Saturday, May 2, 2009

Long time, no see

Sorry for my MIA status the past few weeks. Things are under better control here now, so hopefully that won't be an ongoing thing!

The good news is, while life has been busy and blogging has been on the back burner, the seedlings have been growing great guns.

Take a look:Plus, we've had a run of nice weather so they've gotten used to the sun and wind and are fully ready to go out to stay. Only problem is, despite the good weather and a warm enough 10 day forecast, I'm not sure I'm ready to trust that they won't get frosted to death.

Funny thing, too, since these were started as seeds and not much money that way, they've taken a lot of time to get where they are and if anything I'm feeling more protective than ever!

I did, however, bite the bullet with the moonflowers. I've never had trouble but I've heard they don't transplant well, so I figured I'd just put them out and let them grow when I planted a row of morning glories (heavenly blue) on the side of the shed.

Moon flowers like richer soil and morning glories bloom best in poor soil so I've dumped a bunch of compost in holes before planting the moon flowers. In the past I've had the luxury of having each in their own pots but hopefully this will work out.

Morning glories grow fast and easy, so it shouldn't be long till they start to take off. I'm planning on getting a trellis for them to climb, but depending on time, money, and my mood at the moment, they may just get to grow up some strings this year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Look what we got:

Lovely for coffee in the morning or lemonade in the afternoon--not real big but neither is the space so that all works out, and the plastic "wicker" will hopefully wear well, too.

Now all it needs is a garden!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More signs that things are alive

Anyone ever read in The Secret Garden where Dickon is showing Mary the garden isn't really all dead, just dormant for the winter--"it's quick" he says, not as in fast but as in ALIVE?

That's what I've been feeling the past few days!

There's a crab-apple tree in the yard that seemed a bit creaky. Only a few weeks ago, there was no sign of life and I was trying to figure out which of the boughs would have some life and which were already too far gone. The joke was on me, look at it now:
In other fun news, get a load of this:
That little bitty bud is going to be a lilac bloom--how's that for incredible!

Happy, happy spring!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Plan? Sure, I have a plan...

Well, kind of a plan anyway.

But yes, for the back garden I do have a thought out and measured trial plan. We'll see how it comes together, and hopefully with it this year it will give me more ideas about what works and what doesn't to keep improving from there.

So, without further ado--the plan:
I think if you click on it, you'll be able to read the words, but basically, we have tomatoes (cantaloupe, too) to the left, shasta daises and foxglove to the rear, and in the middle/front, from left to right, we have butterfly weed, nicotiana, balsam, nicotiana, and blue bachelor buttons. Rose's garden is to the far right (she has a plan, too, more on that in a later post).

Remember, this is the area:

The "vision" is for the veggies to get enough light to grow and the flowers to be a full, wild-ish, profusion of color, kind of old fashioned and cottage like.

Stay tuned to see how it really works out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

So this compost thing...

Just not so sure it's working out.

I've been diligently saving my scraps, cuttings, egg shells, and coffee grounds. Throwing in a few handfuls of dead leaves from time to time. I occasionally pour over it a glass or two of rain water or Brita filtered water. I even hoist it over and roll the barrel around at least once a week, sometimes more.

Honestly, I don't see any sign that it's doing anything at all.

It doesn't stink or even smell much like anything (small blessings, I guess). It doesn't feel hot or even luke warm. Just nothing ever looks different at all from the way it was when I put it in the barrel. Ever.

Not sure how long this is going to take. Maybe I'll get some progress when it's warmer out. Other than that, I guess it isn't hurting anything, but shouldn't it just do something?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Little lettuces

The past few years, I've grown loose leaf lettuces on my apartment patio. They've never minded the lack of TLC or the partial shade and having them up on the second story meant I didn't have to deal with rabbits eating my salad.

A few weeks ago I took out a packet of seeds packed for 2006 that I had kept in a zip lock in the freezer and tossed them over the dirt in the planters I had moved to our new place. I just dusted them with seed starter to keep them in place and let them go. Because the seeds were so old, I spread them very thickly.

