Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Back Garden Looks like Heck

Ok, there, I've said it.

It just doesn't look that good right now.

I have Rose's lovely Bleeding Heart and one of the Hellebores to the left and the Money Plant to the right and some "is it a weed is it something I want?" seedlings and some "hope it will come up" spaces and a few "hope it will survive" seedlings scattered between the patchy "we'll take over the world!" strawberries.

Behold:



Not exactly a thing of beauty, is it?
But, until some of these things decide to take off and grow, followed by another good decision to bloom their little hearts out, it's another opportunity to practice patience, I guess.

Also had a fun surprise in the midst of all those strawberries:


Totally needs the arrow at this point, but I have a surprising little Money Plant coming up next to the bigger one (shoving up through the strawberries).  Very happy to see that little guy!

And at least we finally had some rain-free days again--Rose mowed the lawn (push-mower, and right now it's novel for her--hope that lasts!) and helped me build this (on the left):



I planted in some scarlet emperor runner beans and asparagus pole beans--I like beans and hope to get some meals worth of vegetables out of them, plus the scarlet runner beans are really pretty to look at in bloom.

I also transplanted the Blenheim Melon seedling, the Musk-melon seedling, and the mysterious Pineapple Melon seedling:

Left to right: Blenheim, Pineapple, Musk-melon

Unfortunately, the Musk-melon rewarded me by withering off the very next day (today), but at least the other two seem pretty happy.  This is the second time I've tried and failed to get a musk-melon going.  I've heard they don't transplant well and I guess I'm a believer now--too bad since our season is so short I'm don't think I'd be able to grow it from seed outdoors, but hopefully I'll still have something to show for the other two.  Blenheim Melons are a lot like Musk-melons and Cantaloupes and are supposed to be good for short seasons, so turns out that was an excellent choice ;-)

And while I wait for the mysterious Pineapple Melon to show me what it is, and wait for the seeds to show me some love and grow, at least I'm finally close to solving a 3 year old mystery.  Way back in 2009, Rose planted some Mixed-color Columbine (she also planted some blue last year, but those never came up).  Last year, one of the Mixed-color Columbine came back but never bloomed.  But this year, it's back again, looking great, and--finally--has some buds!


Stay tuned to finally find out what color it is!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!

Another Garden Blogger's Bloom Day (from May Dream's Gardens blog) is here already, but for me this one is so much nicer that April's!  

In April is was darn cold out still as I put on a coat and went out to take a picture of the single bloom I had to look at.

Thank goodness it's now May!  It's raining, as it was yesterday, as it will be tomorrow.  and the day after. and the day after that, at least according to my friends at weather.com, but it's not chilly (for a drizzly day, at any rate) and, glory of glories, I finally have blooms!

So, without further ado, I bring you Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, Eden ever after style:

First we have the Lilacs that I love so much, they still have opening buds but, I guess with all the damp, at the same time they are going a bit brown here and there on the flowers--still, smells like heaven.

And we also have strawberries--in general, the strawberries are making a good effort towards a hostile takeover of every spare patch of dirt they can find--so far I'm waiting and watching, but I do expect some fruit as payment for my kindness.

Bleeding hearts are really huge this year with tons of hearts on tons of stems--Rose's red ones in the back are the most glorious, but my white ones in the front aren't too shabby either.


And, we still have Hellebore blooming--this is the first year it's bloomed so I didn't really know exactly what to expect, but I didn't expect it to last a month!  Not sure if I can expect this to repeat, either, or if it's just a benefit of a cool wet spring?  This one is in the front garden--it was budded but not quite blooming in time for Bloom Day last month.
The Red Coral Bells are back this year and looking lovely, not in full bloom but just about ready.  Especially under cloudy skies, the shots of red are a nice warm touch.

What started as 3 Freckles Violets have decided to fight the strawberries for total domination of the front garden--they're everywhere, but it's nice to have them.  No johnny jump-ups yet which looked so pretty with them last year--I'm pretty sure we had them by this time last year...could be the cool weather or could be that the violets smothered them out--have to wait and see.

The Lunaria/Honesty/Money Plant that I planted last year is blooming this year--again, didn't expect to see it up with the early spring perennials, but it's a bright spot in a pretty sparse back garden right now.  I just put in more seeds so I can (hopefully) have more of this biannual blooming next year.

And one thing to thank the cool damp for: the pansies still look nice and bright.  Some years it seems like spring lasts about a week and we're right into summer--this year is different, but at least the pansies are thankful.

And, last but not least, look what I found tucked away from the rain in at the side of the front garden--the lily-of-the-valley is back.  I thought it looked pretty sweet hiding out from the rain under it's leaves.

