Saturday, June 30, 2012

Catching up After a Brief Absence

Holy cow, Batman! The last time I posted was Father's Day! Things have been hopping here and apparently, keeping up with my writing fell off the list. We had a lot of rain for a while -- about an inch and a quarter every other day. It filled the rain barrels and leaked into the basement. So I spent some time dreaming up ways to keep the water outside. I ended up removing a rain barrel on the west side, and I *think* it's helping. Of course, since I re-attached the downspout, it hasn't rained, so I can't really know if my fix works.

Old photo of Hawk in the birdbath
As a matter of fact, it's been so hot this last week that birds of all kinds have been hanging out at the birdbaths -- including the hawk, whom we saw when we were having dinner on Wednesday night. The heat wave is supposed to continue all week, so I'll have to make a point of refreshing the water in the baths every day.

The crops have been doing great! Even the peppers we thought were toast have come back! And, because the cucumber was doing so well over by the roses, we moved the squash last week and they're all flowering now, too! We've been picking berries of all kinds for a couple of weeks, so breakfasts have been delish! I had a bet with the Riverman that we'd have tomatoes by the Fourth of July, and yesterday, I won that bet! Two of our "Moby Grape" tomatoes became ripe enough to pick!

But, it's not all sunshine and roses here at the Urban Farm, because ... as predicted... the Japanese Beetles are back. I hate those things. My neighbor bought a pair of leather gloves and has taken to squishing the JBs that are attacking her raspberries. I'm too squeamish for that and still plunge the dastardly devils to a soapy death.

This week brings my now traditional "Stay-cation in the Garden" week, and the list of projects is long! I'll post the list tomorrow and keep you updated on my progress.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Father's Yucca

It's Father's Day, and like a lot of people, I'm thinking about my dad. But, I'm thinking about my dad a lot these days because earlier this year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He's Norwegian and very tight-lipped about both the cancer and the treatments. I do know that the treatments make him tired, so he hasn't been able to put in his garden this year. There's no tomato contest between the two of us for the first time in a long time. He always won, so it really was never much of a contest. But, it makes me sad that he's not able to do something that gives him so much joy.

Four years ago, I re-did the courtyard garden at his home. He lives in Chicago and I make regular trips to do his flower beds. (Like the Riverman, my dad will do veggies, but not flowers!) The courtyard had been taken over by yucca. They loved the sun and warmth they were getting in his courtyard and had spread far beyond their original plan. He wanted fewer of them and I wanted to give them a whirl in my gardens. Neither of us was sure they'd survive in Minneapolis, but I took six plants and stuck them in different locations in my gardens.

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the story is that the tiniest two of the six survived. And, just this year, they each got a flower stalk. And, just today -- on Father's Day -- they bloomed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Last Season for the Shady Sisters

I spent my day today with the Shady Sisters. I've mentioned them a couple of times before., The sisters are friends of mine and long-time gardeners, who have been selling their rare and unique hostas and other shade-loving plants for a few seasons now. After the 2010 season, I became an "official" sister. So, now in addition to helping on sale days, I dig and pot and plan and weed.

It rained buckets this morning, but people came to buy plants anyhow. Our first customer/gardener was there even before the official start of the sale at 8 am! We had many things potted, but people yesterday wanted varieties we hadn't potted, so we dug -- in the rain. And, by 8:30, three of us were covered in mud. Somehow, Betsy remained mud free all day. We're not sure how she managed it. The sun came out around lunchtime, so we were caked in mud instead of slimed in it.

The farm where the Sisters grew up and have their gardens is being sold, so this is the last year for the gardens and for the sales. We don't know whether an agreement will be made this year or not, but the uncertainty -- and the amount of plants still in the gardens -- made us decide that this would be our last year. It's great to talk with gardeners who have some connection to the farm and watch their faces as they get plants from the gardens. It means something to them and we know the plants will be well cared for. I'm moving things around in my own gardens to make room for a few more Shady plants, too.

We have one sale left this year -- in mid-August. It's going to be bittersweet. (And, I hope it doesn't rain!)

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Like most gardeners, I have a list of things I'd like for the garden. My list includes plant material; garden objects, including a fountain someday; and practical things like soaker hoses, plant markers, and a compost bin. I'm a Capricorn, which means I lean toward the practical in almost everything. So, garden objects are lower on the list than plant material. But, plant material almost always beats out the "practical" stuff, because I can always "make due" with what I've got for just a little longer...

The other day, the Riverman and I were looking at the wedding registry for the daughter of some friends and I saw something that was on my garden list. "I've wanted one of those for a really long time," I confessed almost covetously. His incredulous response was, "Why?!" I gave him my reasons and we chose the gift for the couple (not the item I lusted after).

Yesterday after work, the "chore" was thinning the carrots. The Riverman arrived and did a tour through the garden before getting to the task of planticide. He kicked the hose, which was lying near the stone path, and said in an uncharacteristically grumpy way, "This thing is always in the way." I attributed the grump to a cold that's been hanging on for a couple of weeks and told him the solution was on the list and that if the plant sale went well over the weekend, I'd pick one up next week. He kicked the hose again and shook his head. Then, he said he forgot the elbow wrap for my tendonitis in the back seat of the car and would I mind getting it while he finished checking the crops. I walked to his car hoping the cold would subside soon. I wasn't sure I liked the grumpy Riverman.

But, my consternation disappeared when I got to the car and saw in the back seat not the elbow wrap but the hose reel box from my garden list! I think I actually did the happy Snoopy dance. It might sound silly, but we are neither great shoppers nor gift exchangers -- the Riverman and I -- so I was touched that he shopped AND chose something so meaningful to me -- something I'd been denying myself because I could "make due."

Have you waited a long time to get something for your garden? Post a comment and tell me about it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sharing the Roses

I love roses. And, I have a lot of them. So, last fall, when Neighbor Nancy wanted to dig out the roses in the garden that had been Barb's, I knew I couldn't take them all--especially that late in the season. There just wasn't time to dig all those holes! There just wasn't space.

Magnifica (pink) and Sir Thomas Lipton (white)
But, we were working against the clock, so I called Betsy, who said she had space in her veggie garden, so, I dug out all of Barb’s roses -- 9 plants -- and wintered them over at Betsy's. In April, Betsy dug them out and we potted them, so I could take them back to the city and distribute them. I set them on the south hill and neighbors came to take what they could use. I think Barb would be happy to know her roses are living in other sunny gardens now. One neighbor came after all Barb’s roses were gone. Luckily, I had a couple that were crowded and needed to go and I let her dig them out. She’s thrilled to have them and now my roses aren’t crowded.

Then, to make room for the new raised bed for the Urban Farm project, I needed to move one of my old Magnifica shrub roses. The young couple who bought the home across from me is starting with a clean palate, and I offered it to them. They accepted. So, the Riverman and I dug out the old rose and planted it in its new location. (We had to use a burlap sling to get it from the ground to the wheelbarrow!) We were afraid it wasn't going to make it, but it looks like it'll come back now.

Here at Auntie K's, my wish was to get through a complete bloom cycle on all the roses before the dastardly beetles made their appearance. I got my wish! (Is it too much to ask for another?! Buds are just about ready to open on several shrubs!)

Do you have a favorite plant? Have you had to move something cherished to make room for something new? Post a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Rule of Three

One of the rules of landscaping is the "rule of three," meaning you should plant things in groups of three -- typically in some kind of triangle rather than in a line. There's a natural harmony or balance that happens with odd numbers that doesn't happen when you have a single plant or even numbers of things. I typically follow the odd rule/rule of three in my gardens and notice that the gardens I'm re-arranging more than others are the ones where I've done pairs of things or single specimens. But, that's not the "rule of three" I'm thinking about today.

My friend, Sally, has a rule that if you hear something (or it comes up) three times in a certain period of time -- a day or a week -- for example, you need to pay attention to it -- and maybe take a lesson from it. I follow this rule, too. And, the thing that popped up three times this past weekend was the word "lush." It was the word people used to describe the gardens. Because I live on a corner, lots of people walk by and lots of people comment on the gardens. But, it's rare that I hear the same word or phrase more than once in a weekend. "Great," "Pretty," "Coming along," "Gift," are the most common. But over the weekend, the overwhelming comment was, "It's so lush."

It surprised me because it's not a word I'd use to describe the gardens. I still think of them as a work in progress. And, I know I tend to see the weeds and holes and room for improvement more than I see the things that are working. I got out my thesaurus and double-checked the synonyms -- verdant, luxurious, abundant, flourishing. I looked at the gardens again and thought that they were, indeed, lush.

I'm still trying to figure out what I'm supposed to take away from this phrase. Is it that I need to look with fresh eyes at things? Am I to slow down and experience not only the gardens but life in all its abundance? Is it something else?

Do you also pay attention to "the rule of three?" If so, post a comment and let me know!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Garden Pests

Now that everything's in the ground and has had some time to get settled, garden talk is about pests and what to do about them. Someone mentioned having seen Japanese Beetles already. Eek! Thankfully, I haven't seen any yet this year. I was hoping to get a first bloom on all the roses before I saw the JBs and I did. Most of my neighbors treated their yards with Milky Spore late last summer, so we're hoping that staved them off. (Notice I didn't say "eliminated them.")

I bumped into a fellow gardener at the local garden center early yesterday morning. He was buying insecticidal soap because of unidentified worms on his heirloom tomatoes. I said something had eaten a few holes in my Brussels Sprouts, but couldn't find any sign of the pest -- even after having carefully examined every leaf of every plant! He said they're sneaky that way.

And, it seems like you can't go anywhere lately without hearing about bunnies--and not in a good way. They are decimating gardens everywhere--except here at Auntie K's. Neighbor Nancy lost everything except two pepper plants. It's odd that all the gardeners who have bunny damage also have dogs or cats. "They're useless," one friend lamented. I shrugged and said that now that Monty's gone, all I have is the neighborhood hawk to keep the bunny population under control. She said, "well we have coyotes and we STILL have bunny damage!" I laughed as I conceded that her coyote trumped my hawk.

What are the garden pests you're dealing with this year? Post a comment and let me know!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Crop Report

I can't believe it's been a month since we planted "the crops" for the Urban Farm Project here at Auntie K's Garden. It seems like yesterday we were mixing soil and compost and building the raised bed and planting seeds and seedlings. According to the seed packet, the radishes should be ready to harvest any day now. (Don't tell the Riverman, but I pulled one yesterday to see how ripe they were, and I think they're going to need a few extra days. They still look like radish pencils rather than round radishes.)

I'm astounded at how full the raised bed looks and how lush everything seems! We've got weensy peppers and tomatoes and the peas are just starting to blossom. The onions are doing really well in their special box. We've eaten a handful of strawberries already (now that I added extra squirrel protection) and there are more to come. The raspberries will be ripe any day now, and we're seeing color on a few blueberries.

I think a few things have suffered from a little too much lovin' in the watering department. Two pepper plants lost blossoms and the cukes and squash ended up with a few yellowing leaves. We've held off on the watering for the last couple of days and they look like they're starting to recover. Whew.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

For the Birds -- A Hummingbird Feeder

Part of the joy I get from the garden is that the birds seem to enjoy it as much as I do. I plant things they like and provide both water and supplemental food (when the plants they like aren't quite ready). It's supposed to be a scorcher of a weekend here, so I'm keeping an eye on the birdbaths to make sure they stay filled.

In an earlier post this year, I mentioned the variety and number of birds we saw -- just sitting on the deck above the Mississippi River. I didn't mention that we saw a couple of hummingbirds -- which are among my favorites.

The Riverman asked if there was something you could do to make the hummingbirds visit. I said there were a number of plants that are attractive to hummingbirds and that we have many of those plants in the garden. Then, I mentioned that there are special feeders for hummingbirds. His eyes lit up and asked if we had one. I said we didn't but could get one. We put it on the west side of the house -- just outside the sunroom -- so we can see it while having coffee. And, to my surprise and delight, two days after I hung it, we had hummingbirds! I haven't seen them for a few days. I don't know if it's because they've moved on or if they're coming at times when I'm not around. I know they'll be back when the Monarda blooms, so I may just need to be patient.

p.s. It looks like I'm having trouble with the scheduler for my posts! I'll try to be more diligent about checking that they're actually live rather than trusting the scheduler.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Creature Feature

One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the sunroom and watch the birds in the garden. (The Riverman now enjoys this, too. ) We've seen a couple of butterflies in the garden and lots of bees. The hawk -- a once regular visitor to the birdbath -- has been absent for a month or so, but we've had other visitors at Auntie K's.

The first regular visitor this year has been a baby bunny. I was worried that the bunny would get the blueberries or some of the strawberries, but when I've seen him, he's been munching on Elmer's fallen leaves or on dandelions. Go bunny! (Yesterday, I saw a bigger bunny and thought "the crops" might be in danger, but so far, so good.)

The oddest -- and most enjoyable -- visitors to the gardens this year has been the trio of mallards! Two males and a female have been hanging out in the neighborhood -- wandering from yard to yard. Many mornings, I find them under a tall hosta or the big arborvitae. They watched us plant "the crops," and although they quack if we get close, they must sense we're not a danger to them, because they just waddle a few feet and nestle in again!

Do you have usual or unusual visitors in your garden? Post a comment and tell me about them!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lovely Lilies

In past years, the gardens seemed to bloom by plant -- first the tulips, then the peonies, then the roses, then other stuff. This year, the tulips still came first, but after that it's been like a free-for-all by color starting with the blues, then the pinks, and then the yellows. But, now we're back to plants.

And, the plant of the hour is the lily -- both lilium and hemerocalis! Maybe they bloomed together in past years and I just don't remember. The only lilies left to bloom are the Monte Negro in the front boulevard garden. The Martagons finally bloomed this week. (A friend's bloomed weeks ago.)

And, my beautiful pink lily bloomed this week, too. (The year I got it, it was 4 feet tall. The bunnies got it the following year and the squirrels nipped it off last year.) But this year, the creatures left it alone and it bloomed. It's shorter than it was the first year, but I'm grateful that it bloomed -- at any height!

The Stellas are popping out -- adding a burst of color to the corner garden. As we walked through the gardens this morning, the Riverman asked about the pretty yellow flowers and I told him their name. He was very excited that a flower had the same name as his mom. He looked at them again and said, "I think she would have liked these."

How is your garden growing this year? Flower by flower, or color by color?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hard Winter for Lavender

The winter of 2010-2011 we had a lot of snow -- close to 90 inches -- more snow than we've had since the early 1980s. Plants were well insulated against the cold temperatures. Last winter -- the winter of 2011-2012 -- "they" predicted similar snowfall amounts. So... I didn't cover everything with straw like I normally do. But, the snow didn't come. As a matter of fact, we had crazy warm temperatures both late in 2011 and early in 2012 and the plants got mixed up and some of them started poking through when they should have been sleeping.

And, because of this oddball combination, many of the plants in Auntie K's Garden didn't make it. The azaleas, which struggled from the very beginning, are toast. (Actually, I see a few green leaves, but I'm not sure about their overall health.) One of the veronicas didn't make it, either. But, the plant that suffered the most was the lavender. Of the five plants on the sunny south hill, two of them survived. The other three are crispy critters. They just didn't survive the lack of snow and the frequent freeze/thaw cycles we had.

I'm so sad about this loss because I love walking by the lavender and feeling it and smelling it. I'm starting over in those three spots with tiny plants, but it looks a little uneven now. And, you can bet your bottom dollar that regardless of what "they" say the winter will be like, I'm going to cover the lavender with a winter blanket of straw.

Did your garden suffer any losses this past winter? Or was I the only gardener caught off guard?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Using up the Grass -- A New Path

Some of my neighbors think I'm crazy, but I have a goal of using up all the grass in the yard. I'm the kind of person who would much rather pull a few weeds than mow a lawn. I've had my grass free goal since I bought the house 5 years ago, but vowed that as long as Monty the Wonder Dog was around, I'd keep some grass for him to frolic in. He loved lying in the sunshine and rolling in the grass when I was working in the gardens. Now that he's gone, I can move toward my goal. I picked the Fourth of July as my "grass free" date. It's an arbitrary date, but I felt like I had to pick a deadline and Independence Day seemed like a good date -- symbolic. And, far enough off that I might just accomplish it!

Tonight, I made some progress toward my goal. I used some of the old flag stones from the kitchen walk to make a path/walk from the west hill to the front door. I had avoided this project because my original plan was to take out the grass and level everything and put down sand, etc. and that seemed daunting. But, after I made the "walk" the other day by the raised bed, I decided to do the same thing in the front yard. I just put the stones on top of the grass and tucked some heavy paper underneath as a weed block before covering it with mulch. Voila. Instant path!

Well, sort of instant. It was heavy work hauling the stones from the back yard where they've been stacked for the last couple years. But, it wasn't as difficult laying it out as I anticipated. I've got some stones left, which is a good thing, because I want to have a similar path on the west side of the house going to the hosta hill.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Trash or Treasure?

Serendipity visited Auntie K’s Garden yesterday. It came in the morning and stayed all day.

Neighbor Nancy came by early to see the new “path” I put in next to the raised bed. She admired the irises that were blooming nearby. I thanked her and said I had some short ones I needed to either move or get rid of because they weren’t happy in their current location. She perked up at the word “short” and said she was looking for one more short thing to add to her boulevard garden. “Sold,” I said. “I’ll dig them out for you later on.”

Nancy hadn’t met the couple who moved in across the street from me, and they were out in their yard, so I walked over with her to make the introduction. On the way, I mentioned that I also wanted to get rid of some Spring-blooming anemones that had begun to take over one of my shade gardens. She said another neighbor was looking for some and I should call her. I made a mental note to do that later.

As we arrived at the new couple’s house, the woman dumped a load of old bricks into a collapsible dumpster. After I’d made the introductions, I told the woman I was looking for some bricks for a project in my yard and asked if I could rescue the old bricks from the dumpster. “Of course!” she said enthusiastically. “If I’d known you were looking, I would have brought them over!” I brought my wheelbarrow and garden fork and hauled home 3 wheelbarrows of bricks!

