Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shovel and Spade Care

A long time ago, I read somewhere that it was good to keep a bucket filled with sand and a quart of motor oil in the garden shed so you could clean your shovels and spades. I did it for one season and then forgot that the bucket of sand contained oil and used the sand in the driveway for grit during the winter. It was a mess at the bottom of the bucket and a pain in the neck to dispose of.

Now, because I’m more aware of soil-borne plant viruses, I’m more careful about keeping my shovels and spades and garden forks clean on a daily basis. I remembered the old oil and sand in the bucket method, but I wasn't crazy about using motor oil on my garden implements, I found it is just as easy to hose off the shovels and spades and garden forks after each use.

A couple times a season, I get out a file and put a new edge on the shovels and spades. I know it’s time for a new edge when I find it’s difficult to start a hole or edge the walks. This process also works if I find nicks in the tool from hitting rocks or other objects while I’m digging. (I did this over the weekend when it was too hot to do any work in the garden.)

At the end of the season, I clean the tools like normal and then use a wire brush to get off any rust spots. I then give them a little spritz of WD40 for a protective coating before hanging them in the garage for the winter.

That's how shovel and spade care happens at Auntie K's Garden, what works best in your garden?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unexpected Beauty

I like those decorative plaques and stepping stones people have in their gardens. Some of them have flowers or birds or butterflies on them. Others have quotes. Many of the quotes are anonymous, “Delight in the beauty that surrounds you” or proverbs from various cultures: “Whoever loves and understands a garden will find contentment within.” Chinese Proverb.

Some are by writers well known for their connection to nature, “The landscape belongs to the person who looks at it,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “My profession is to always find God in nature,” Henry David Thoreau. It’s not surprising to find a quote by either Shakespeare, “April has put a spirit of youth in everything” or Jane Austen, “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon the verdant green hills is the most perfect refreshment.”

But, Dorothy Parker is not a writer whose name you expect to see on a garden stone! You expect wit – sharp and biting – “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B,” “I don’t care what’s written about me as long as it isn’t true,” and “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.” You don’t expect beauty from Dorothy Parker. Yet, there it was, on a garden stone at one of the local nurseries: “Flowers are heaven’s masterpiece—Dorothy Parker.”

The stone’s price was more than I was willing to pay, but I’m going to keep my eye on it and pick it up when there's a sale later in the season. It will serve as a reminder of unexpected beauty.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Seed Art and Scarecrows

Two of my favorite things to check out at the Fair are the Seed Art and the Scarecrows. I marvel at the creative ideas people have for both art forms. I don’t know that any of the scarecrows would actually scare any birds away, and some I wouldn’t even put outside, but they’re really fun to look at. Like everything else at the Fair, anyone can enter! So, you see scarecrows created by kids, adults, and seniors!

Two of my favorite scarecrows from this year were the Garden Woman Scarecrow, which was papier-mache and used vintage seed packets on the body and the “Fair” Crow, which used several Fair favorites in its composition. (I love the cotton candy hair!) I don’t know when people start thinking about planning and designing these scarecrows, but they’re due for judging two weeks before the Fair begins (as are the seed art creations).

I admire the Seed Art because it’s something I definitely don’t have the patience for. I can’t imagine sitting at a table with a pile of tiny seeds gluing them on one-by-one to make a picture! It’s interesting to see the themes that emerge, too. The year Mel Gibson’s film about Jesus came out, there were lots of Seed Jesuses. In 2002, there were several twin towers. Just after election years, there are presidents. This year, the entries seemed diverse. One that made me laugh was a depiction of the Jet Blue flight attendant on the emergency slide.

The best seed art I saw this year was this clock. It’s amazing.

I also liked this birdhouse, which if left outside, would become more of a bird feeder than birdhouse!

The Fair runs through Labor Day, and my next shift at the Hort Society booth is Friday. So, it's back to the gardens at home until then. But, nxext weekend, I’ll have some photos of the gardens at the Fair.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Garden Stamps

After my shift at the Hort Society Plant Show yesterday, a friend and I toured some of the Fair. It had been almost 20 years since she’d been there and she was eager to see a couple of buildings – Ag/Hort, which she toured while I was working and Creative Activities (formerly called the Women’s Building). It’s the building where people (not just women anymore) display their creations. We saw garments, quilts, knitted creations, woven creations, mosaic creations, and wood-carved creations. We ogled the baked creations (cookies, cakes, pies, breads, muffins, you name it) and the “canned” goodies (jams, jellies, pickles, peaches, and salsa).

I had forgotten that people entered stamp collections and post-card collections until we rounded a corner and saw several of them on various themes. So, when I got home, I went through my own stamp collection and pulled out a few of my favorite gardening stamps!

These four represent the Minnesota State Fair – two stamps about Minnesota itself (statehood and territory centennial) and two on the kids who exhibit at the Fair – 4H-ers and the FFA kids.

Here’s a set of stamps about conservation – soil, water, forest, energy, wildlife and wetlands.

These include botany and forestry.

These are just flowers. I don’t know that I’d ever enter them at the Fair, but it was fun to look through them and see how many stamps are about gardening, botany, horticulture, and flowers. (I didn’t even touch the international stamps for today’s post, but there are some beautiful floral stamps in those collections, too.)

