Out In The Garden -- With Dolores Monet
Without the gardeners out in the gardens, mother nature’s but a wild jungle and sometimes a very tangled one. There are those gardeners among us, who really know their craft, and also manage to share what they know with others. They, who also write about gardening, have a lot to say. They also have a lot to offer when it comes to helping other gardeners. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Dolores Monet.
DOLORES MONET — ONE GARDENER WHO WRITES
1. When did you first develop an interest in gardening and how did that come about?
When I was a child, a great aunt of mine lived in a row house in a rather drab, working class neighborhood. When you’d walk up the alley behind her home, you’d see my aunt’s yard coming up, an elm tree, roses, and flowering shrubs. All of a sudden birds were chirping and the air felt cool and fresh. It was like a beautiful island in a sea of cement. That impressed me, how you could take this tiny plot in an almost ugly place and turn it into a kind of sanctuary.
My grandparents had a huge yard and a fabulous garden. When my mother and I started a vegetable garden, Grandpop was our adviser. One year, we had some trouble. Nothing grew properly. When I consulted my adviser, he asked me several questions over the phone. Then he bellowed, “Haven’t you ever heard of the Dust Bowl?” That was when I knew that gardening was more than just sticking a plant in the ground.
2. When it comes to gardening, what would you say is your favorite plant or flower and why?
They take turns. Last year it was the humble annual Alyssum that I grew in pots on the front porch. When you came up to the door, the fragrance, which is like honey, was wonderful. They rebloom if you deadhead, then self seed like crazy. I also love my spearmint, which has been continuously grown in my family for over 100 years, along with a prickly pear cactus rescued from a coastal pine forest shortly before they turned it into a parking lot.
3. What is your best tip that you’d like to share with other gardeners?
Compost. Using compost made a huge difference in my perennial flower garden. Keeping a compost pile, adding to the soil in spring, is the best thing I’ve ever done for the garden. In late July, or early August, I add a bit more for a little pick-me-up.
4. What’s been your biggest garden success story?
I’ve always been a pretty haphazard gardener, forgetting some of my grandfather’s wisdom. Then, I started writing articles and really researching the things I needed to learn. I started to take my own advice and pay attention to the soil, pH, and became a bit more organized. They say that the best way to learn is to teach. After 25 years here, I love the back yard; plus, I found myself a niche!
5. Describe your garden challenges.
In the past couple of years, I have been working on a blue, pink, and white garden for it’s cool, calming effect. But I had trouble with some of the blue flowers. Lavender, for example, needs alkaline, loamy soil where as mine is acidic clay. So, for the lavender, I added some sand around the plants and a chunk of concrete (homemade concrete stepping-stones) where I hoped it would bleed lime. It worked and now the lavender actually grows!
6. What are your favorite garden books or resources?
Of course the Internet is a great resource for gardeners but there is nothing like a book. The Big Book of Flower Gardening: A Guide to Growing Beautiful Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Roses by Time/Life Books has been helpful as well as Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: the Indispensable Green Resource for Every Gardener by Fern Marshall Bradley. I also rely on the advice of neighbors and friends.
7. You had an excellent article about the Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia Glypstroboides) - The Living Fossils in My Yard — I’d like to know more about how you came to plant this tree, as it is a unique choice.
Dawn Redwood was thought to be extinct until found growing in China in the 1940’s. I thought that was fascinating. And when I saw a few growing in a little grove at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, I fell in love. The wide, grooved base of the trunk looks like a place that fairies would hide. It was like one of those teenaged crushes where you become totally obsessed and stupid. Which leads to question 8 —-
8. You also wrote about moving a garden, a topic that certainly a lot of gardeners have not considered. Is there anything more that you can tell us about that?
Because the now huge Dawn Redwood threw my husbands vegetable garden into shade, he began to resent the tree. He was not a happy camper. So, I figured, why not dig up a sunny area of the yard, and transfer all the good, enriched soil from the original garden into the new spot. Then, we piled up the unimproved soil into the old veggie garden and topped it off with the grass we removed from the new garden area. Why not? What a workout!
9. You’ve written an excellent beginner’s guide to growing roses, are your roses container grown or out in the garden? What varieties of roses do you have success with in your part of the country?
I am so glad that you like the article about roses. I worked hard on that one because my rose garden was failing. Thanks to the Dawn Redwood. So, I decided to move that whole kit and kaboodle as well. But first, I thought to do some research. From my copious and messy notes, I created a Beginners Guide to Roses. (We moved an 8 foot Crape Myrtle to the rose garden. That worked out too!) I love the David Austin roses because they have that old fashioned look but are hardy and black spot resistant. They have the fragrance of old roses too.
10. Finally, aside from being a gardener and author, I noticed that you are also a fine artist, who frequently illustrates what you write about. What in your garden inspires you artistically?
According to western tradition, we were once, long ago, thrown out of the Garden of Paradise for not following the rules. Maybe, gardening is a way to make up for that, an attempt to return to Eden.
I’m glad that you like my paintings, all landscapes. So many times, out walking in the real world, I notice how everything seems so perfectly placed, elements of garden design by Mother Nature or God on a gigantic scale.
Certain places that mean a lot to me become like spiritual retreats. When I paint them, I try to conjure up that blissful state, even if it’s a dream landscape like the meadow. And I use salvaged boards that I buy form two sources in Pennsylvania run by some very special, thoughtful people. If I can’t live out in some pristine natural area, maybe I can bring it home through gardening and painting.
We are stewards of the planet. Becoming involved in the natural world cleanses the mind and spirit. Imagine if everybody created gardens, even tiny ones like my aunt made, the air would be cleaner, our waterways pure, and birds would sing everywhere. I love Dorothy Gurney’s poem:
“ The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer to God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.”
If You’d Like To Know More About The Plants Mentioned In This Interview And Read Some of Dolores Monet’s articles — here are some links: