Monday, February 28, 2011
The flower garden along my driveway tends to get weedy, possibly because it's next to the lawn and I think weed seeds just blow right off the farmer's fields across the street and also from the lawn. Critters probably track in those weeds, too! Last year we could not keep up with the weeding in two spots. We still have pallets of stones stacked and waiting to go onto the walkways, and weeding around the pallets was impossible. A big mat of some kind of grass just spread and spread, engulfing a small part of the driveway and creeping into the iris and day lilies.
On Saturday, we began digging up the mat of weeds. What a chore! But luckily for us we got there just in time. Underneath the mat of weeds, choking for lack of sunlight, were crocus and daffodils. We moved a stone that had fallen off the pallet or been carelessly thrown onto the weedy patch and there were at least 30 crocus, struggling to grow under a heavy slate. I felt like I'd done my good deed for the day as we uncovered all the pretty spring blossoms.
It took several hours of heavy work with a pick axe, hoe and shovel, but we managed to dig up the mats and at least chop back what we couldn't dig up so that we can put down some landscape fabric on the area we want to make a garden path and smother out the rest of those things.
After church on Sunday, I changed my clothes and headed out to the vegetable garden. I had stopped at Wal Mart to do some grocery shopping and meant to pick up only one package of Swiss Chard seeds in the garden center there - but I left with Swiss Chard seeds and more flower seeds: alyssum, shade flowers, nasturtium seeds, poppies. And then of course I spied lily of the valley pips and I wanted to add lily of the valley along the stone wall of our raised patio at the back of the house, so those found their way into my shopping cart. Then I spotted seed potatoes (potatoes specially grown for gardening) and horseradish. Hmm, into the cart those went. I came home with the trunk of my car filled with groceries and gardening supplies!
I thought my long-suffering spouse was going to have a fit, but he approved of my purchases. We ran 12 wheelbarrows of compost back to the raised beds and then paused to stretch our aching backs and survey the area. We talked about what grows well - greens, like Chard, spinach and lettuce; beans of all sorts; roots crops of all sorts. We agreed to forgo the melons this year since the ones we buy at the store or Farmer's Market just taste better.
We decided to pull up what looked like just a few mint plants and ended up being an enormously thick mat of mint. We had to dig up the entire raised bed! That necessitated refilling the bed with more compost, of course. Because I can't let a plant go to waste, we moved the big mats of mint down to an area at the bottom of the hill at the base of the fruit orchard, where rainwater tends to erode the soil. We planted the mint in that area. Who cares if it grows a bit into the woods or out onto the lawn? Mow it!
Next we tackled the strawberry bed. My poor strawberries were planted too close together, spread out all over the place, and had a big hunk of grass growing in the middle. We dug up the whole bed, split up plants, removed the grass, and replanted the whole kit and kaboodle.
I planted the lily of the valley pips, then planted two bags of gladiolus bulbs against the foundation of the house.
Then we headed inside, poured ourselves drinks, and collapsed in front of the TV. We were both popping Advil last night and grumbling about sore backs, but this morning, as I sit in my office and glance down at the flower garden, it's nice to see the plants instead of the big ugly mat of evil weeds!
Today's pictures are taken in our fruit orchard. We planted crocus and daffodils throughout the orchard. These are the first crocus of spring, blooming at the base of an apple tree.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
I'm reading the most interesting book right now called The Garden in Ancient Egypt It's been a fascinating look at a time in history that mesmerizes many people - the time of the great pharaohs. In the book, the author takes a scholarly look at the historical record to paint a vivid picture of gardens, gardening, and plants beloved of the ancient Egyptians. I've learned, for example, that sacred temples were surrounded by lush gardens planted with trees sacred to the Egyptian gods. The climate during the height of the Egyptian empire was different than it is now and much of the land covered with desert was arable, and the Egyptians used clever inventions such as running water through channels and troughs placed in their gardens to cool the surrounding area.
I'll share more details as I keep reading, but the best details so far was the picture the author painted of the gardens for an upper middle class or upper class Egyptian family - perhaps nobles, or priests, or wealthy merchants.