I hope you enjoy seeing them, too.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lists—One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I am a list person. They help keep me organized. Most of my lists are project related – either inside the house or in the garden. Lately, however, it seems that when I check one thing off, I add a couple more, which doesn’t do much for my sense of accomplishment. Part of this is that some of the things on my list are cyclical/repetitive things – like weeding and watering. So, once I get finished weeding all the gardens, it’s time to start over again. Mother Nature has taken care of the watering really well this year, but the newly planted things need a little extra boost, as do all the things still in pots.

And, then there are the things that I just haven’t gotten to—at all—like build a new compost bin and dig out part of the west hill to put in the stone steps. I’ve been looking at compost bin designs and have decided to go with a two-bin version suggested by a reader! It will require me to move a couple of raised vegetable beds, so it’s been relegated to the “end of season” chores. “Install the stone steps” has been on the list from the beginning of the season, but the weather has been so warm I haven’t wanted to tackle it. (I’ve got a parenthetical on that one that says, “wait for cooler weather.”)

I’ve decided I need more than a day or two to get these things done, so I’ve bitten the bullet and have taken a few days of vacation next week to focus solely on these “undone projects.” Another thing on my list is to include photos more regularly in my blog posts. I’ve gotten comments and emails from readers asking for photos. I’ll try to do that, but I’m a novice photographer, and feel horrible about inflicting my bad photos on you. I suppose that with any new endeavor, practice makes perfect, so . . . .

Anybody else out there feeling unaccomplished, or is it just me?!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meet me at The Fair!

When you hear people talking about “the Fair,” you know they mean the Minnesota State Fair. My mind has been more on the Fair these last few days than it has been on the gardens here at Auntie K’s. Today is Opening Day, and over the next 12 days, I have plans to spend 4 days (or parts of 4 days) there. Today, I’m taking my nephews – the boys who call me Auntie K. It’s been our tradition now for 11 years to go on opening day. I cherish every trip because I know that in a year or two, they’ll prefer to go to the Fair with friends rather than with their Auntie.

I’ll be a volunteer for the Minnesota State Horticultural Society on my other three visits—stationed in the Ag/Hort building. Most likely, I’ll stay after my shift or go early on those days so I can take in all the goodies the Fair has to offer. I'll visit the 4H building, where kids come and stay in the dorms on the Fairgrounds while they show their animals, homemade clothing, and other projects. I’ll look for jam, pickles, and tomato sauce made by friends and displayed in wonderfully back-lit refrigerated cases. I’ll check out all the gardens around the Fairgrounds, admiring the designs and marveling that all the summer bulbs bloomed and look so great!

And, of course, I’ll eat. “Food on a Stick” is the Fair’s claim to fame. Pork chops, corn dogs, caramel apples, and deep-fried Twinkies (or candy bars) are a few of the delicacies the boys have sampled in the past. I’m not sure what food adventures await today. I heard rumors about chocolate covered bacon being on today’s agenda. Better pack some antacid.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to School means Back Inside

Here in Minnesota, kids used to go back to school after the State Fair, which runs this year from August 26th through September 6th. But, in a break with our agrarian roots, some schools are having kids come back next week. It’s just a week, but because Labor Day – the last day of the Fair – signals the end of summer, it seems odd to start school before then.

I got an email from one of the local gardening centers that it’s time to bring the houseplants back inside. And, when I looked at my gardening calendar, it said the same thing. Just as I’m not ready for the kids to go back to school next week, I’m not ready for Elmer and Arby and the scented geraniums to come back inside. And, based on the blooms Elmer (my tropical hibiscus) is putting out, I don’t think he’s ready to come back inside. Apparently, even though the days are still quite warm, the nights are cool enough that the houseplants need to make the move.

When Elmer was smaller, I’d move him to the entryway for the evenings and back outside for the warm days. But, he’s too big for that now, so it’s an all or nothing move. Moving Arby and the geraniums inside won’t be a big deal. A short quarantine in the hallway and a dose of systemic white fly bug goop and they’re good to go. But, Elmer needs special care. Elmer had such uncontrollable whiteflies a couple years ago, I contemplated leaving him out to die last year. But, in a last ditch effort to save him, I removed all the soil, hosed his roots off, put him in a new pot with new potting soil, stuck the systemic pills in the soil, and brought him back inside. It was October. Nobody thought he’d make it. But, he did. And, there wasn’t one whitefly.

So, you can see why I’m not looking forward to my Back to School/Back Inside ritual. It’s a big job. But, in the warmth of the sunroom, he’ll bloom just like he is today – even when it’s 40 below. And that is worth all the work.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gardening in a Fishbowl

I live on a corner, and all of my gardens are visible to and from the sidewalks. This means that a lot of people see the gardens on a daily basis. Some people walk by and pay no attention to the gardens. Some walk by just to see what’s new or changed. If I’m out, people will stop and chat. They’ll ask about particular flowers, tell me what they’ve noticed, or ask me if I can show them around the whole place.

This means that I don’t always make as much progress in the garden as I plan to. And, that’s okay with me. I enjoy talking with people about the gardens and hearing about how they enjoy what I’m doing. But, it makes some visitors cranky! “Why haven’t you gotten to this section, yet?” they’ll ask. Or, they’ll point out that a pot has been sitting there for a few days and ask when I plan to get around to planting it. Or, they’ll point out the weeds in a particular garden. “You aren’t really going to dig up ANOTHER patch of grass, are you?!” exclaimed one visitor a week or so ago. His eyes almost came out of his head when I told him that was exactly my plan.

Days like that – where there are more critical comments than appreciative ones – make me wish I had a walled or secret garden, rather than the “fishbowl” gardens I do have. But, those days are few, thank goodness. And, when I come home from a walk and find someone taking a photo of one of the gardens, I think I wouldn’t trade my fishbowl garden for anything.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Kids on the Block

One of the things I like about working with the Shady Sisters is that I get to know about plants I don’t have in my own garden—and see them in a garden setting, so I know how big something’s going to get. I’ve got mostly yellows and golds in the gardens now, but Gail and Linda had a rainbow of color, so, this weekend, I picked up a few new additions that will give me a variety of color in late summer and early fall.

Pink Turtlehead (chelone) is the first newbie of the group. It does well in both sun and shade. Linda’s are almost 4 feet tall. The ones I took home are young, so they’re a little shorter. I can really see, too, the resemblance between the flower and its namesake. (And, oddly, it doesn’t creep me out like the foxglove does.)

This snapshot shows three more additions – two of which are not yellow. From left to right, they are the shrub/herbaceous clematis, meadow rue, and ligularia Desdemona. Des is the yellow one of the bunch, but I like her red stems and interesting foliage. Unlike “Rocket,” which sends up a tall spike of yellow flowers, Desdemona has a more daisy like bloom. She likes a shady spot.

The meadow rue (Thalictrum rochebruneanum) will get between 6 and 10 feet tall but is so delicate, I’m confident it will work in my small space. I like the tiny leaves and the spray of tiny pink/lavender flowers on purple/wine colored stems. This one can go in either sun or shade.

The shrub clematis has a blue flower, which you don’t see a lot of this time of year in our zone – even in annuals. This clematis doesn’t vine, it clumps – reaching heights of between 3 and 7 feet depending on the particular variety. Mine will be at the shorter end of the spectrum.

It’s too hot to plant today, but tomorrow is supposed to be cooler, so they’ll just rest in their pots another day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just another day on the farm?

A few times a summer, I help my friends, the Shady Sisters, with their plant sales. The setting is their hobby farm in a western suburb of Minneapolis. When we were kids, there were horses, goats, sheep, and chickens on the farm. Now, there are only sheep and chickens. There’s still a large vegetable garden at the main house. The two other homes on the property have the huge flower gardens where the plant sales are hosted.

Yesterday, while Gail and I were helping some folks select plants, a man said there were sheep in the yard. We turned around and saw that the sheep WERE in the garden, happily munching hostas. Gail chased them out of the garden and back into the pasture. I chatted with the man while we waited for Gail to come back. He asked what the sheep were used for. I said, “Well. They get sheared for their wool, and then, . . .” And, before I could finish, he put his hand on my arm and said, “It’s okay. I grew up on a farm, I know what comes next.” Gail had still not returned, so I finished up the sale.

While we were putting the plants in the cart, Gail appeared, exclaiming breathlessly. “I got locked in the barn, and couldn’t get out!” She told us how she went to the barn to get some grain to tempt the sheep into a particular pasture. The doors closed and the bar fell across, locking her in the barn! She found a knife and managed to lift the bar through the crack. In 30 years of living on the farm, she’d never been locked in the barn.

Later in the day, a mother and daughter came through the gardens. Rachel asked if the daughter wanted to see the sheep. The daughter did, and the two girls headed off to see them. I walked through the gardens with the mom when the rooster crowed. She asked if she’d just heard a rooster. I confirmed that she had. She said, “We used to have roosters. They’re in the freezer now because they got too mean.”

Betsy and I went to do chicken chores after dinner. We just had to close the chickens in the coops and gather eggs. When we got to the first coop, the string that raises and lowers the door broke. No biggie. We just re-tied the string. When we got to the second coop, we weren’t expecting to hear “peep, peep, peep.” While Rachel gathered the eggs, we looked around and discovered the dog had gotten a chick and was carrying it around in its mouth! We got the dog to drop the chick, which was understandably traumatized, but not mortally wounded.

While we walked through the pasture on the way back to Gail’s, we talked about the day and decided it was definitely NOT just another day on the farm.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marking the Milestones

I have a thing for milestones – those on the road, those on the road of life, and those on the garden path. They orient me. The milestones on the road tell me how far I’ve gone and how far there is to go. The milestones on the road of life help me celebrate my friends and family. The milestones on the garden path help me remember the rhythm of the seasons.

I have driven the road from Minneapolis to just north of Chicago (where my dad lives) so many times I have the mile markers memorized. Mile marker 143 is the Tomah, Wisconsin rest stop – sort of the half way point. Mile 182 is Oconomowoc, Wisconisn – hometown of my brother-in-law and 20 miles from Milwaukee. And, mile marker 68 is Milwaukee Av in Illinois – the mile marker that tells me I’m just about 10 minutes from my destination.

On the road of life there are birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays both sacred and secular. There are a lot of 50s happening this year – and a lot of excited kids going off to their first year of college. Babies are being born and parents and colleagues are dying.

On the garden path, I tend to count firsts – the first tulip, the first rose, the first oriole, the return of the Canada Geese. Yesterday, I encountered a milestone that completely disoriented me. I saw a flock of geese heading south. It seemed unbelievable, frankly. It’s mid-August and the temperatures are still in the 90s. But, there they were—leaving their summer home and heading for warmer climes. Soon, more will follow. The sedum will take on a rosy glow and the trees will burn bright with flaming oranges, yellows, and reds. And then, it will come . . . the first snow.

But, that will be weeks from now. Today, it’s still summer, with time to plant new things, rearrange existing things and enjoy the warm sunny days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weeding is like . . .

A few weeks ago, I gave an impromptu lecture on andragogy – adult learning theory. One of the assumptions of andragogy is that adults have experience (including making mistakes) which provides a basis or foundation for learning. In other words, you don’t always have to start at the very beginning when you’re teaching adults. If you can make a connection for adult learners, they’re off and running.

Since that impromptu lecture, I’ve been thinking about andragogy as applied to gardening in general and weeding in particular. I get a lot of questions about weeding – more than about watering or planting or plant identification. I mentioned this to a couple of friends one night over a glass of wine, and they were only too happy to brainstorm some analogies (similies, actually) for weeding.

“Weeding is like cleaning your house,” one woman said, “You should do it once a month, top to bottom, making sure to look in every nook and cranny.” “Weeding is like laundry,” said another. “It’s never done.” “Weeding is like shaving your legs,” said a third. (I confess to spewing some wine across the lawn at this one.) “You hate doing it, and it’s sometimes painful, but it looks so good afterward!” Brava.

How about it gardeners? What’s your favorite gardening or weeding analogy?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Dig It

I started reading license plates during college, when I spent a lot of time on city busses. I could spend an entire bus trip lost in my imagination – making up words or phrases from the letters on the license plates. Now, personalized (aka vanity) license plates are much more common – giving drivers one more venue for expressing their passions and personalities.

I saw a sports car with a plate that read “ruach,” Hebrew for wind/spirit. Fitting, I thought. I was parked next to a huge red truck with a plate that read “husker.” I sat there for a long time wondering why a big red truck would have the Norwegian word for “remember” as a license plate, and then it hit me -- it’s not Norwegian, it’s Nebraskan! Husker is shorthand for corn-husker, a fan of the University of Nebraska! Their motto is “Go Big Red.” And, in the parking lot of my favorite local nursery the other day, I saw a small VW with the plate “I dig it.” I smiled to know there are gardeners who are passionate enough to purchase special license plates.

I went home wondering what I’d put on a license plate. Here are some that came to mind quickly: GrdnGrl, RthWomn, FlwrPwr, and Lv2Grdn (which could be both love and live). What would your plate look like?!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tree Trauma

A few weeks ago, I posted about the trees that are being marked for removal in my neighborhood. Last week, the city came through and “trimmed” the healthy trees in the neighborhood – including the oaks. (Some sources say August is okay for trimming oaks, others say it should be done later to prevent oak wilt.)

Trimming the trees is a good thing – especially if limbs are getting close to the power lines. Nobody wants the power lines coming down because a limb is lying on it. But, I’m wondering how healthy the trees will remain if they keep being trimmed in Ys or in half. Doesn’t trimming like this weaken a tree? It seems that if a strong wind came up – and we’ve had our share of strong storms this season – trees trimmed like this would be more likely to split in half or go down entirely.

The thing that really perplexes me is that the city plants the trees! Why plant trees that will exceed the height of the power lines at all?! Don’t get me wrong, I love the trees. They provide shade for the street (and my home). I want them to be around for a long, long time. But, I’m afraid they won’t be if they keep being trimmed like this. I think that rather than keep trimming the trees into unnatural shapes, the city should put the power lines underground and let the trees be trees.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rock Border

I’ve always loved stone walls—with a special fascination for dry stone walls. My original plan was to install a dry stone wall along the side of the property. I thought it would provide extra gardening space and some interest. But, 140 feet is a long way, and the house is stone, so that started to feel like a lot of hardscape. So, I decided to do a rock border to keep the grass from creeping onto the sidewalk and stone “piers” for trees and shrubs.

Here in the great glacial plain of the Midwest, farmers are still finding stones in the fields. They collect them in big piles so they don’t damage the equipment. My friend, Betsy, has just such a pile on her land, and she has been kind enough to let me pick through the pile for the last few years to gather rocks for my border. I make a few trips every summer and work on about ten feet at a time.

Last summer, I removed an overgrown honeysuckle from the west side of the sunroom. It was too close to the house and really leggy. I installed a lilac, Albert Holden, toward the sidewalk to give some shade and privacy for the sunroom (eventually) and to provide a more level walkway through the gardens. (The honeysuckle was so huge I had to walk part way down the hill to get around it.) The stones for Albert’s pier took three trips to the farm, I think.

This year, I installed a tiny juniper a few yards to the north of the lilac. I thought it would be nice contrast against the brick of the fireplace. Another trip out to Betsy’s farm for stones and my July 4th project was complete!

This week, the weather broke, and I was able to get outside and work on the border again. (That’s not the kind of work I like to do when it’s 95 degrees with a dewpoint of 75.) I worked on the section between the two piers and was nervous about how the stones would fit and whether I’d have a huge gap at one pier or the other. But, I was really pleased when every stone fit perfectly into place! I could hardly believe it! The heart-shaped rock really fit better on its side, but I like that when people walk by they notice the heart shape, so I’m glad I stuck it in that way.

There’s one section to go and that’s the project for Labor Day weekend. My plan is to use the flag stone that I took out from the east side of the house and make some steps to get from the sidewalk to the water. (That was going to be my first project of the year, but it got so hot so quickly, I kept putting it off.)

I’m using mostly hosta in the shady parts of the hill. I’ve used lupines and geraniums in one of the sunny sections and lavender and salvia in the other sunny section. So far, this is one garden that looks exactly the way my mind imagined it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finch Fest

Part of my Saturday morning routine is to fill the bird feeders. (I’d fill them more frequently, but the squirrels are ingenious and they keep finding ways to get the seed intended for the birds.) But, the feeders have gone untouched this weekend. The birds, including the yellow finches, prefer the seed from the flowers in the gardens this time of year!

I use solely the black oiler sunflower seeds in the feeders. The chickadees, sparrows, and cardinals come in droves. The yellow finches prefer a smaller seed than the black oilers, so they’re not typically visitors to my feeders. I haven’t been brave enough to try the Nyjer seed, which I have been assured is NOT a new name for thistle, but is a different seed entirely. I had a nasty seed spill at the St Paul house and spent YEARS digging thistle from the yard and gardens there.

I first spotted a yellow finch on the Anise Hyssop last week. I couldn’t believe the plant was strong enough to hold the bird up. Yesterday, there were several of them in the Natives Garden, happily munching on the Anise Hyssop, the Coneflowers, and the volunteer sunflowers. I stopped weeding and got a few shots.

Later in the day, I was visiting a neighbor’s garden and the finches were active in her garden, too! One was doing a nice imitation of a Nuthatch, head pointing downward on a giant sunflower. I don’t remember seeing the yellow finches in the garden last year. Maybe there weren’t enough plants to attract and feed them. I’m glad they’re visiting the gardens. And, if anyone has tried Nyjer with success can let me know, I might try a small port feeder next year so I don’t have to wait until mid summer to see the yellow finches.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day -- August 2010

It's the 15th of the month, and you know what that means . . . . Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. The premise is to post photos of what’s blooming in the garden on this particular day. May Dreams Gardens hosts, and provides a list of participating garden blogs.

The extreme heat and strong storms last week took a toll on the gardens, but the hardy (and a few delicate) plants are still standing and blooming. I think we're still a couple weeks early on the bloom schedule because a few of the things that are blooming are "fall" plants. Here’s what’s blooming in Auntie K’s Garden today:

The fall blooming anemone I purchased two years ago (as a tiny start) is blooming this year. It's still small, but eventually will fill the space with beautiful foliage and lovely pink blossoms.

The sedum have started blooming, too.

And one of the New England Asters has started budding.

Natives are still going strong: Purple Coneflower, White Coneflower, Ratibida, Anise Hyssop.

Knautia Macedonia (pictured), Stella D'Oro, and Lychnis Chalcedonia (not pictured) are having a second bloom.

The beautiful Leopard Lily, alternately called Blackberry Lily, (Belamcanda chinensis) has started to go crazy in the sunny boulevard garden.

The volunteer sunflowers and cosmos are both still going strong, too.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mystery Flower from Saved Seeds

My neighbor, Barb, is a seed saver. She has container after container of seeds on a shelf in her basement. She saves seeds from Marigolds, Icelandic poppies, phlox, bachelor buttons, cosmos, and lots of other plants – mostly annuals, but some perennials—including this beautiful orange flower.

Neither of us had any idea what it was when she came over a few years ago and sprinkled the seeds over the tulips in the sunny boulevard garden. She described the then unknown flower as pretty orange flowers on long flat leaves. She was convinced they’d look fabulous with the Russian Sage I’d just planted. We planted the seeds and I waited!

I’d gotten the long, iris-like leaves for a couple years, but no blooms—not even a hint of a flower stem. When the leaves appeared earlier this year I wondered if this would be the year they would bloom. I confess that I had my doubts. But, bloom they did, and beautifully.

I was wandering through a local nursery last weekend (it was raining so I couldn’t work in the garden) and saw my “seed flower!” The tag said Leopard Lily! And, even though the name says lily, it’s in the iris family. I can’t decide what’s more thrilling – finally knowing the name of the flower or having it bloom and set seeds.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Becoming an Impatient Gardener

I am a patient gardener. I buy small plants and wait for them to mature rather than buying mature plants for instant gratification. I sow seeds for perennials, too, which take even longer to mature than the small starts. I appreciate the flowers (and fruits) of the seasons. When the tulips are blooming, for example, I soak them in, rather than wishing for peonies or roses.

