Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Raking for Gold


Earth knows no desolation. She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.
– George Meredith, 1828-1909, English novelist and poet

Happy fall day!
 

Fall season in the Pacific Northwest is synonymous with alternating bouts of soft rain showers, hard rain, rain deluge, wind, hail, warm-wet storms
from the south Pacific competing with frigid northerly winds and more rain. But then the sun will come out and warm and dry us once again. We revel in the beauty of this season as we venture out for our fall walks and absorb the amazingly gorgeous leaf colors that this time of year brings to our little corner of the world.

It’s October. The tree’s leaves reveal their true colors that lie hidden under the chlorophyll as it dissipates with the ebbing sunlight, only to drop as bounty to blanket the ground in glorious color. I love the fall for its beautiful sunny days and the beauty and systematic purpose of creation as it gears down for a long winter’s nap. It also brings the promise of a time of rest for me from what can at times be the rigors of tending the summer garden.

To the savvy and frugal gardener it also means time to rake in the gold!
The gold I refer to are all those deciduous tree and perennial leaves that are beginning to drop. Beautiful, wonderful, nutritious, weed blocking, soil feeding leaves blowing around that land on your lawn and garden beds. If you are like me you purposely planted deciduous trees with small leaves like Katsura and Japanese maple varietals. Small leaves or leaf pieces are faster to decay without smothering and are easy to rake and distribute over your garden beds like a snuggly winter blanket that will become food for your soil by spring time. Food for your soil means food for your plants, which means free fertilizer!




I cannot help but shake my head when I see homeowners and hired groundskeepers blowing leaves away (and into the street only to clog storm drains and cause minor localized flooding…but that’s a rant for another post) or neighbors grumbling as they rake then dump their leaves into yard waste bins for the city to pick up and haul away. Those leaves go to a compost facility only to be treated like the gold that they are for some months before the compost they become is bagged and sold back to the gardener who then spreads it over the garden. Save your time and money friend. You’ve already done the job of raking it off your lawn, now instead of giving it away, just deposit it over your garden beds and let it do the work of natural decay.

Honestly, can anyone really say they prefer the deafening drone of a gas powered leaf blower over the soft scritch-scritch of a leaf rake? Ever been on a walk, reveling in the beauty of color and sun on a quiet fall day only to round the corner and encounter, well…which would you rather hear? Not to mention the cloud of dust, debris and pollen that blower stirs up…well hello seasonal allergies!

Now that the leaf blower has done its job, the soil is bare once again and awaiting any and all airborne weed seeds to come in for a landing and call your garden home.

Have you ever considered the normal order of the seasons in nature? Rarely if ever, do you see bare soil. The forests annually cover their feet and floor with leaf drop and the meadows clothe themselves with leafy groundcovering perennials. Mostly, where you see a weedy mess is where the ground is regularly swept bare and weeds are allowed to multiply because there isn’t someone or something to constantly monitor or stir up the area.

My entire back and side yard are garden and the only places I have to do regular weeding is along portions of the walkways where foot traffic pushes away my annually laid leafy mulch.



My leaf corralling tools are inexpensive and easy to acquire.

1. A garbage can of a size easy for you to handle when full. Dry leaves are very light weight so a full can is not terribly heavy, but if you have to rake leaves between rain showers like I did today, wet leaves can be much heavier so it’s a good idea for your container to be of a size that accommodates your abilities.

2. A spring rake or leaf rake. This is not a heavy plastic rake. This rake has metal tines that are thin, light and springy. They reduce the amount of effort by half (if not more) and actually flip the leaves up rather than dragging them across. Believe me, when you experience the difference you will see the value of this rake.

3. Snow shovel. Don’t you just love the value of a thing that has more than one purpose? I do! It sure saves room in the tool shed. Once you get your leaves into a pile with your beloved spring rake, your trusty aluminum light weight snow shovel is the perfect tool to scoop them and (tilted at just the right angle) pour them easily into your can. With the snow shovel you will get through that pile in no time!
  
That’s it! One rake, one snow shovel and one can. No gas that needs to be mixed with oil. No running to the gas station because the blasted thing is out of gas. No ear plugs. No straps to keep a heavy gas powered-smoke-belching-engine-way-too-close-to-my-head strapped to my back. No machine that needs to drained of the gas/oil (now-what-do-I-do-with-it) before it gets stored for winter. No electrical cords to trip over or curse at because you just. can’t. quite. reach. Ok…maybe just one little rant. Thanks for indulging me.

So now that my can is full, I pull it (mine has wheels 😊) to where I want and proceed to pour out and spread an even layer over the soil, thus putting it to bed for the winter. Initially those fluffy leaves can be a nice 6-12 inch layer. It will quickly settle to less than half. Care must be taken not to cover plant tops with all these leaves. The leaves can be spread up to the stems of plants and it is ok to cover bare crowns of herbaceous perennials like Asparagus or Hostas once their leaves have died back.

