A Living Memorial
What began as a living tribute to my dog Trixie has seemingly blossomed into a newfound hobby.
I got the idea from an article I read on the web about remembering the passing of a beloved pet. The suggestion was to plant a tree in honor of a passed pet. I wasn’t too excited about a tree, but a plant or bush sounded like a good idea. Thus, the beginning of a new chapter in my life and a new hobby.
Encore Autumn Bonfire Azalea
Being new to gardening, there was much to learn about plants and how to grow them. I did quite a bit of research on the web, watching lots of YouTube videos and decided my shrub honoring Trixie (and burying her ash remains below) was to be an Azalea. Actually, it was my sister who was more experienced in gardening that first suggested I consider the Azalea.
I never imagined there were so many variations of Azalea’s and it was quite confusing at first. First, I wanted a plant that would come back each year (a perennial) as I didn’t want to be planting new plants every year. I liked the idea that the Encore Autumn Bonfire bloomed multiple times from spring to fall and didn’t drop all it’s leaves in winter leaving only sticks in the ground. The Encore Autumn Bonfire blooms with bright clear-red blooms three times a year… once in the spring, once in the summer, and again in the fall. I also didn’t want a real tall plant and the Bonfire reaches a mature height of 3 feet and 3.5 feet wide.
Wandering through nearby nurseries and big box stores I searched for the Autumn Bonfire but none were to be found. I was seeing lots of other plants that were real appealing and was especially drawn to the colorful array of Caladium’s and interesting variations of succulent flowering plants. Wow… I thought. Those were really cool, but I couldn’t get distracted from my primary objective.
I really hadn’t caught the gardening bug yet and would have to put off all those cool plants for later after I completed my Azalea project.
I was a bit concerned that I was planting late in the fall and perhaps should wait until spring, but was reassured that now was a good time to plant. Hopefully as the plant goes dormant for winter it would have time to establish it’s root system and should bloom in the spring.
I ended up ordering two plants from PlantsByMail.com and was pleasantly surprised when they arrived earlier than expected… one with multiple blooms.
In the meantime I continued to learn more about plants and gardening. I was learning about things like USDA planting zones, soil acidity, soil amendments, pruning, and mulching. I spent hours watching numerous videos on YouTube showing everything about Azalea’s including how to plant and care for them.
I decided to plant them next to my shed in the back yard where they would be visible whenever I looked out my home office sliding glass door. I was a little concerned whether that area received enough sunlight. Currently in the fall, there was only partial sun there and quite a bit of shade. But, I seemed to remember it was in full sun during the summer and made the commitment.
So, I dug out a spot for two plants and got cracking. More trips to the nursery with lots of questions and increasing interest in other plants.
Checking the plant in spring 2022, it looks like the Azalea’s suffered some winter damage. Visible impacts include brown or blackened foliage, defoliation, and brown colored flower buds.
According to the Encore Azalea website, they recommend the best course of action is to wait until new growth emerges before pruning damage. By pruning too early, I risk cutting out plant tissues that are still living and will recover on their own. In many cases, azaleas will shed the damaged foliage and leaf out in with fresh growth.
Those succulent plants that had caught my attention earlier was to become my next venture into gardening. Back to the Internet and YouTube to learn more about them. What I discovered is many of them are not hardy enough to survive outdoors in the winter. So, I had to limit my choices to those varieties that were more hardy.
Hens and Chicks
Back to Johnson’s Garden Center in search of hardy succulent plants. Instead of planting these into the landscape, I decided to get started with these plants in containers. Succulents are thick, fleshy, and engorged to retain water in their leaves and stems. Succulents are often grown as ornamental plants because of their striking and unusual appearance, as well as their ability to thrive with relatively minimal care. Again, I was discovering there were many variations of succulents and choosing only one was impossible.
These plants are perennial and bloom in midsummer requiring full or partial sun, although should tolerate light shade. They are rated for hardiness zones 3 to 9 so hopefully will survive Kansas winters.