But, the weather we’ve had this week is making me seriously impatient. Since Sunday, we’ve had temperatures in the 90s peppered with strong storms – making it impossible to do anything in the garden. The heat (accompanied by oppressive humidity) is exhausting, and the rain is making the ground soggy – not to mention it’s not recommended to work with plants when the leaves are damp because you can encourage fungus and rot among the plants. (I did pull a few pieces of quackgrass yesterday, but was careful to touch only the grass.)

We do get 90s here occasionally, and we do also get our share of summer storms. It’s uncharacteristic, however, to have them in combination for such a prolonged period. Today is supposed to be the last day of both the heat and the storms. Cooler weather (and perhaps my patience) will return tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Black Walnut Woes

A neighbor has a mature Black Walnut tree in her yard. It provides wonderful shade for about two thirds of her back yard, where we sit and have morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening. There are two pieces of bad news about Black Walnuts:

  • They’re not a great neighbor – killing all but the hardiest of companions because of the toxin they exude. Last summer, our local paper had an article about Black Walnut trees and provided a list of “good neighbors” for Black Walnut trees.
  • They have nuts, which contain a substance that stains instantly and forever, and which the squirrels use as ammunition – whole or in parts – on unsuspecting humans who are enjoying the shade of the tree.

Sunday morning, three of us were having coffee after taking the dogs for a walk. We had been sitting and talking for a half hour or so when the bombardment began. Thwack. A whole nut hit the brick patio—close to us, but not close enough for us to move. Splat. Partial nut hit Nancy on the shoulder. She ran inside immediately to soak her white top. (She was able to get the stain out, which she attributed to her quick action.) Plunk. Direct hit into my coffee cup. We laughed at the bombardier’s perfect aim as we cleaned up the spill (and I got up to rinse and re-fill my cup).

When I got home, I noticed a stain on my right foot, which I tried (in vain) to wash off. Today is Thursday, and the stain is still there. Perhaps, with time, it will fade, like my tan summer skin. Perhaps, it won’t fade, and I’ll have a permanent reminder of a summer cup of coffee with the neighbors!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

After the Storms

Yesterday, the forecast was for some rain. What we got was wave after wave of downpours starting mid-morning and lasting well after dark. In total, we received over 3 inches of rain. That's a lot of rain in one day where I live. It was too dark last night to see if there was any damage, but the streetlights allowed me to see that the water in the streets – even at the top of the hill where I live – was overflowing the curbs and coming onto the sidewalks! I haven’t seen rain like that since the 1980s.

“Bye bye fresh mulch” was all I could think. But, the mulch was in-tact when I went out for a walk this morning. The stones I had placed around the boulevard gardens did a great job of keeping the soil and mulch in the gardens and out of the streets and off the sidewalks! Some of the plants – lamb’s ear and artemesia silver mound – got pretty matted. And, the liatris are leaning over quite a bit, but nothing sustained permanent damage. Whew!

The grass in the front yard, however, is turning getting quite tall. The rain has been coming with enough frequency this week that there hasn’t been enough time between storms for the grass to dry enough to mow it! We’re expecting more rain Thursday and Friday. I’m crossing my fingers that it dries enough today that I can mow this evening.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strawberries on the Run

A friend put in half a dozen strawberries earlier this year in one of her flower beds. She got a few berries and was happy. But, she called me over the other day to ask what was wrong with them. “Nothing’s wrong,” I said. “They’re sending out runners, so you get more plants next year.” She gave me a horrified look as she responded, “More? Oh, no. That’s no good. They weren’t supposed to do that!”

I asked if she had bought June bearing or everbearing. She didn’t remember, but still had the tags. June bearing. Yep. They send out runners. Everbearing do send out some runners, but not nearly like the June bearing varieties. She started ripping out the runners even though she wanted more strawberries next year because she didn’t want them taking over her flower bed. Her goal is to make a new bed and transfer the berries there later in the year.

Betsy plowed under her strawberries on the run a few weeks ago. We were relaxing one afternoon and she proclaimed with more satisfaction than I was expecting, “Yep, I plowed those berries right under.” They had apparently run their course and needed to go. She’ll start new plants in a new area.

I don’t have strawberries yet. I had planned to put them in the two raised beds, but didn’t get the hostas that had spent the winter in the boxes moved early enough to get the strawberries in. So, it looks like I’ll be joining the crew of folks who will be planting strawberries in the fall! I’m going to try June bearing in one box and everbearing in the other and see what happens. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Repellents versus "-cides"

I had planned to mulch yesterday in the two beds that still lack mulch since the forecast is for five more days of 90 degree temperatures with dew points in the 70s. Weather like this means stress for some plants – especially transplants – and mulch can help. It cools the soil and holds in the moisture. But, when sweat was pouring off us as we took the dogs for a walk, I decided to change my plans and stay indoors—in the basement, actually since the fans weren’t keeping us very cool.

The day I was experimenting with essential oils for insect repellent, a neighbor asked me if it would work on getting rid of the Japanese Beetles in her yard. We then had a good conversation about the difference between repellents (compounds designed to keep the bugs away from you) and “-cides” (compounds designed to kill that which precedes the –cide).