Now I'm off to take Rose to the fabric store (she's waiting, occasionally patiently) and then I'll grab a nice hot cup of tea and enjoy all the other pretty (and many sunny) blooms in the blogosphere today!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Playing catch up

Been dealing with a mix of busy days and a most ungardeninglike cool drizzly days with a few nice sunny days just to keep hope alive.

Sorry to be so out of touch!

As a short recap of the past few weeks, here's a bouquet Rose picked this evening as I finally got out there and pulled some weeds before transplanting a few of the seedlings which now, I suppose, have earned the right to be called plants!



Yep, that about sums it up!  Bleeding hearts are looking fabulous, rhododendrons are bright and pretty, crab-apples are at the end of things now and lilacs (be still my heart) are perfectly in the middle of their week of glory!

Happy Spring!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2011

In honor of May Dreams' Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day I'm posting pictures of my blooms, which in this case won't take much time at all!

Ready?

The hellebore in the back garden is low to the ground and facing the back wall, but it's blooming!

And, right now, it's all I have.

But I know there's more to come, I have these:

lilacs

pansies

and more hellebore

May's bloom day should be a whole lot more fun!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Surprise me!

Ok, I'm not usually one to want surprises in my garden.  I like to know what's coming and plan ahead, which I know is kind of like begging for disappointment when you're dealing with nature, and I like to think I can roll with the punches pretty well, I just don't like to go around asking for punches to roll with!

But, based on Pam's (Pam's English Garden) recommendation on her blog here, I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I'm enjoying it a lot--there's a little preachiness, but much more a very delightful account of her and her family's year of local food and gardening).  

That, combined with some interesting sustainable gardening posts here on Jan's Thanks for Today blog, and some general "Heirloom Seed" shout-outs that seem to be everywhere lately...

I seem to have jumped both feet into the historic varieties deep end, at least long enough to purposely and intentionally order something completely unknown and unpredictable.

That's right...I'm going to be growing Pineapple Melon.

What is Pineapple Melon, you ask?  Um...well...beats the heck out of me...

I was charmed by Baker Creek's recent resurrection of Comstock Ferre seeds and requested their free catalog.  Flipping through it during the early spring grays, dreaming imaginary dreams of Rose and I sitting out on the patio in the summer sunshine, gazing at the lovely flowers and cracking open ripe sweet melons for a refreshing summer snack...

I think there must have been some strange fairy magic afoot--I turned right to the melon section (never mind that I've never successfully grown a melon) and saw this:

Pineapple (melon)
This historic heirloom was grown by Thomas Jefferson in 1794. It was offered commercially in America in 1824, and it was illustrated in color in France in 1854 in the Vilmorin Album. This wonderful variety is very rare. The productive plants can be trained on a trellis. The fruit is highly perfumed. This was one of the ten melons we offered in 1846 from our Wethersfield Seed Gardens.

Contains 35 heirloom seeds
And I was all: "Thomas Jefferson (I went to UVA, it's a Pavlovian thing)... 1824... Vilmorin Album (I'm a sucker for botanical illustrations, see "addiction, Botanical Interests seed company")... productive... trellis (remember, space, especially sunny space, is an issue here)... highly perfumed" and before you could say, "what on earth are you doing?" I was completely sold on having this glorious thing in my garden.

So...skip ahead to now--the seeds are ordered and on their way and I'm wondering what on earth I've gotten myself into!  Is it red? green? yellow? netted? smooth? crisp?   Darned if I know.

Googling was not especially helpful.  It might look like this:

Photo by Andy Nightmaar here
or, looking at another seed website, it could look like this:
from Cherry Gal seeds here
or it could look an awful lot like cantaloupe, like this:

from The Seed Kingdom here
or, for something a little different, it could look like this:

from Kokopelli seeds here
The funniest part is each of the 3 seed catalogs linked above all say "this" is the variety Thomas Jefferson grew...

Curiouser and curiouser!

I'm feeling a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk; I'll throw these seeds in the ground and wait to see just exactly what grows up my trellis this summer...stay tuned!


Monday, April 11, 2011

US Postal Service and an Interesting Link

Came home on Saturday to find our letter carrier had left me this:


Very exciting!  I have just the hard to plant spot that I'm hoping the Jupiter's Beard will take to and make beautiful.

And, not just good news to share but an interesting link, too:  http://volantefarms.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/beneficial-biological-controls/

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow in a healthy way and how that's accomplished on different scales--the blog post linked above details how one greenhouse is using bugs to get rid of other bugs and reduce or eliminate the need to spray chemicals on their plants.  It's not preachy and the thinking isn't black-or-white--very interesting stuff (at least to a geeky kind of gal like me!)