Right after I planted them, We had lots of rain, including some very heavy rain. This past Saturday, I remembered to take a look and, lo and behold, I have lettuces! Lots of lettuces!

I'm hoping the planters will give me a head start on the rabbits here, too. I'll let the thick layer of seedlings go a bit more and try and thin them out when the thinnings are big enough to count as "baby greens" on my table.

I'm very please because a) I didn't have very high hopes for these old seeds, and b) I love fresh lettuce and am always happy to get it for free (or nearly free) and with very little actual work!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wishing all who celebrate a happy and blessed Easter

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Moonflowers, the way God intended them to be

Finally, the first of the moonflowers, second attempt are coming up and this one, fortunately, is showing none of the suicidal tendencies the first batch did. You can look back in the blog and see, but basically, 1 left the seed/leave part in the soil and popped up headless and the other two couldn't break out of the seedcoat. Bah.

This one:as you can see, has decided to split open the seedcoat and come out. Good moonflower!

Not a big garden Saturday for me today--I'm baking our traditional lamb cake for Easter and lots of sweet bread for Easter morning, so I'm busy growing baked goods today.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lilacs are coming

When we moved in here, there were some very young bush-like plantings already in place to make the place look less like a ship that had docked and more like a permanent home.

On one of the warmer days a month or two ago, when Rose and I felt like we wanted to be outside, rather than my usual winter state of "there's really no other choice, really?" I took a few minutes to notice the tags still on these plantings and see what they had planted there.

Turns out, we have not only:

Inkberry (a most un-holly like member of the holly family)

Snowmound Spiria

But also....

Lilacs, which I love.

Right now the lilacs are so little, less than 3' tall, but the buds are swelling and what a few months ago looked like a few bunches of dead sticks are suddenly looking like they're ready to burst into spring.

I, for one, can't wait!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

See how they've grown!

We've had quite a run of gloomy weather with more gloom on the horizon, so the real world doesn't feel much like spring right now, but at least there's the inside happenings to cheer me up.

The foxglove's real leaves are getting bigger and stronger, take a look:

And the Balsam I just planted last week are sending out their little roots into the soil--got to love those seeds that like little or no covering so you can see what's going on! They're still a little hard to spot in the Miracle Grow Mix among all that pearlite, but I've marked the photos with big yellow circles, so look close and you may be able to see them.

Plus, look at this, it's the real butterfly weed, not that crazy other weed that fooled me the first time. Isn't it a funny sprout, looks like little twins more than a single seed, and if you look close a the base (in real life, not so much the picture) you can just make out little leaves starting to shoot off from the side. Strange.

And, last but not least, check out the progress the tomatoes have made! These are by far the most vigorous of my seedlings--I'm coming to the conclusion that flowers are nice, but if you want to feel like you're thumbs are really green, tomatoes are the only way to go!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Front Garden

This little area by the front porch is what I'll be calling the front garden. As you can see, it's a fairly small place with partial shade tucked behind a curved retaining wall.

Right now is has mulch and some sparse pachysandra (not my favorite), but I envision it as a delightful little hidden space with bleeding hearts, a hydrangea, and some interesting little things like trillium and hellebore. I've started the shorter "foxy" foxglove for this space.

I'm undecided about that pachysandra. My gut instinct is to just yank it all up and make it go away, but I'm also wondering it it wouldn't be good to keep it there as a green mulch thing, at least until the rest of the stuff takes root and fills out.

I've also ordered some strawberries and a pot for that front porch--that (like the whole rest of this) will be an experiment with a lot of high hopes riding on it!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Muskmelons and Balsam

Those are two plants you probably don't hear of that often, Muskmelon and Balsam.

Last Friday I started seeds for both of those plants.

As I understand it, both are heirloom varieties. Your great-grandparents would probably be fairly unimpressed, common as these were way back.