I’m battling the Japanese Beetles, too, but am loathe to use an insecticide, because many of them are broad spectrum killers and I want to keep the butterflies and the bees – so I’ve been going out a couple times a day and picking the beetles off the plants (roses mostly) and dropping them into a container of soapy water. (The soap coats their wings so they can’t fly away.) I know it sounds cruel, but they’re eating my roses!

I haven’t done a lot of research on natural or specific insecticides, but there’s a week of 90s ahead – providing lots of opportunity for research. If you’ve found a natural insecticide that doesn’t harm bees or butterflies, post a comment and let me know!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mosquito Magnet

I am a mosquito magnet. I always have been. I carry insect repellent with me everywhere. I have used “Deep Woods OFF” in the middle of the city with only minimal success. Lately, I’ve been using some of those commercial brands that smell better and come in a pump bottle, but I STILL end up getting eaten alive – and smelling like a walking chemical plant.

I don’t know why they go for me and not for others, but they do. This year has been particularly bad. In the last week, I’ve swallowed no fewer than four mosquitoes while having conversations at outdoor gatherings at dusk. I needed help – big time. So, I talked with a neighbor who has made her own insect repellent for years using essential oils. She let me spritz myself with it and I liked how it smelled!

So, I went to the co-op in search of essential oils that would repel insects. Lavender, apparently, is the best repellent for mosquitoes! I grow that – lots of it – in the gardens here. Peppermint is next and then Lemon or lemongrass, and scented geranium. I had several bottles in my hand when I saw one labeled, “insect repellent.” It’s sort of an all-in-one mix of the oils that repel mosquitoes and black flies. I went home and mixed it up – 20 drops per ounce of diluting solution. My friend uses water. I used rubbing alcohol for quicker evaporation.

I smelled a little bit like Lemon Pledge for about an hour, but it worked – even at night when we had dinner on the lawn! I can’t believe I went an entire day without one bite! I’m definitely sold on this solution.

Has anyone else used homemade insect repellent?!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Gardens that Honor the People we Love

I have been thinking a lot lately about the gardens we plant to honor the people in our lives that we love. Sometimes, we plant to mark a birth, a significant birthday, or a wedding. But, most frequently, I think, we plant to honor the memory of a loved one who has died. I’ve been thinking about these gardens because a dear friend—a neighbor and fellow gardener—has terminal cancer. I’ve been thinking about and planning the yellow garden I’m going to plant to remind me of her since yellow is her favorite color.

The year my grandmothers died, I planted a rose for each of them in a new bed “The Grandmothers Garden” at the St Paul house. And, a classmate of mine plants a tree on his property for each Minnesota soldier who dies in war and for each classmate who has died since our graduation. One year, he did this life-affirming gift on his birthday.

When I was growing up, my father planted a tree on our property for each of us. We thought that was the coolest thing, ever! Even though we have not lived in that house for a very long time, we still claim “our” tree when we drive by. A baby was born into my family yesterday. And, my first thought was that I needed to mark his entrance into the world and the family by planting something. I won’t plant a tree—the city lot is too small for that—but I will plant a shrub or perennial to honor his presence.

So, while I started the week thinking about a garden to honor the life of a friend whose life is ending, I end the week thinking about planting to honor the beginning of the life of my newest cousin. The circle of life continues.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Weeding and Expanding our Community Garden

Last night, I joined some neighbors for an evening of weeding and planning for our community garden – named the Grassy Knoll. (I wish the planners had chosen a different name – since the name they chose will be forever linked with the death of JFK for some of us. But, it is descriptive of the location.) You can imagine the looks of horror when I tell people I’m going down to the Grassy Knoll to weed or water or whatever. I avoid those looks now by just saying “the community garden” instead.

I didn’t take photos of the garden when we planted it, but did last night. One of the neighbors said that the plan for the garden was a wave but it looks more like a heart. I sort of agree with her! The sculpture in the background is called “Wind in the Trees.” We were surprised at how BIG the plants were since they were planted in May from tiny starts or transplants. We chose native prairie plants for a low maintenance garden. Weeding went really quickly with the number of people who joined us -- even in such a big space!

We apparently have some money left in the community garden bucket, so we started thinking about an expansion of the wave heart, which we’d plant in September so the plants have time to get their roots established before the winter. It’s lots of work, but makes the space look much more friendly and welcoming. So, it’s worth the effort.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lucky Shot

I love seeing birds, bees, and butterflies in the gardens. I almost never have my camera when I’m working, though, because I worry about dropping it in a hole, sweeping it off the wall, stepping on it, or setting it down and forgetting about it. So, I typically take the camera out in the morning after our walk and take shots of the things that are blooming.

The butterflies have been plentiful lately – flitting and floating from flower to flower around the gardens. But, again, I never have my camera to capture these colorful moments. The other evening, though, I got lucky. Monty and I were just coming down the home stretch and a Monarch landed on one of the liatris. I stood and watched it open and close its wings as Monty watered one last plant. I hurried Monty inside, grabbed the camera, and went out to see if the butterfly was still around. It was still on the liatris—still opening and closing its wings. I took a few shots and managed to get this one.