And, as I was dumping the last load of bricks, Teresa, the anemone-seeking neighbor walked by on her way home from an errand. I pointed out where she could dig and told her to take what she wanted. She was thrilled to get them! And, to my surprise and delight, she said she had too many strawberries and would be happy to dig some for me.

It was definitely a day of “one gardener’s trash is another’s treasure,” or “one gardener’s weed/cast off is another’s sought after gem.” Mia’s trash-bound bricks became my garden treasure. My unhappy mini irises were Nancy’s glad addition. And, Teresa and I traded things we each had “too much” of. I love days like that!

Do you have a story about a great garden trade? If so, post a comment and let me know!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rogue Raspberries

I like to think I'm an observant person. But, when I got home from the Little League tournament yesterday, the Riverman informed me that we had actual tomatoes and peppers, which he saw when he was weeding. I hadn't noticed them in the morning before I left, but there they were! So, when I went on my walk through the gardens this morning, I went really slowly -- paying close attention to what was going on not only with the veggies we planted this year, but also with the flower beds.

In the veggie bed, I noticed another tomato and a few more peppers but no new ripe strawberries. (I did get to eat one yesterday!) And, in the flower beds, the yellows are coming out now that the blues and pinks are fading--coreopsis, primroses, and stellas. The martagon is *just* getting ready to bloom. (A friend to whom I gave a clump a few years ago said hers started blooming on Thursday, so I've been on the lookout for them.)

I checked out the raspberry patch in the back and it looks great! I don't think there'll be enough for jam this year, but we'll definitely have enough for several breakfasts and snacks. Then, I walked through the hosta hill. "It's filling in nicely," I thought. "Starting to look really established." I looked again and started laughing because at the top of the hill -- tucked between two hostas and on the other side of the sidewalk from the raspberry patch -- was a raspberry!

My neighbor was reading her paper outside and heard me laughing, so she came over to see what was going on. I pointed to the rogue raspberry and she started laughing, too. Then we both noticed a tiny raspberry coming up in the crack on the steps and laughed even harder! She asked if I planned to let them grow where they were or if I intended to move them. I think I have to move the one growing in the steps, but may leave the one in the hostas. We'll see...

Have you had plants come up in unexpected places? If so, have you left them or returned them to their "proper" location? Post a comment and let me know!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Anticipating First Fruits

I'm looking forward to tasting the first strawberry from our garden. Oh, I'm also looking forward to eating the veggies we planted, but for me, there's nothing like that first strawberry of the season. Mmmmmmm. I love that sweet, sometimes tart, juiciness that makes your mouth so happy! Not to mention the satisfaction that comes from having grown the fruit yourself.

I had thought that day was here last week. But, when we got back from Wabasha, I found the ripe berry on the mulch near the bed with one bite out of it. Dang squirrels. "I'll teach them," I thought, "I'll put some bird netting over the bed to keep the creatures out." Things were looking good this week, and yesterday, there was a ripe berry again! But, I wanted a picture first and the battery in my camera was dead, so I told myself I could wait until evening.

You can see where this is going, can't you?! Yep. I got home and found the berry expertly snipped off and the hull in the bed. The berry was gone -- completely. Something had gotten it through the netting! There are two more berries nearly ripe. I hope by the time I get home this afternoon I will be able to taste one!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Deluge after Deluge

The evening we arrived in Wabasha, we went for a walk on the dike road, which leads to Lock & Dam Number 4 on the Mississippi. The Riverman insisted we wait until it was dark so we could see some fireflies. It was cloudy, but we could still see some stars. And, the limestone on the path was light enough for us to find our way. I confess I was skeptical about the fireflies, but they did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, it was breathtaking -- like walking through a crowd of paparazzi! (We heard some frogs, too.)

They are lonely but otherwise fine
While we were having this magical experience, it poured buckets of rain back home. We listened to the radio on Thursday morning to hear about rain totals of between 4 and 6 inches! All we could think of was our poor garden—so carefully planned and planted—getting pelted by hail and washed out by so much water. We tried hard to not worry, but by evening, we decided to check in with the neighbor who had agreed to keep an eye on things. When I got her text, shown here, we both had a good laugh!

Sunday brought deluge part deux – which we watched from the sunroom. “The crops” survived the strong winds and the 1.25 inches of rain. Whew! The forecast shows some fairly dry days, so I’ll be watering again today.

I was struck by the role water played in our vacation. We canoed in it, saw birds over it, heard the frogs in it, and were dazzled by fireflies near it. Sunday, when it was so steamy, we drank lots of it! But, we also heard the sump pump going off pretty frequently and worried about “the crops” getting drowned from it.
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