Muskmelon Cantaloupe
is basically what we think of as cantaloupe with that sweet orange flesh and the net-like exterior.

Balsam Plant
(not to be confused with those balsam firs of Balsam & Protein Shampoo fame!) was, I hear, a Victorian favorite. It's the grandfather of the modern impatiens, but unlike impatiens, the flowers grow close to the stem and the leaves come out around them. I've never seen a Balsam in real life, but the combination of Victorian heirloom and the showy and slightly unusual look (not to mention "easy to grow" reputation) was intriguing enough for me to want to try some.

Muskmelon Cantelope: Hale's Best Jumbo (Cucumis melo-Reticulatus Group)

Seed from Botanical Interests. (this is a fun seed company--the drawings are beautiful and they fill their packets with tons of information)

Very thick, sweet salmon-pink flesh with a small seed cavity.

Started indoors April 3, 5.5 weeks out (recommended 4-6)

In zone 6, these need to be started indoors, but they don't transplant well. To ease the eventual transition, I started them (as recommended) in paper pots--mine were made by wraping folded newspaper around a drinking glass as seen here.

85 days to ripe fruit.

Balsam: Camellia Flowered Mix (Impatiens Balsamina)

Seed from Livingston Seed Co.

Pink and Purple double flowers.

Started indoors April 3, 5.5 weeks out (recommended 4-6)

18-30” tall, needs appx. 12” spacing


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hope amidst the ruins

Ok, I know that's way over dramatic--so some moonflowers didn't make it and my hard drive is titched, and also the sweetpeas may well be rotting under the 6 inches of mud that filled in their trench under all this rain. Not the end of the world.

This is spring and I'm starting a garden--gardening is about hope, right? Looking at little brown specks and piles of dirt and seeing green growing beauty.

The Nicotiana and Viola are (finally) coming up. These were planted at the same time as the butterfly weed, and Rose's iceplants and the herbs, but they just looked like a nice tray of dirt long after we started thinning the iceplants. I was beginning to wonder if they would ever come up.

The viola started first (3 days ago), but the viola also showed little roots out the pointy end of the seed a week or so ago, so I was less thrilled to see them. The Nicotiana, however went from nothing to something just yesterday morning and I am so happy. I'm more excited about having these deep purple fine smelling things and they seemed, until yesterday, to be doing not a thing. Ha! They fooled me.

Also, less new but in it's own way lovely--the tomatoes are starting to grow their real leaves so I went ahead and thinned the 2 out of 6 cells that had 2 seedlings in them (I planted 2 seeds in each cell, but they seem to have germinated at just over 50%). Get this: I happened to get a whiff of those little plucked seedlings and they smell like tomato plants--instant summer! Of course, logically they would smell like tomato plants seeing that they are tomato plants, but I guess I just wasn't expecting that from little sprouts. Funny how smells can take you places--instant summer, I love that!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Don't rain but pour--moonflower suicides and other troubles

Well, this is going well.

Remember how I planted some moonflower seeds and I was so happy to see them popup and mentioned that sometimes a few of them die because the leaves can't break out of the tough seed coat. See where this is going?

Yes, that's right: I planted 4 seeds, 3 came up. 1 left its seed/leaf part in the dirt and popped up headless, so 2 made it to seedling. BOTH seedlings died in the seed and now I have none.

Yesterday I put 6 more seeds in the cells. I nicked the seedcoats (which I rarely have to do) for good measure. Better luck next time, I hope!

I'm wondering if the seed mix was so light that things didn't get the chance to soften up as usual (in the past I've planted them in garden soil), or if maybe this is just a difficult batch of seeds. Possibly it's just an unlucky luck of the draw?

Also, a little Eden Ever After warning: my computer's hard drive is failing (see, seeds aren't the only things that can go wrong!). I have a new one on the way and will hopefully get things switched over easily without missing a beat--BUT, if I seem to be MIA for a while, please bear with me.