Each home would be surrounded by two walls. Visitors passed through a gateway into an outer walled courtyard planted with stately trees native to the area. A second wall and doorway led into the private gardens for the family. There visitors would find vegetable patches and fruit trees, with a water feature such as a pool filled with water and lily pads. Over the entrance to the home would be a covered veranda or porch with vines trained to grow over it for shade. If the home didn't have such a porch over its entrance, it would be on the side of the home and used for an outdoor workshop. The looms for weaving the family's cloth might be there, or tables for crafts and household preparation, all covered by a living canopy of greenery and flowers.
The Egyptians were fond of symmetry in all of their designs, including gardens. Walkways were symmetrical, with the pond or water feature, a symbol of life, in the center of the garden.
I am reading this book in small sips rather than big gulps so my imagination can catch up to my reading. Archaeology is an interest of mine. In order of my hobbies, I'd put gardening and model horse collecting first, followed by singing and piano playing (really music of all types) and sewing, and then casual passing interests such as archaeology and history. I just love this combination of gardening and archaeology though, and this book is amazing for its scholarly work and unusual subject matter.
How does the author know about Egyptian gardens when the land is now desert? There's evidence of planter boxes (!) and water features around the old temples, and lots of paintings on tomb and temple walls depicting gardening. Papyrus scrolls and other written records also mention the gardens and various plants sacred to Egyptian deities. Lastly, as centuries passed, the Romans visited Egypt and described tantalizing remnants of their once-great gardens. Many civilizations including the Babylonians and Assyrians copied Egyptian gardens and the great Hanging Gardens of Babylon are thought to be copied from Egyptian gardens.
I wish I had a time machine like Dr. Who and could step back in time and just peek out and see them. I've never been one to yearn to live in times past - who wants a time without refrigeration, running water and modern medicine? - but I do wish I could see it, just for a moment.
I imagine some Egyptian gardener stepping outside his home to weed, just as I'm heading out today to get a jump on my flower garden weeds.
And while I don't plant trees in honor of Jesus, there is such a thing as a "Mary Garden" with flowers chosen that symbolize the Blessed Mother, Jesus' mother, and people today do still place statues of angels, Jesus, Mary and saints in the garden. I have also seen Buddhas and Hindu statues placed in gardens too. And as I think about it, Jesus went to a garden to pray, so perhaps it is instinctive in people to seek God in the garden.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
It's pouring today, and while I'm grateful for the rain, I thought that my readers could use a little spring pick-me-up. I know I need one! So I saw down and wrote a fun article on fast growing flowering trees for the garden, complete with some lovely albeit stock photography to illustrate it. We had to remove all the wild cherry trees growing at Seven Oaks the first year we moved in because the tent caterpillars were terrible; we still see their telltale tents in the spring on some trees in the woods each year. But I do love the Thundercloud Plum and may add one. I love purple foliage on trees, and beeches take too long to grow for me!
Here is the link to the article: Fast Growing Flowering Trees
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Columbine and lots of Poppies are also sprouting, alongside parsley. Why parsley? I'm adding parsley and several herbs to my butterfly garden this year as food for the caterpillar larvae. I'll snip whatever I want to eat, but the rest will be to nurture along the baby butterflies.
Not up yet but hopefully soon is another tray of Echinacea and Gaillardia "Arizona Sun." I bought a book this week called Native Perennials for the Southeast and am happy to report that all of the plants I noted in the sunny flower beds that thrive are indeed natives, so my choices this year were spot on! I've added not one but two different Monardas (Bee Balm or Oswego Tea) to the seed trays too, along with Penstemmon seeds.
I just hope I don't run out of room in the butterfly garden, but there's plenty of room along the back border, and two spots we need to clear free of weeds this year to add to the garden.
This week we have plenty of showers and warm 50-60 degree temps in the forecast, so I also need to get some cool weather vegetables planted - radish, lettuce, and my broccoli rabe, which I love.
It feels so good to 'get my hands dirty' and garden again. Spring is in the air. The flocks of migrating robins were once again visiting the yard, and every day I see new flowers peeking up in the garden....a few pink blossoms on the phlox, another inch of growth gained on the tulips, and new shoots of Siberian iris and crocus joining the celebrations.