Another aspect of growing these and other plants that fascinated me was the ability to propagate them for even more plants. The species I chose to start with are called Sempervivium which grow close to the ground with leaves formed around each other in a rosette, and propagating by offsets. The “hen” is the main, or mother, plant, and the “chicks” are a flock of offspring, which start as tiny buds on the main plant and soon sprout their own roots, taking up residence close to the mother plant.
I picked up one plant that had already produced numerous chicks which I broke off the hen and planted in small containers. We’ll see if they survive and perhaps someday as I get more experienced I will plant multiples of these in containers like some of the online experts.
Yet another species of succulent is the Sedum that differs significantly from Sempervivum.
Frosty Morn Sedum
This one immediately caught my eye as I was choosing plants to go in to a window box planter. I thought it would look good centered in the planter with Hens and Chicks on either side. I believe it is called a Frosty Morn sedum. I really like the color variation in the leaves and it’s delicate flower top.
Red Ice Stonecrop
I had originally thought this “Red Ice” Stonecrop would look good with my Hens and Chicks I planted in the window box. When I did that widow box planting the Red Ice just didn’t fit. It’s a creeping groundcover with a dense mat of fleshy green leaves that turn from red to blood red from summer to fall. It should grow to 2 to 4 in. and spread 8 to 12 in. I’m thinking a good place for it might be in my front yard area. It won’t get direct sun in the winter but should get plenty of sunshine in the summer months.
Purple Dragon Dead Nettle
One day wandering through the nursery this plant caught my attention. I loved the silvery color of its leaves and decided to pick it up. It’s a lush ground cover that is topped by charming flowers in summer. The spot I had in mind was pretty shady (at least in winter), and I seem to remember it getting more sun in the summer months. It should grow to 6 to 12 in. tall, spreading 18 to 24 in. wide.
Christmas Tree Hosta
What garden doesn’t have a Hosta? I was introduced to them years ago by my sister who loved growing them. Not sure yet where this will go in my yard so for the time being I will keep it in a container. Perhaps the hostas will work well with some caladiums I’ll explore next year.
Okay, now I’m getting hooked on gardening. This was all very fascinating and I was enjoying the whole thing.
One unexpected benefit I quickly discovered was how relaxing it was to work in my yard. Sure, it was lots of work, but it was needed good exercise and very cathartic that took my mind completely off crazy current events and my normal activities. I found myself sitting on my back porch for hours watching my plants grow. The one frustration I was feeling was the naivety that it was taking too long for the plants to grow. I am learning to be patient and content with these small plants that hopefully will grow bigger and more beautiful in the spring.
I had another spot in my back yard where I had wanted to plant some kind of shrub for a long time. While perusing videos on YouTube and talking with my sister another plant caught my eye and I came to the conclusion to plant two varieties of Hydrangea in those bare spots. Again, I wanted a perennial with beautiful flowers that I could enjoy when sitting on my back porch. I didn’t want it real big… only big enough to fill in those empty spots.
Incrediball Blush Smooth Hydrangea
For the opposite side of the deck I chose this sorry looking Incrediball Blush Smooth Hydrangea. I’m counting on it looking better in the spring. It should get 4 to 5 ft. tall and wide and needs full sun. It is hardy for my USDA zone and should produce massive silvery-pink blooms that rebloom through frost. Its stout stems should support the massive blooms without hanging down like the classic ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. I’m looking forward to see how this performs next spring.
Well, I’m thinking that might do it for my 2021 Fall planting and the beginning of my interest in this hobby. I may still transplant some old tulip bulbs that aren’t doing well in their current location and may even purchase a few more tulip, daffodils, or crocus bulbs to pop into the ground. I’ve also been looking at an area spanning my backyard fence that after tilling might make a great place for multiple plants.
I’m hopeful all these plants will grow more beautifully and truly honor and memorialize Trixie for years to come.