In other news, it rained (real rain) gallons and gallons the day after we planted the sweetpeas outside--hopefully that will help them a lot and Rose will have something fun to watch of her own soon.

And, today or tomorrow, I'm going to start some balsam and cantaloupe inside so they will be ready to go outside when the time comes.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Seedling Mystery

Remember that butterfly weed seedling? The one I was so impressed by because it was thread thin and hardly seemed able to grow into a perennial thick-leaved butterfly weed? Well, turns out it may not be able to do that!

Look what I found this morning in that cell:
Can you see those two new identical sprouts sticking up with thicker, more plausible butterfly weed leaves? So what the heck is that first thin seedling?!?

I planted these in a brand new package of Miracle Grow seed starter right from the bag, so it's probably not something that was in the soil that way. Could be something that blew in when I wasn't looking? I have half a mind to try and transfer it to another cell just so I can see what it grows into--I do love a good mystery!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Miss Rose can cook too

One of the best things about moving here and starting a garden is that Rose can experiment with a garden, too. She's a funny, methodical girl and her plan is very nicely laid out in a binder with lists and dates, notes, and an organized map.

Rose picked out what she wanted based on looks and mostly based on our part sun environment. But, for all her planning, she doesn't mind giving something a shot just to see if it really won't work.

This is what she has going and what she's planning to add:

Marigold: Snowdrift

Seed from Burpee

Cream colored, 3.5" blooms, likes part shade (unusual for Marigolds)

Will direct sow after frost

22” tall, needs 9-12” spacing


Nasturtium: Jewel Mix

Seed from Burpee

Double flowers in orange, yellow, red (bush, not vine)

Will direct sow after frost

12” tall, needs 12” spacing


Sweet Pea: Knee-Hi Mix

Seed from Hart's Seeds

Mix of colors, fragrant (bush, not vine)

Likes cool weather and tolerates frost so we started outdoors March 28

29-30” tall, needs 6” spacing


Common Thyme

Seed from Burpee

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-10)

6-12" tall, needs 12" spacing


Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Seed from Burpee

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

18-24" tall, needs 12" spacing


Columbine: Harlequin Mix

Seed from Burpee

White, yellows, pinks, blues, purples, bicolors

Will direct sow spring to early summer

30-36” tall, needs 10” spacing


Ice Plant: Harlequin Mix (Dorotheanthus)

Seed from Burpee

Succulent plants covered with bi-colored daisy-like flowers with red centers--this one, as Rose knows, is probably the biggest stretch for our part sun/part shade area, but she had the seeds and wanted to give it a shot. And why not, really?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

2" tall, needs 6-12" spacing


Monday, March 30, 2009

More on compost--making my own

Between being impressed with the difference the compost makes so far in the back garden and being less impressed with all the work involved in hauling the stuff, I did a little googling about making the stuff right here at home (outside, at home that is--I'm not at all at the point where I want a box of worms in my house, no thank you), and decided it might be interesting to give it a try.

I don't have a garbage disposal, so in our case it really can reduce the garbage we put out there, so that's a side benefit. And, to be honest, it really appeals to me as a science experiment and a challenge, so that's the biggie right there.

I'm not interested in spending $200-400 on a spiffy "composer" and I don't really want to use lots of my limited and precious outdoor space as a pile or series of piles or as the docking area for a specialized compost bin system.

Fortunately, I happened to recently be at a kids' science night where I was given a compost brochure (either great synchronicity or the topic is just a hot one right now?) that had, among other things, a drawing of a compositor made from a trash barrel with holes drilled all over it.

Well now! I can buy a $15 dollar garbage barrel and I have a drill and I know how to use it. Plus, if the thing is a real bust, I can always put it back to work holding bags of trash, right?

There seems to be some online discussion about whether or not a 32 gallon can is big enough to heat up enough to compost effectively, etc, but some people say it works for them, and like this whole gardening thing is for u
s: nothing ventured, nothing gained, so away we went!