Soon, I hope my garden looks like the image, below....but if not, I'll celebrate what I find.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Sundays during my childhood were dedicated to two things: God and family. At 10 a.m. my mom, grandma, and the five of us would go to Mass (my dad went to an earlier Mass to usher). After Mass, we'd drive to the bakery and buy fresh, hot cinnamon bread and a cake for Sunday dinner. Mom would make a big roast of some sort for 1 p.m. Sunday "dinner" and the eight of us would have a leisurely midday Sunday feast.
After midday dinner, if relatives were expected for a visit, they would arrive sometime around 2:30 and stay until about 4:30. If not, the family went on an outing - to the duck pond to feed the ducks and play, to see Christmas lights or fall foliage, to buy pumpkins and apple cider in October, or during the winter, to visit one of the local garden centers.
The greenhouses at Gardeners Village or Garden World were like tropical paradises on a cold snowy winter day. The moist, green smell delights me now as it delighted me then. I'd run from table to table, touching cactus spines, sniffing orchids that smelled like chocolate, staring at pots and garden gloves.
Gardeners Village had a pet department and my parents knew that I'd be safely entertained there. Pepper the Parot lived in a big cage in the middle. He was rumored to be old - very old - close to 40. Pepper could say "Hello" and lots of other funny things. I'd often leave on these Sunday trips with a new goldfish for the family's fish tank.
My dad loved garden centers and spent happy hours browsing the shelves. He loved to try the most modern chemicals, too. That's where he and I differ - he never met a chemical fertilizer or pesticide he didn't love, and I've never met one that didn't give me the creeps!
From the seed packets arriving in late January to the rows of big plastic Nativity scene characters and toy Soldiers in December, these trips instilled a love for garden centers in me that eventually led me in my twenties to work at one of the major ones on Long Island and today still transports me back in time.
I have a big plastic turkey window decorations that my mom bought for me when I was six years old on one of those garden center jaunts. Tom Turkey, as my husband calls him, is ugly; he smells funny, like burning plastic wires, when the sun strikes his bumpy plastic chips too long. He's missing his feet because sometimes in my childhood I decided to operate on him and remove them. But I don't care. Just seeing him hanging in my window at Thanksgiving is enough to make me smile and remember those long-ago trips to the garden center.
My friends also know me so well that guess what we have planned for my springtime birthday?
You guessed it; a day trip to Lynchburg's garden centers.
Garden center memories....do you love browsing through them too?
Monday, February 14, 2011
I usually take my first cup of coffee in the mornings into my plant room at the back of the house, which faces east and where I can watch the sun rise. There I sit for my morning prayers and meditation, and sometimes I just sit quietly and enjoy the peaceful green oasis in my little room. I've got 12 gigantic geraniums overwintering back there, a Wandering Jew plant my neighbor Joan gave me in the fall that looks like a striped Cousin It in the corner, and my Peace Lilies that are offspring of a giant Peace Lily I bought in 1994 when I worked at Martin Viette Nurseries. There's my collection of African Violets too - purple for the most part, but one lone white one with double ruffled flower petals is blooming now, and what a treat. Don't forget my bamboo trees in their big tubs or the tray of spider plants that enjoys a summer vacation on my front porch, either.
So there I sat in the ugly old brown chair that's so comfy because of its wear and tear, drinking a really good cup of coffee and watching sunlight sparkle through the little prism hanging in the window, and I noticed a lot of movement on the back lawn. The eastern-facing windows overlook the back deck, the fenced in vegetable garden, and a lot of scraggly lawn growing over the septic system. The movement was near the septic area, so I got up out of my chair and walked to the windows to take a look.
I could hardly believe my eyes. There were robins - dozens of them - hopping about on the lawn. It's a warm, windy day today, already in the high fifties, and the robins were the first I've seen all winter long.
I stopped counting when I got up to 20, but more arrived, and they seemed to cover the back field. They must have been finding insects or perhaps insect larvae to eat today. I felt my whole mood lift at their cheerful countenance. There's nothing like seeing the first robin of spring to believe that warm weather is just around the corner!