This should be an enjoyable exercise, not a chore. Consider getting out to rake every other day or so depending on your leaf drop (and the weather of course). You can get smaller amounts raked quickly with a modest amount of effort, equating to regular exercise not to mention the de-stress-after-work benefit. If you leave it all to the end when your trees have dropped all their leaves, much of them will have blown away, losing a valuable resource and the job will be more time consuming all at once making it possibly an arduous task that you don’t enjoy. The goal is not to end up with a five foot pile to deal with!

The benefits of this pleasurable activity are numerous…
  1.  Weed control (weed seeds that blow around from neighboring yards can’t find purchase on bare soil because yours is now not bare) so your plants aren’t competing for nutrients with weeds. And who wants to spend time weeding anyway?
  2. Protective layer for plants root systems that may otherwise succumb to freezing temps.
  3.  Fertilizer. Compost and leaf mulch is well documented for its nutritious benefit to the garden.
  4. Soil tilth. Soil microbes and worms seek out this decaying matter and turn it into food for your plants.
  5.   Soil health and plant health. See 1-4 above.
  6. Gardener health. Cardio, muscle building (hello abs!)and mental health as it’s so good to get outdoors.

 It's WIN-WIN! Fall exercise for your body equates to winter protection becoming spring nutrition for your garden. Does it get any better than that?

Fall time in the garden should be enjoyable, savoring the last days of gardening for the year, putting your garden to bed for the winter and putting potted plants where winter’s freezing temperatures won’t harm the plants or break the pots. If you don’t already, please also consider leaving seed heads on certain plants to feed the birds that winter over in your region. Already I am enjoying watching the juncos feed on the seed heads of Liatris and Echinacea. If you need more convincing, please enjoy my previous post for benefit to less fall cleanup and more time to go on lovely fall day walks and take advantage of the mental healing time spent outdoors can provide.

Cheers!

Side note: If your trees have big leaves that does mean an extra step, because big leaves mat down like plates over one another and can smother neighboring plants and shed the rain off that you want to seep in to the soil. Big leaves need to be chopped smaller then corralled by a method of your choosing. A quick search online can give many options but I think the easiest is running your lawn mower over them with the catcher in place, then spread over your garden beds.
  
In Bloom in my Garden Today: Ajuga, Aster, Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ (bluebeard), crocus speciosus (blue fall crocus), Cyclamen hederifolium, Daisy (white double), Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, Heuchera, Hyssop, Kirengeshoma palmata, Lavender, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (catmint), Oregano vulgare compactum ‘humile’ (compact oregano), Phygelius (cape fushia), Rose ‘Shropshire Lad’, Rose ‘Reine de Violette’, Rosemary, Salvia garanitica ‘Black and Blue’, Solanum crispum


Authors photos

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A New Adventure



A gardener doesn’t sell their house. They sell their garden and the house happens to go along with it in the deal.
 
So now the time has come when we decide it’s time to find a new place to live.

It’s hard work moving a garden. Not only physically but it’s an emotional workout as well.

I have been creating this garden for 31 years. Sipping a  cup of oolong as I write this post, I look out to the garden while the bouts of spring rain and bursts of sun jockey for dominance. My beloved space of peace. A safe place where tears have been spilled, laughter has erupted and love has been shared. An oasis. A piece of my heart. A portion of my soul.

 My garden contains treasures from the gardens of loved ones long since passed and from old and new friends, all happily mingling with my own finds. They must go with me, these plants and the memories they release. True, we hold our memories in our hearts and they go with us where ever we go, but as long as I can work the soil I want my garden to be a visible reflection of the mosaic that embodies my life, even if it’s only evident to me.

On the one hand, I want to take it all with me yet on the other hand its healthy to be open to new opportunities, a new future both in a new garden space and in finding plants that I haven’t been surrounded by for decades already. So naturally I am compelled to make a list of my favorite, hard-if-not-impossible-to find-ever-again perennials. Those that simply must come along, never mind that I haven’t even found a new garden space or house yet. I don’t know what light and wind exposures or boundary situations that I will be dealing with yet. I don’t know anything yet. But what I do know is that in some capacity, it must become my new garden.

I have rarities like Geranium ‘Lily Lovell’ that I found on an excursion long ago and have never seen for sale since, two varieties of Hypatica and a finally-I-got-a-bloom-after-10-years (darn slugs) Calanthe tricarinata (Japanese hardy orchid).

Also, I have a few old cultivars. Like Cimicifuga simplex ‘Brunette’ (aka Actaea simplex, Bugbane, Snakeroot, Cohosh) who is harder to find now than ‘Black Beauty’. ‘Black Beauty’ was introduced after ‘Brunette’ but I happen to like the purply-chocolaty-to-copper variations in the ‘black’ leaves of ‘Brunette’ better. ‘Black Beauty’ has less variations to my eye.