I picked up a trash can (Rubbermaid, $15, even has wheels and a "locking" lid--whoo-hoo! this must be the good life!). I got out our drill and put in the 1/4" bit. I started drilling holes in the bottom and worked my way around the sides. Rose became a little more interested in composting (or at least in power tools?) and I guided her hands as she drilled many more. Rose got tired and I drilled even more. Finally the thing looked like a disco ball from the inside and I called it done.

I've put it in the back by the door and dumped in some dead leaves I had cleaned up from the yard. I made an apple cobbler ( cobbler) and put the peels and cores in. I added some shredded paper and coffee grounds. I cut off the dead branches off last fall's
chrysanthemum and added those. Dumped a little water in it too.

I'm pleased to report that right now I can easily tip it over and roll it around.

So far it doesn't reek, but it doesn't seem to be doing much else either. I was trilled to see it felt warm, but then I discovered it was probably the sunlight on the lid, which was a bit less thrilling, I have to admit.

I have no idea if this will do much of anything. I guess the 12 hour point is not really the place to see what fate has in store for my compost. I've read online that even terrible brown/green mixes with little attention or aeration will still compost, it just takes longer. And again, as I keep reminding my "plan-it-out-and-know-what-will-happen-before-you-even-dream-of-taking-a-first-step" self throughout this whole garden thing: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunny Saturday--things alive

Yesterday was a lovely, sunny day--I thought I'd share some photos of our world looking spring-like (and share them real quick before things get more typically March around here!).

Rose planted the first "crop" outdoors in the newly composted back garden: her sweet peas. These are Knee-Hi Mix sweet peas and they call for sowing in 6" trenches and filling them up as they grow. I've grown sweet peas a few times on the balcony and this trench thing is a new one for me, but who am I to argue with Hart Seeds? Here's our trench with Rose's sweet peas planted in it (look close, a little toward the back, see it now?):

In the middle of the day, it was warm enough in the sun to let the seedlings sit outside for a bit. May not be enough to make a difference in the long run, but we wanted to give them a little breeze to toughen them up and some extra sunshine for growth (look to the back you can also see the geranium I put in the basement for the winter--it's actually sprouting a ton of new little leaves, so I'm hopeful despite it's current spindly look):

And here are the seedlings, only 5 days or less since they started popping up and look at them go!

The tomatoes:

The foxy foxglove and the moon flowers (now 2 up--didn't I tell you they start out like seeds on a stem!):
And the tray with unsprouted spearmint, viola and the little seedlings of common thyme and butterfly weed--I finally got a shot of that little thread of butterfly weed that will turn into a 2' bush with bright orange flowers, amazing!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lots of happenings!

Yesterday was an interesting day here in my little Eden:
  • The Butterfly Weed sprouted yesterday! I tried to take a picture but the sprout is this little tiny thread-like piece, I just couldn't get close enough to make it show. Even the little first leaves are these thin needle-like things. Times like these, it's hard to believe this little frail sprout is really going to grow up into an 18-24"-ish winter-hardy bush. Also hard to believe these things manage to survive in the wild. Honestly, if you don't look close, you'd hardly even know it was a growing thing.
  • Pansies--went to the home store and they had beautiful big pansies at 16 for $8 (plus change). Today Rose and I are going to pot some up for the front porch--a little cheery visual evidence should help us remember that the chilly weather won't last forever.
  • Rose and I went to the community compost project pile and shoveled our last few barrels of compost. That makes 120 gallons on the back garden. That also makes approximately 4-5" over the full thing, which also makes DONE! I shoveled it in to mix and used my hoe to level it down. Now we're ready to plant the sweet peas and, once the last frost passes, we're good to go!

Funny thing about the compost, I've changed my mind and don't think it's evil any more (Rose, on the other hand still thinks it's the work of darkness).

Partly that's because when we started shoveling it into buckets and dumping them into barrels already upright in the trunk, the horrible problem of how to get this bolder-like trash can of infinite weight up into the car, the biggest part of the problem, was solved. Still had to move the compost bucket by bucket, but the bodybuilding part of my workout, at least, was mercifully removed.

But mostly I had a strange conversion experience yesterday when I was digging the layer of compost into the ground.

Because the compost transport was a fair amount of work (and also because we only owned one trash barrel) we'd been spreading the process over a few days. That meant that while I had worked the soil in the full garden, only half of it had compost over it the first day. The second half had less compost the second day, and by the third day I finished spreading the compost and started digging in.

When I went to mix it in, I strangely found that the whole thing was much easier to dig than it had been and also the part that had the compost on it for longer was easier than the other part. Strange.

Now, I freely admit there was nothing scientific about this, lots of things could have been happening. Obviously, the compost was added to make things better for the plants, not for me. But, I've been reading a bit about "No-Dig" and "Lasagna" gardening, and I just have to wonder if something was happening with the earthworms/microbes/dirt-stuff?

At any rate glad the mixing was better than I had anticipated and glad to have that bed ready!

Friday, March 27, 2009

What 'ya got cooking?

Seeds, glorious seeds! Love 'em! The possibilities are just endless and, for the moment, everything is possible (and in my imagination, everything is gloriously working, fitting, looking goooood!). No reality to get in the way here, not yet.

Add to that the live plant catalog--look at those photos of pretty happy plants! They attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bloom early, smell great--yep, just what I want, just what I need.

So this is what I've got in the works (that is, bought and started indoors in seed flats), and so far, believe me, at this moment nothing is buried under a pile of ravenous beetles and nothing turning into a massive tumble weed before my very eyes. Nothing but beautiful possibilities--wish us luck!

Tomato: Chocolate Cherry (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Seed from Livingston Seed Co.

Dark cherry tomato, 70 days to mature

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 5-7)

These tomatoes may be a bit of a stretch--don't have full sun at all, but I figured as much as I love fresh tomatoes, it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot.

Indeterminate vine, need 18-24” spacing

Tomato: Best Boy Hybrid

Seed from Burpee

Full size red tomato, 70 days to mature

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

Determinate, 3-4’ tall, needs 36-48” spacing

Foxglove: Gloxinaflora Mix (Digitalis Purpurea)

Seed from Livingston Seed Co.

Pastel rose, lavender, cream and yellow

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

LOOOOOVE the foxgloves! So old fashioned and sweet. These may not bloom the first year, but hopefully I can get them going for 2010 and get some reseeding for the years after.

36-60” tall, needs 18” spacing

Biennial, blooms summer, fall (but maybe not the first year)

Foxglove: Foxy Mix

Seed from Burpee

Full range of soft colors

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out

36” tall, needs 18” spacing

Biennial, blooms summer, fall (but Foxy is a variety that should bloom the first year!)

Moonflowers: Giant White

Seed from Burpee

White and fragrant night bloomer

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out

Normally a direct sow, but I’ve grown these for years in zone 5 and when I’ve waited for warm weather I’ve gotten frost before blooms—starting them indoors early has worked for me for several years

Vine, needs 12” spacing


Nicotiana: Perfume Deep Purple (Nicotiana x sanderae)

Seed from Thompson and Morgan

Remember, these are “Perfume Deep Purple” Nicotiana! I'm hoping for something lovely with these. Besides, 2009 is the "Year of Nicotiana" so can I really go far wrong?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

20” tall, needs 12-15” spacing

Blooms late spring to fall


Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Seed from Burpee

Bright orange, attracts butterflies, feeds monarch caterpillars, has milkweed like pods but not the milky sap--not sure how well it will work, but wouldn't some butterflies be nice?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

24” tall, needs 15-18” spacing

Blooms summer to fall


Viola: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Seeds from Burpee

White blooms that turn blue/purple as they age

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 12 weeks, but we had some empty cells and found the seeds we had forgotten about in all that winter cold—just planted on a whim)

6” tall, need 6” spacing


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few words about Moonflowers

The tomato and foxglove seedlings are still going strong (anyone else think it's cool how the tomato seedling's first leaves close together like praying hands at night and open up again in the morning light?), and Rose's Iceplant seeds have made the upgrade to seedlings yesterday, as well.