I looked up the American Robin today online and learned that they normally migrate right behind the Canadian geese in late February, and seem to sense the spring thaw. If that is true, they are about a week early, which I hope and pray means an early spring. We've been hearing a lot of Canadian geese lately, and saw one enormous flock flying north. I am hopeful that the cheerful American Robin knows more than the ugly Groundhogs that predict the weather and that spring is here at last!
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I like kale. I really do. Which made it all the worse when I found a large package of it at a super low price at Kroger, the local supermarket, and brought it home in January. And then it sat in my crisper drawer...and sat...and I forgot it was there. Until the smell began. Faint at first. Then growing ever more persistent until I was forced to open the crisper drawer and discovered..."adventures in indoor composting."
So my latest use for kale; direct composting!
My tomatoes each year so far in the Virginia garden have blossom end rot. That's usually a signal that calcium and other trace minerals are lacking from the soil. Well, kale is high in calcium, right?
So I dug a big trench down the center of the raised bed, held my nose, opened the huge bag of now inedible kale, and poured that whole mess right into the vegetable bed. A quick scoop of soil later and the kale was buried in an unmarked grave. And I, hopefully, have discovered a new use for kale - food for my tomatoes!
Monday, February 7, 2011
Yes, I planted the first two trays of seeds yesterday. Actually one and a half trays....the Echinacea tray is half-full. Or half-empty, but I'm an optimist, so it's half full. I planted perennial seeds yesterday: yellow Missouri primrose, mixed Columbine and Oriental Poppies, traditional Echinacea purpurea. And parsley. Why parsley, you ask? Because butterfly larvae eat it. I plan to add it as an accent plant in the butterfly garden this spring.
Nothing is growing yet....but in a few short months, those Echinacea may look like the one below, which I also grew from seed.
Friday, February 4, 2011
We had a few azaleas in the backyard, including a yellow azalea that was kind of rare on Long Island. I found out much later on as an adult that my dad was also fascinated by azaleas and when he and my mom first bought our house, he tried to plant the whole yard with them. Then he realized he'd only have flowers in May, so he quickly added others, but he bought that orange-yellow azalea via mail order. It struggled along in a lovely little spot under a dogwood tree in the corner of our postage-stamp sized garden. I think my big sister rescued it and dug it up before we sold my dad's house. It's a good thing if she did, since the new homeowners ripped out all the landscaping and planted grass everywhere. I always wonder if they realize why their grass grows so well. It's all that compost undernearth from the 40 years my dad gardened!
I wrote a piece today about azaleas, but it didn't really capture my love for them, so I will probably add some articles over time. I will be writing a series on various flowering trees and shrubs, so I hope you enjoy them.
Please click this link to read my latest article: Azaleas for the Home Garden
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Please enjoy my latest article: click the link to read
Butterfly Garden Flowers
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
I knew that squirrels were pests at feeders. For a while last year I had to take down the bird feeder and the hummingbird feeder because our little group of gray squirrels realized they could climb the trellis at the entrance to the garden, hang by their toes, and shake the feeders to get food. I had no idea what was happening to the hummingbird feeder until I actually saw the squirrel leap on it and put his little mouth to the port where the nectar releases for the hummers. He'd get some momentum going and swing the hummingbird feeder like a bell, and drink the nectar sloshing out! I'd found the local squirrel with a sweet tooth, all right. My dad used to shoot BB guns at the squirrels but I can't do that; I just can't hurt a living creature, and while I could shoot to scare it, I'd probably hit something else instead. So I just removed the feeder for a few weeks until the squirrels went elsewhere.
But today my feeder was plagued by crows....lots of them. They found the one crust of moldy bread I'd thrown under the feeder. I filled the feeders last night in anticipation of the storms heading towards us. The birds tend to eat more seed in the 24 hour period before bad weather. I really believe they can sense the barometric pressure and know instinctively they have to hide under bushes for a day until it passes, so they stock up on food. I stocked their food supply, but the canny crows were watching.
I sent Pierre out to chase them away but they returned quickly. I can see their beady black eyes from up in my office, so I watch and tap the window glass to frighten them away whenever I notice them.
If anyone's got tips on how to keep crows off the bird feeder, share!