‘Scuse Me While I Drive 35 in a 50

Just how many plants can be squeezed into this Jetta? Depends on how slowly I can drive home.
Just how many plants can be squeezed into this Jetta? Depends on how slowly I can drive home.

Sorry folks. The sourwood hanging out my open trunk can’t take high winds. I know the speed limit is 50 mph, but it’s just a few miles more, I promise.

That’s right, sourwood. Oxydendron arboreum. A dandy little understory tree I’ve been coveting since I became a gardener nearly 20 years ago. A tree I had never seen in person until its blazing fall foliage stopped me short at the garden center about half an hour ago.

You see, I just moved from Zone 3b to Zone 5b, with microclimates that might extend well into Zone 6, and it is hard to contain my excitement. In my mind, I am rolling around on the lawn (what’s left of it) giggling with joy, dazed by the explosion of possible plants. Like every other gardener, I have this wish list of plants that I keep adding to, even though I understand that many of them will never, ever survive in my current garden. What a thrill to actually upgrade those items from “in your dreams, Minnesota gardener” to the “sure, why not?” category.

Peaches. Broadleaf evergreens. Japanese maples? Just bought one, ha! Agave might even survive if I build a hill of gravel in a protected area with full sun… Hmmm. I’ll muse on that as I plant these pineleaf penstemons (Penstemon pinifolius) and sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), both of which were recently upgraded.

(pause for another bout of internal giggling)

Yes, I moved from Minneapolis to Boise to be near my family, but also to live closer to my good friend the sun. It is early November and autumn is still reluctantly giving way to winter here. As long as my fingers don’t get too numb from the cold, I can work into the wee hours within the area lit by the exterior lights on the garage.

This is my second carload from the nursery. My mom and sister and their gardening friends have given me plants, and I also ordered bulbs. ‘Scuse me while I keep digging, mulching, smothering lawn, and moving rocks way past bedtime; it’s been awhile since I had this much fun playing outside.


  1. It looks like you’re having fun. I’m sure you’ll be sharing your before and after photos with us soon. Sourwood is a great tree, which I enjoyed when I lived in Maryland, but now I’m out of its range down here in north Florida. 🙁

    • Ginny, even though you have a whole array of options there, I can see how you’d miss some of our lovely temperate forest plants. And I guess I will be showing photos of my garden (gulp). I’d better get out there and get to work!

  2. I have often contemplated what a wonderful garden full of cool atlas cedar, Japanese maples, cedar of Lebanon, etc. if I just move to zone 6 from my Chicago are one 5.

    Being in this field and also having a blog I actually start to justify it in my mind. I could build more interesting gardens and explore and write about different plants and garden styles than I can now. Of course, then I awake from my daydreaming and become thankful that at least I am not like those suckers in zone 3 or 4 like in Wisconsin or Minnesota!

    I also have to say I too have sacrificed my cars upholstery to save on delivery charges as well as to get my new baby home. I think a eight foot B&B paperbark maple in the front seat next to me of my Honda Civic was my biggest challenge getting home.

    • Jim, I know! So much easier to write about the plants and styles you are testing out in your own yard. Seems like there is a huge expansion of the plants available when you move from zone 5 to 6 too. Congratulations on that impressive feat with your Honda Civic. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 🙂

    • The solution to the bnb maple problem is to buy a pickup truck. I love my Ford Ranger. You can even haul a yard of mulch. I’m sure they would take the honda on a trade in.

  3. Ah, yes…I know your joy! When I moved from Nebraska (Zone 3) to Portland (Zone 8) several years ago…I couldn’t believe how much we could grow. Suddenly, instead of haven got skip over 80% of garden catalogs, I could pretty much order anything I wanted! Sometimes I still have to pinch myself 🙂 Have fun planting…there’s nothing like the rush of a new garden space!

    • Wow! That would keep the car clean too. And I’ll bet they would unload it too! Why have I never thought of that? I feel stupid. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best. I am going to call you every time I have a logistics problem.

  4. I laughed until I cried reading this. I have pics of my car loaded with hay, hundreds of bags of potting mix, old porch posts and other fun and rusty ornaments for my gardens and for those of my BFF and fellow crazy gardener next door neighbor. That old Volvo could carry so much! Now with a boring Honda, it’s just not the same.

    (and I would NEVER consider paying for delivery! That would take way too long (hours even!) and you know I need them now! Also delivery fees mean less $$ for plants. NEVER.)

    • Exactly, Julie! But don’t underestimate your Honda; be inspired by Jim’s 8-foot tree story. (Though now that I think that through, delivery may be worthwhile in that case if it comes with two strapping fellas to move the tree into the garden.)

    • But it costs $50 to get the car detailed too or you have to spend more time and energy to do that. So you save:
      1. Time and energy to load and unload plants and
      2. Time and energy to clean the car afterward.
      AND the hours and money you were going to have to spend at the chiropractor realigning your back.
      Just freed up a bunch more hours to garden!
      I’m c-h-e-a-p but that sounds like a good trade-off.

  5. Ah, yes – the joy of gardening in a new zone. It’s hard not to get all kinds of ecstatic over that. I’m a little giddy myself just reading about it! Maybe you should consider a truck? The insurance should be cheaper than a car & you won’t have to worry about the upholstery so much since most of your haul will go in the bed. If you keep bags of manure/compost/fertilizer in the back, it’ll help with traction on snowy/icy roads.

    I tell my husband I need a truck; he doesn’t believe me. Last time I expressed this wish, he scoffed “What would you even DO with a truck?” That’s when I broke out the wishlist of home & garden improvement projects I plan on doing as time permits & the pieces needed to complete them. He was floored. And now he’s trying to figure out how to swing fitting a truck into our budget (gotta keep the commuter car).

    • Okay, I confess: this is my husband’s car, and he was NOT happy on viewing that scene in the photo. However, I happen to be in the market for a new vehicle, and I’m pretty sure it will be a truck!

      (And you were brave to show him the whole list; I find it works best to reveal only a couple of items at a time…)

      • I really miss you now!! We enjoyed many a lovely day driving precious plants back and forth in our little cars together! I envy your new plant possibilities… I just covered several of mine with straw yesterday – good thing, too cuz it snowed last night!! Enjoy your new gardens – I want to visit them!

        • Kristin, please come anytime! And don’t forget that fabulous “mulch burrito” technique you showed me for no-mess packing of bulk wood chips in a trunk. It has been so fun to have you as a gardening buddy!

  6. I know how you feel I just moved from 7a to 9b. It is crazy. Avocados! Limes! Amazing tropical fruit I have never even heard of! Now if I can just get that deer fence in….oh yea and that septic system in and maybe a house.

  7. Wow, what a small world! I’ve followed your blog for a while but I don’t believe that I’ve left a comment before (sorry, I’m more of a lurker). Anyway, I live in Boise, too! Welcome to Idaho!

    Also, I transported two plum trees in the trunk of my Corolla about a month ago and felt badly for how slowly I had to drive home. Good luck!

    • Jennifer, thank you for coming out of lurk mode to welcome me! Maybe we’ll meet at a garden event soon… I’m going to the Native Plant Society meeting next Tuesday night; any chance you’ll be there too?

  8. It’s a wonderful feeling to have one’s car so crammed full of plants that it’s impossible to see out the rear window. Not to mention all the fun you’ll have planting them! Enjoy! : )

  9. If your back seat folds down to open the trunk to the compartment of your car – try working the tip of the tree from the right front seat back towards the trunk. Lay your right front seat back, you may have to tie a few branches in or get someone in the back seat on the drivers side to help guide the branches for you. This cross pattern keeps them from shifting while taking a fast turn into the next nursery sale.

    Trust me, I got many tall specimens in my 1998 Escort before I married my sweetie with the truck.

  10. Oh, both experiences are known very well. Plants are one of the reasons I drove a VW van for almost 20 years. Zone 5b offers lots of possibilities: Parrotia persica, several species of Magnolia (I have 8) and I saw a southern Magnolia growing in a very protected microhabitat and almost died of envy. Neillia and Stephanandra do well (if you can keep the rabbits away). I even have a Scaidopitys doing quite well (protected from afternoon heat). So many plants, only so much space and money.

  11. Gotta get a pick up. Old one. The new ones are honking big monstrosities that guzzle gas. Two person household and we have three vehicles. Have to keep The rusting out ’95 F150. It has hauled tons of mulch. And sandstone. And plants

    • Tibs, you made me laugh. My household has four people & four vehicles, even though two of the four are not old enough to be licensed yet. Hubby is as nutty about rescuing vehicles he deems undervalued as I am about doing the same for plants. Thus we have a commuter car (mine) & three high-miles, high-mileage projects. So long as he doesn’t complain about my rescues filling the yard, he won’t hear any about his filling the driveway.

  12. there are these things called tarps. they can be used to wrap things like trees and secured with rope. they are surprisingly effective at preventing wind damage.

    • Good tip, skr! Such a great invention, tarps. I like using them to drag stepping stones and mulch around the yard too. This new-garden frenzy makes it difficult to plan as well as I’d like, but I need to plan ahead next time (oops, too late, I just made another trip to the nursery today) and pick up some tarps at the hardware store.

  13. Oh. Dear. Me. I have been that woman. Driving slowly, peering carefully through foliage and holding her right arm out on turns to keep that precious new green baby upright on turns. Keep the faith. And plastic sheets in the trunk. Just in case.

  14. I chuckled as I nodded my head through your article and everyone’s comments, Evelyn. I can definitely relate!

  15. Great debut on Garden Rant! I’m glad you found some treasures – bringing home new treasures (no matter how we have to do it) is really one of the biggest thrills in gardening.

  16. The tree branches will get dessicated at 35 miles per hour, as well. You should have tarped the tree. And the Chicago area where I live, is in zone 5, but sourwood will not grow here either, as it requires an acid soil. Sour–get it? wood. Dirr says it should be planted in acid, peaty, moist, well-drained soil; the pH should run 5.5 to 6.5. It’s native to the southeast: I have no idea what the soil in Idaho is like. It’s always best to buy locally grown plants.

    • Patricia, I do agree with you that locally grown plants are best adapted and most likely to succeed. I tend to prefer natives as well because I enjoy the animals they bring. However, in this little courtyard that I’m planting first, I’m focused on creating an outdoor human habitat quickly, so I went for the colorful four-season plants (my husband has gaudy taste) that were available at the nearest nursery. After I settle in and do more hunting, I hope to connect with local growers who can supply plants for wildlife habitat as well as locally adapted edibles. Luckily, my new digs have space for all of this!

  17. Instead of speed bumps in the streets, maybe there should be stalls selling trees at the end of every road. Good to catch some of your enthusiasm. And as for whether plants/trees are right for a particular place . . . I’m torn. Sometimes it’s sad to see a living being unnecessarily fail and die. On the other hand, experimenting is such fun!

    • Esther, being new to gardening in this region, I am starting off by experimenting with this and that to see what thrives here. I have read up on it and talked to local gardeners, but as you probably know, there’s no substitute for the actual experience of living with the soil, the climate, the plants. If I were starting a garden in familiar territory, I would probably be better at choosing plants and placing them where they would succeed. But you’re right, the experimenting is fun!

  18. Welcome! I live in Boise too and I blog. Loved that picture and reminded me of myself, every time Edward’s has it’s 50% off sale! On the topic of trucks, we used to own a ’75 Chevy Luv and it was the best darn garden truck. It took a beating, hauling so many plants, mulch, rock, brick… I lived in Portland then (drool is right, all that moisture) but I enjoy gardening here in the Intermountain West although I went backwards in zones. One thing that is really fun… when you can get that car for a little longer…road trip to Portland for plants!!! 🙂

  19. So glad you acquired a Sourwood. I have one and it is wonderful in the garden. I am sure you will like is as much in July when it is full of flowers and covered in bees as in the fall when it is a glorious color. Congratulations.

  20. Loved the post, really funny and what else can be expected of a gardening lover? 2014 will be a wonderful year for you in your new gardening zone with so many new options. Have a good season. The post made my night. Just the laugh and smile I needed.

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