This morning brought us even more sprouts--Rose's Common Thyme is starting to come up only 5 days after planting, and my Moonflowers are poking up their seeds now, too--8 days after planting.

Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) are one of the few things I've grown for a few years running. Before we moved here, we had an apartment with a west-facing balcony and I grew them next to Morning Glories, both in pots.

Once I'd gotten a few things worked out, they did pretty well there.

They are a very impressive flower when they bloom, with lots in common with their cousin the Morning Glory, but kicked up a notch or two. The leaves and vines look like Morning Glories, but bigger, thicker, greener. The blooms, when they finally bloom, are really big, 6 or 7 inches across, like a lunch plate, and they smell just glorious.

The seeds, too, look like Morning Glory seeds, that kind of asymmetrical football shape with a hard shell, but about 4 times the size. And when they sprout, they do it just like big Morning Glories--popping up like a seed on a stem before pushing out of whatever remains of the seed coat (and often quite a lot remains) to open into a pair of notched cotyledon leaves.

I've read that you're supposed to soak both types of seeds before planting, and nick the seed coat for good measure. Over the years, though, I've gotten lax on that, but they always work just fine anyway. Whether or not I do that, some of both types of Ipomoea sprouts seem to die trying to get out of that seed coat, but soaks and nicks don't seem to change the rate of that.

You're also supposed to be able to direct sow both types of seeds, but in zone 5 (the apartment), I've never been able to get the Moonflowers to bloom that way. Lots of promising vines and leaves, but nothing like a bud or bloom before the fall frost killed it all. Maybe with more sun than they got on the balcony it would work, but since the sun didn't bend to my will, I needed to change the things I could change, and starting them indoors before the last frost did the trick for me. Could possibly be better here in zone 6, but I certainly don't think it's likely enough that I want to try it and risk a year without Moonflowers. And besides, since they do so well starting indoors and it gives me something to play with in the early spring, what's the downside, right?

They are pretty adaptable, I've found, and can be started a month or two before they get transplanted outside. I bring them outside for sun once the days get warmer (which, by the way, would not be March around here!) and back in at night until the last frost. They, like the Morning Glories, start a bit slowly but take off once you let them vine on something, but that pre-vining growth is fine in a pot or biggish flat, and that's been the best way I've found to get them to bloom by mid-summer.

Not a bad trick, actually--you get something green and growing to play with indoors while you wait for the good weather and, once that good weather comes, you get astounding, fragrant flowers showing bright in the moonlight on summer evenings. Who doesn't love that?

How Rose and I learned that compost is completely evil

Yesterday, Rose and I went down to shovel a barrel of compost from the community compost project to give the back garden something a little more organic to bed the plants in.

Community compost projects are a nice idea--the price, at least here, is pretty darn good, and it helps support and encourage good earth practice, right?

Guess what we found out....That's right, compost is heavy. Very heavy. 30 gallons of compost is too heavy for Rose and me. Way too heavy. Probably ok for Schwarzenegger, maybe ok for a few strong men, but way, way, way too heavy for Rose and me.

Ended up shoveling some back then struggling to get the rest in the vehicle and home. Left the barrel where it fell and shoveled compost out into a 14 oz bucket and carried that to the back garden. Bit by pitiful bit.

Guess what else we found out....30 gallons of compost is very heavy but it doesn't go very far, even in a not-even-that-big garden like the back garden. Don't even have 1" thick over half of it yet, much less 2-3" thick over the full 73 square feet (give or take).

Going to have to go back for more trips, I think.

Next time I'm going to have to leave the barrel in the vehicle and shovel the compost into it right there. Next time I'm also going to have to bribe Rosebud with something really good, because right now the very mention of the word "compost" and she's off and running in the opposite direction.

Isn't this supposed to be fun?