10 for a Lifetime Membership Complete With Coupons For Massively Expensive Purchases. Or something like that. I bought one at the local Garden Centre when we first moved here because I knew I would be buying fruit trees and shrubs and seeds, and the coupon deal worked in my favour but mostly because a) I bought 5 fruit trees from them, and b) they also have a points system which translates into further discounts on future purchases. All for ten bucks.
Anyhow, after I'd used up my points, obtained the discount, and noticed that they'd mismarked the Rose of Sharon so that it was actually $15 cheaper than the tag said it was, I only paid about $7 for a two gallon shrub. High five! (no I didn't really do that - I do have some dignity - I waited until I got into the car)
I also bought a 50% off rosy red yarrow for the butterflies ($4), a scented Viola odorata to match the unscented but lovely marbled Freckles violet I bought before I knew some violets actually smelled good ($2) and I bought two roses.
I've never been a rose person. They were nice and had interesting colours and all, but they never grabbed me the way herbs and other flowering perennials did. And then I spent six years living in Southern California, where roses really grow well there, and had a garden with a lot of donated roses in it (we lived in university housing, where people come and go and rose plants changed hands frequently). I also discovered that I liked roses. For one thing, nothing looks quite like a big scented rose floating in a clear bowl of water. It's enchanting. So when we bought this house I started accumulating roses. I bought a few. I was given a few. I transplanted a few from wild places. And some were already here in the yard. But it wasn't until I found a book on heritage roses and their history that I started getting interested in them. Turns out the ones I bought were all the wrong ones, too: they (hybrid teas) were roses bred for shows, not to mention needing sprays and pesticides to look their best. They had fancy schmancy names but gosh they are divas in the garden. I like a diva as much as the next person (I currently live with a 13 year old diva) but I am very anti-chemical, and this, sadly, is not a fortuitous combination. My roses don't look bad, per se, but they don't look like the photos in English Country Garden, either.
Anyhow, I won't go into the complicated and weirdly gripping history of the rose, but I will say that I have decided to move into Ye Olde Rose territory, for a couple of reasons: they have massive hips so I can make medicines and jams with them and they are easy care roses. My real reason though is this: I like the idea of having living history in the yard. The Rosa Mundi, for example: it was named after a mistress of Henry II. It was grown by the Greeks and the Romans. It was one of the roses in the medicinal gardens of the monks long long ago. I like that I've got a piece of apothecary history.
Here is the other rose I bought. It's also a Rugosa. I bought it because, according to the nursery stock person, it's a spectacular deep pink rose with giant hips and plum-red foliage in the fall. It's named after the son of a former Prime Minister of Canada, a son who died in an avalanche a while back. The nursery owner was an uncle and developed this rose in memory of his nephew. It's called Michel Trudeau. A portion of the sales proceeds go towards avalanche rescues.
This is Sheila's Attempt To Make A Straight Brick Basil Planter. My Last Attempt looked like a wave. It was not even. Or straight. This one, as Max so aptly described it, looks way better than the last one, which looked like crap. (was that a compliment? I'm not sure)
And finally, this is a picture of the screening I had to put on the back of greenhouse window. We had a rat visiting it every night, despite the fact that there are no stairs up to our deck. He was climbing the stucco and eating all my lettuce plants. Argh. This is the irritating side of gardening: the things that one has to combat in order to get a harvest.