Hope all of you have a not too crazy Monday on your hands!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Signs of things to come

Between the many cool gray days and the hoping that seed will really come up and the waiting for strong indication that there will really be a garden this year, this is a rough time of year!

My inner toddler is ready to stomp her feet and hold her breath until she turns blue or until strong spring finally comes, whichever!  Good thing I'm actually a reasonable adult (ha!) or I have the feeling I'd be stomping and blue a lot these days....

And, looking around here, I do have some signs (beyond the intermittent warmish days, right now still followed by cool grayish days) that the good things are on their way.

My Lenten Roses look like they're going to be blooming this year!  I put them in 2 years ago and last year was a time spent settling in but not blooming.  Guess it has to get with it if it's actually going to make it for Lent this year, but I think it has a chance.  I bought 2 plants in "mixed" colors, so I'm excited to see what colors I actually have (feels odd, but I think it's good for my plan-everything-to-the-nth-degree self to have some surprises in the garden every now and again!).
Hellebore, aka Lenten Rose

The Lilacs, which I adore, are starting to swell their buds--definitely a happy sign for me!

Lilacs
Plus, we've had another sunny day nice enough to take the seedlings out for a little sunshine:



 And, speaking of the seedlings, they're looking hopeful, themselves--remember the Crème de Cassis Hollyhocks?  Alive and well and growing rapidly:
one Crème de Cassis Hollyhock seedling...

....another Crème de Cassis Hollyhock seedling
And the Snowdrift Marigolds?  They've starting to show off their first sets of leaves:
Snowdrift Marigold seedlings
(Probably best to ignore the roundish Dwarf Ten Weeks Stock seedlings that I'll pinch off eventually--I had a little issue where I planted the Stock seeds in half of the tray, was briefly interrupted, and couldn't figure out which had the stock and which were completely empty!  I figured better safe than sorry and just replanted the whole thing--not hard now to tell which is which!)

And....drum roll please...the weather report says the temps are going to be nice today and rising steadily over the next 10 days--happy days are coming!

Wishing you all the same,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where's that Crystal Ball?

Blue Boy Bachelor Button
from Botanical Interests site
It's that time of year--the time when I obsessively check the 10 day weather forecast and try to guess when the last frost will be.

This is the 3rd year now that I've done some direct sowing outdoors and the 2nd year now that I've tried to determine (with lots of failed research and a final desperate guess) when it's a good time to plant those things that do best when planted a few weeks before the last frost.

The first year I went blithely on my way aiming for Memorial Day and counting back.  For some things that worked--all the veggies and some flowers--and for others it seemed to be the wrong move--first columbine didn't come up until the next year, and then last year columbine and nodding allium didn't come up at all and may or may not come up this spring--which may have been because it was too warm and they needed some time in the cold, or maybe it was something I did and has nothing to do with the weather?

Wish I knew!

The thing is, experience tells me that Memorial Day is way past the safe time here where we are (not necessarily true even 10 miles west of here, though!), but I have yet to find anyone who has a better answer.

Plus, I'm impatient to get going with it already--it's been a rough winter!

So, I planted some bachelor buttons (blue and dark pink) today and the dream is (for now) alive--hope Mother Nature plays along with me....


Monday, April 4, 2011

Sustainable lifestyle, a hill of beans one bean at a time.

The other day I was reading this post on Pam's English Cottage Garden and, through Pam's eloquent description of Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a book I'm excited to get from the library--I loved Kingsolver's Animal Dreams and several other of her books I'd read a long time ago) I discovered this post on Jan's Thanks for today blog.

Not only are there some terrific give aways involved (Really. They are terrific. Don't believe me, check it and see!), but a lot of links to lots of other garden bloggers with some very interesting things to say about sustainable lifestyles.

Now, I'll be honest here, the first thing I did after reading Pam's and Jan's posts was to google "Sustainable Lifestyle" to figure out exactly what that was supposed to mean.  Ok. Found it on Wikipedia and it's a fairly broad term.

But that brings up my next question--and no, it wasn't "what of the many things I do on a regular basis to help the earth should I blog about?"--it was actually more along the lines of "hmm...do I do anything on a regular basis to help the earth?!?"

I like a clean and healthy planet, of course, but in my real life there's an effort to find the balance between what we should do and what we can do with the resources we have here and now.

I'd love to purchase only grass-fed beef and grow a huge garden plot to supply all our vegetable needs for the year, but also need to be mindful of meeting our food needs within our food budget, andour yard is not so big and not so sunny and is governed by its own set of condo rules and regulations.

Which means 1) I'm not going to be raising urban chickens, but also means 2) I'm in exactly the same boat as a very large number of other people. 

To quote my favorite FlyLady saying: sometimes you just have to hit a lick at a snake.  Which is a way of saying, "heck, even if it can't all be done and done perfectly, maybe I'll just take a stab at it and see what does get done"

So, what do I do, exactly? Well, I'm glad you asked...


I compost, for one--not a huge series of self-heating bins in different stages of composting, but a converted trash bin that I can put by my door and fill and fluff and, when completed, spread over my gardens.  It works for my situation and my gardens seem to really like it--plus I get a real kick out of getting useful stuff out of my garbage scraps--my inner Rumpelstiltskin spinning gold out of straw!



I shop with reusable bags--I made the 2 above a few years ago out of some favorite fabrics from my stash (lots of free patterns online to do this) and have since sewn another (currently in Rose's room holding the latest haul of library books) and amassed a few others from various sources.  

My brother gave me one of them (from the grocery) last year as a gift bag with a birthday present--they tend to be cheaper than paper gift bags and can be reused many more times after the big day is over--pretty clever idea, I think!  

And, at least around here, you get 5-cents off your grocery receipt for each bag you bring--not enough to buy a Prius or anything like that (at least in my lifetime of shopping), but after a few visits that packet of seeds is paid for, right?


I pick plants that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds--but I need to fess up that this is just self-serving on my part.  Really, I didn't even know this was a sustainable practice until I read it on a couple of posts linked to Jan's blog (above), especially this one from Betsy S. Franz's Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog.  I actually just like butterflies and bumble bees and have only ever seen a hummingbird once in my life--I'd really like to see another one sometime before I die!



I built a trellis out of found materials.  Ok, so I did it mostly because I like the rustic look and partly because there was no harm in trying something for free--still, no fossil fuels used in production and no harmful chemicals into the environment--win-win!

As I've recently posted, I grow my indoor seedlings in "fossel fuel free solar growing system" (yeah, I hear you, putting seedlings in a bright window probably doesn't count, really, but there you have it--and if blogging about it encourages someone else who doesn't have the space, money, or desire to go out and get a big seed starting system to give it a go in the window, that's not a bad thing)

But really, the big thing I'm proud of is taking a stab at growing thingsSimple, but big.

When we lived in our apartment, my garden looked like this:


(and, yes, it did usually feature some of Rose's toys in some way or another--this was one set-up when she was 6, some game about exploring the jungle or something like that--turns out these are the only really good pictures I took of the balcony garden, but they make me smile because they remind me of my 6 year old Rosie)

The "garden" was small, used soil donated from my parents' garden, and it tended to look especially hodge-podge before the plants grew enough to fill in, but we got to enjoy the flowers and have some meals' worth of green beans, lettuce, and tomato for our trouble.  Again, it was really very self-serving as I got to enjoy the gardening and the fresh produce, but that just couldn't be helped, right?

These days we're on to some bigger areas and more experiments to see what does and doesn't work around here, both decorative and eatable. 

Last year we ate a bit of this:

and some of this:
and a bit of this:
 and this:

Which couldn't be any fresher or more locally grown if it tried.

(and, yes, I do know those are a lot of pictures to say "I grew some food" but it's dreary outside today and Spring still isn't sure it's going to stay, so please just indulge me here this once...)


Now the astute reader will notice that while I talk about sustainable measures, at the same time I'm really just going on about things that I enjoy:
  1. making free enrichment to make my gardens better
  2. shopping with pretty bags and saving pennies each time
  3. planting things that will attract things I want
  4. getting a free trellis that I like the look of
  5. eating fresh delicious food for pennies...
Ok, I won't argue that I benefit from it (benefit a lot, actually!) but maybe sharing things that benefit us and help our world at the same time is a useful thing to do?


I've learned so much about gardening from other garden bloggers out there and gotten lots of great ideas.

But I also had fun reading the links from bloggers who have answered Jan's challenge and written about their own projects in sustainable living.

Like Cinj's making produce bags out of sheer stash fabrics, and Ramble on Rose's rain gardens (never heard of that before!), and Jezibel's painted rain barrels (check those out, they're really neat!), and Patty Hicks' milk jug tomatoes (I'm dying to see how those come out!).

Crazy thing about blogging is that it's a great way to share ideas that might suit someone else, too, and in doing so "hit a few more licks at a snake," if you follow what I mean.  (And also I enjoy blogging, but let's leave that part out of it for now, shall we?)