And a particular Loosestrife that is NOT a garden thug.  Lysimachia ephemerum provides much sought after strong yet graceful, swaying-in-the-breeze height to the garden. I haven’t seen it for sale in many years but I think it’s a far superior option than its cousin Lysimachia clethroidesis better known as Gooseneck Loosestrife who is still sold in nurseries and is a bully, running rampant over anything that stands in its way. I steer clear of that one. Sadly, as is often is the case, some cultivars simply disappear. Growers stop propagating them in favor of newer varieties. 

And Echinacea ‘pallida’ who’s pouty petals are long, languid and so much more beguiling than her stouter brother ‘purpurea’. Yes, she is very fussy and demanding, but I love her far more. In our new location I will be experimenting with giving her a little more protection in the heat of the day. Either more moisture or dappled sun or more compost. Like I said, she's fussy. 

And Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, and some Gladiolus ‘Boone’ bulbs reportedly dating back to the 1920’s, and Mullen chaixii ‘Album’ who came from my mother’s garden, and, and, and the list goes on. And don’t even get me started on all the ferns I must keep. That will have to be another post all together.

This garden is like a friend that I’ve seemingly had forever. We’ve grown up together yet, today this is not the same garden I planted all those yesterdays ago. Nor am I the same person that I was 31 years ago.

Of trees; over time I planted 10, yet after having flourished for several years 2 of them turned away and died fast, unexplainable deaths. Maybe I was hasty in my planting of them and didn’t get them to just the right planting depth, or didn’t nurture them enough in their first year. And two others, long time stalwarts whom I didn’t plant but had welcomed me to this patch of earth died too, no less dreadful to me but most likely their natural allotted time had simply ceased.

Of perennials; some have taken hold and happily spread while others have disappeared after growing weaker and weaker. Perhaps I didn’t put them in the right place or perhaps they just rebelled. Death in the garden is not always the gardener’s culpability. No matter how we strive, we simply won’t thrive if we are in the wrong place…or on the wrong path. In this 31 years we’ve both fought and struggled and failed only to get up again and again until in the end we’ve both grown stronger, my garden and me.

Of bulbs; Tulips are not generally garden devotees. They give up and eventually go away, only strong in their early years. I planted 100 Tulipa ‘Gavota’ more than 15 years ago, of which only 1 remains today. The force of their presence in that number was incredibly beautiful really. A lovely combination of burgundy red edged in creamy butter yellow. I didn’t spend a lot on them knowing they would not be longsuffering.
  
I have however, spent a small fortune on daffodil bulbs. Perhaps I should be more specific, some rare and some heirloom daffodil bulbs. I have purchased some amazing species… the Pheasant’s Eyes, the fluffy doubles, some species with short trumpets, ‘Sinopel’ has green trumpets, some species that have graceful swept back reflex petals permitting the trumpet to be the star of the show. ‘Earlicheer’ and ‘Thalia’ were delightful for the longest time (thank you for your fragrance), and I believe it was ‘Rip Van Winkle’ who was already in residence when I bought this garden but years later he wearied of blooming so I dutifully divided him… well, over the following 2 years he mocked my efforts by sneaking into oblivion never to return. Narcissus are reputed to be strong, ever-returning and expected to deliver a return on your investment by rewarding you with ever increasing clumps…so much so that when they are overcrowded, their blooming decreases and their legion must be divided and replanted so as to make more room to breathe and thus bloom on again, year after year. Well, that’s what they say, anyway. Yet not for me in my garden. Each and every one of those pricey defectors eventually turned on me and tiptoed away year after year until not a one remains today. COWARDS!

What I do have today, growing into a huge and happy mass is I-have-no-idea-who-you-are variety of daffodil. By happenstance, one day I found a few of these mystery bulbs on the walkway of a commercial establishment, tossed aside carelessly by a paid professional dunderhead gardener (I write the term loosely as no respectable gardener would do such an absurdity). I recognized these bulbs would be of the daffodil family so as I walked by I picked them up, tucking them into my pocket as I continued on my way. I remembered them days later, planted them and the sweethearts thank me more and more every spring as their tribe grows. Proof that a great garden need not require a princely income. Oh yes, you can be sure a few of them are coming along with me.

While I look forward with happy expectation of the new garden to come, I do with some sadness think of the one I will leave behind.




On the brighter side, who knows…maybe in my new garden I will create a secreted space within the whole… 
one of secluded tranquility where tea can be taken. 
A secret tea garden.



In Bloom in My Garden Today: Anemone nemerosa ‘robinsoniana’, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Brunnera macrophylla, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daffodils, Erythronium revolutum (fawn lily, trout lily, dogtooth violet), Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinths, Mahonia repens, Muscari, Pachysandra terminalis, Primrose (double English), Rhododendron, Skimmia, Tulipa ