Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a wide range of other interests

in the constantly changing

garden of life.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Garden Fades But May Come Back a Star

Soon, my garden will go dormant. Much of what I see now will disappear, collapsing into a heap of leaves, stems and twigs.

No, not my garden of weeping conifers and colorful maples. Nor my
garden of ornaments. But the latter *is* nearby.

The garden that is fast going, going as the sunlight shortens and the nights lengthen and chill – that fading garden – is my compost garden. I've often talked about how plants sometimes do well after being tossed onto the compost, how I've put plants there with the intention of getting them to grow, then removed them and planted them in the larger garden.


Now, the compost garden has become more permanent, an established part of my gardening life. Two spaces, each about 4 by 6 feet, make up this garden: Compost 1 and Compost 2.


This year has seen a bumper crop of compost plants as I spared down, shedding excess. Especially container plants that want constant watering in the brutal heat and drought. Some, like elephant ear, went to the compost way back in May, starting as tubers and growing with abandon. Now it's a race between the appearance of a hard freeze and a spath; the plant sure looks vigorous enough to produce a spath. I'm counting on the peppers (in the image below) to come back from seed next year. They'll certainly be more successful in the compost than they were in pots; their pods were not worth eating.



In Compost 1, peppers and elephant ears grow better than when in pots.
An agapanthus that used to be a container star in my summer garden wound up in the compost last fall, as did a cymbidium orchid. Both had failed to make the cut as I edited out many container plants. These two survived the warm winter and grew fine and healthy through the summer, but they will be in a poker game with the weather again. Will they beat the odds and survive two straight winters in the compost?


In Compost 2, agapanthus (right) and cymbidium await autumn leaves for winter insulation. 

Compost 1, left, continues to expand. A nun's orchid (foreground left) and a coffee plant wound up here because of non-performance; they didn't bloom after years of excellent care in pots indoors. This move might be just the inspiration they need.


The compost amounts to an eclectic group, including the ill, the dead, the excess, the un-bloomers. Some  may live long. Some might not. But for those that survive and thrive, there is a special bonus.


For a while, I have thought about – and discussed with other gardeners – the idea of making compost heaps visible features of the garden. Some of us wonder: Why should compost be relegated to the back of the property? Hidden from view. I enjoy looking at what's happening in these piles of plants, leaves, food scraps and such.


So, here's the deal: If the current compost plants get through the winter, I will make sure to offer every visitor to my garden up-close looks at Compost 1 and Compost 2. Shopping for passalong plants will be optional.






18 comments:

  1. This strikes me as humorous. I had a good giggle at the agapanthus and orchids growing up a storm. Just too funny. I bet if we get our more temperate winter they will become mush. I have a nice collection of Compost plants myself. I don't give them much of a chance this winter though. I too think the compost in it's rawest form is interesting. I like to see the wrens and other birds picking the bugs out. Watching the garter snake make a place to rest. It does deserve it's place in the sun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, seeing is believing; those two were the surprise survivors of the year. Stay tuned for their fate. It'll be interesting to learn if visitors take interest in the compost garden.

      Delete
  2. I have heard of compost piles being on a gardener's tour so visitors could examine the systems and methods used, and inspect the materials cobbled up to house the piles. Sort of an engineer's tour.

    But I had not considered a compost pile exhibit for survivor plants and passalongs! I like it. With your eye for artistry in the garden, your compost garden will be something to see, and your compost plants will be exotic (and zone-defyingly hardy)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you know you're invited if there's anything to see, Laurrie; I look forward to sharing the exhibit with you and *your* artistic eye.

      Delete
  3. too bad you cant give these fighters a trip to florida for the winter...I could take them in but I doubt they would want to go back hahahaa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the thought, Sharon. Let's hope they don't file complaints about cruel and unusual punishment. Cheers.

      Delete
  4. I like a gardener with a firm hand. People look at my garden and often ask me how I knew what would grow and what to plant. I laugh and tell them what they see is what has survived! That's why, although I love them, there aren't any roses (except one) in my garden, they didn't make the cut. I like your compost idea and apparently the plants do too :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rosemary, I don't know a firmer hand than mine, though yours sounds like it's in my league. Call us Darwinian, or just say we don't coddle. Speaking of which, the rose I like best is the lowly beach rose, Rosa rugosa. It asks for nothing, gives everything: great fragrance, long bloom and huge hips. You grow it?

      Delete
    2. I am definitely going to look Ms. Rosa rugosa up!

      Delete
    3. Let me know if you like her as much as I love her.

      Delete
  5. I agree with Laurrie. Your elephant ears and peppers make a nice composition. I once had a compost pile start sprouting tomatoes and melons. Mine looks a little sad now. I might have rethink the design.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seeing formerly balky plants buck up this way sure made me pay attention, GS. With your talent for design and food-growing, you could create a rich and useful space.

      Delete
  6. Hey, Lee,

    The most important thing a gardener can do for the garden is start a compost pile. This is the advice I always give to Master Gardener classes I teach.

    Have seen first hand a bed of chert, an old road bed, turn into wonderful viable loamy soil with perfect PH. All this from continually adding compost and other amendments.

    I'm impressed with your compost pile and that it seems to be such a great place for your discards to grow. Elephant ears and peppers certainly look as if they are thriving.

    Buuut-----poor nun, poor cymbidium, poor agapanthus. Not while they are still alive and green and growing! Oh well, the notion will hit and you'll find another, like Orange Jasmine.

    Maybe you'll rescue them if they survive this coming Winter.

    Happy Fall!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chert. Now that's a word you don't hear often. Converting it to loamy soil is indeed impressive, Barbara. So, if I keep adding good amendments, I'll come up with the best of soils. Here's hoping it'll be good enough to protect my tossed-now-thriving plants.

      Delete
  7. I love that you consider this area a part of your garden. I don't have enough space for a compost bed so poorly performing plants are either moved to pots or the garbage. I'm buying compost tumblers next summer but I don't think any plants will be brave enough enough to try to grow in them. I like your Darwinian approach. :o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you have better luck composting with tumblers than I had. I probably didn't tumble often enough. As for growing plants in them, hmmmm, you know, if the tumbler is modified with the right sized hole, and you have a plant to fit into that hole, and there's enough ground clearance . . . . ah, forget it.

      Delete
  8. Hey Lee,
    I don't have a compost pile, but this sounds interesting. I'll have to get started on one. I enjoyed your post. All the best! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Beth. If you start one, you won't regret it. It's a whole different way to garden. And, oh yeah, get rich dirt. Best to you.

      Delete

To submit a comment, simply comment as: "name/URL" and fill in your name.
A URL is not required.