Do you take the camera into the garden with you while you’re working so you can capture great shots? Or, do you make special photo trips into the garden like I do? Post a comment, let me know!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Weeding -- In Other People's Gardens

I am often asked why I weed in other people’s gardens—especially when I have so many gardens (and weeds) of my own. My answer is always, “Because I can.” I can weed. I can tell the difference between a dandelion and a coreopsis—a clover and a geranium—a violet and a brunnera. I can’t knit or crochet. I HATE cleaning, and while I love to cook, I prefer to spend as much time as possible outside during the months when green things are growing. So, I weed.

I don’t mind weeding. It’s satisfying work that shows immediate results. After a day in an office where you may not be able to tell that you’ve made a difference or accomplished anything, weeding is just the thing! You end up with a big pile of weeds and a lovely looking garden! It doesn’t get much better than that!

It makes people happy to have their gardens weeded. Sometimes, the people I weed for want to weed with me – they want to learn what should stay and what should go. I start by giving them a particular weed to pull (see selective weeding) and then add a weed or two through the season. Typically, after a season, they don’t need me anymore. (Every once in a while, I go back at the beginning of the next season as a backup.) Sometimes, the people know what the weeds are, but illness, pregnancy, or an extended vacation may prevent them from getting out in the garden. In these cases, I just go to work and get rid of the weeds.

It’s early August now, which means the growing season for crops has another six to eight weeks. (Our first frost date here is about the 15th of September.) But hardy plants can go another twelve. Plenty of time to be outside and weed.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Seeing Red? Nope, Not Here . . .

I walk through the gardens a couple times a day. I look for dead stuff, wilty stuff, unhealthy stuff, and pests. I notice what’s blooming and what’s past its prime. And, I look for buds of new growth. But, yesterday, I walked through and noticed the gardens as a whole, and I noticed that the garden completely lacks red! There’s not one speck of true red in any of the gardens this time of year!

I avoided true reds close to the house because of the barn red trim, but hadn’t realized that I had omitted red everywhere until yesterday. I have red tulips, red poppies, and one red monarda—otherwise, no red. The lilies, Monte Negro, are in the red family, but aren’t a true red. Neither are the Knautia Macedonia (more wine colored) or the Lychnis chalcedonia (leaning orange). Both of these, however, are on several lists of “Red Perennials.” A friend suggested a rose. I could do that. I’d need to move a wild rose to a partly shady spot to do it, but it’s a possibility. Is lobelia really my only non-rose perennial option?!

Maybe the way to get some red into the gardens is to get a few planters and fill them with red geraniums and impatiens, like my grandmother and father have done for years. They’re long blooming and do provide a big impact.

Let me know how you get red in your gardens.

Monday, August 2, 2010

For Novices Only?

I read a piece a few weeks ago about how hosta and daylilies are for novices only—that no self-respecting experienced gardener would have such lowly plants in their garden—unless it was as a placeholder for something else. I thought immediately about the Shady Sisters, long-time gardeners whose gardens contain primarily hostas because they are shaded by many oaks. The hosta in their gardens are the show pieces and definitely NOT placeholders.

I was taking out some unwanted shrubs the other day and the client asked me how I got to know so much about gardening. He wanted to know if I had taken college level courses in either botany or horticulture. I told him I had taken a botany class last year but that most of what I know comes from experience – many years of trial and error, success and failure. I told him that I started by reading everything I could about what was in my garden and continued by being curious about what other gardeners had in their gardens. The knowledge just builds from there.

The client has LOTS of hosta on the property and shrubs (with more hosta) around the foundation. Their vision for the property is simple, clean, and elegant – roses and boxwood. But, in addition to the hosta and shrubs, there are eleven oaks on the property—providing lots of shade. The boxwood will tolerate some shade, but the roses need a lot of sun. I suggested they may need to alter their plan and was met with some resistance.

After these experiences, I have formed my own conclusion about hostas and novice gardeners. I think it’s not the plants you use that makes you a novice gardener, it’s whether you understand the growing conditions and needs for the plants you choose to use in your garden. So, if you have lots of shade, a hosta garden may be just the right thing.

What do you think? Are there plants that experienced or long-term gardeners should avoid?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Arrivederci, Roma

You start with healthy plants. You prepare the ground, or in this case pot, properly. You water and fertilize regularly. And, still, it happens. Crop failure.

I started the season with expectation (not hope) of salsa – certainly enough to eat fresh and maybe, if I was lucky, enough for a half dozen jars to can. But, it is not going to happen. The potted tomatoes are doing okay, but not great--not like the incredible bounty I had last year. I’m getting some cherries (yum) almost every day now, but I can see the end of that bounty is near, too. There are a few Early Girls ripening, too, destined for sandwiches and salads.

The Romas did okay at first, too. Then, the vandals rolled the pot down the hill and I think the plant suffered some shock. I tucked the plant back in and moved it to a sunny location close to the house where I could keep an eye on it better. That’s when the squirrels decided to wreak their havoc. They started stealing the Romas. They left both the Early Girls and the cherries alone and either took the entire Roma, or chomped it and left it in the pot.

There were three left last week – enough for the smallest batch of salsa ever. They ripened this week, and every one of them had blossom end rot. All that's left is an empty vine.

Arrivederci, Roma. Good bye, good bye to salsa.
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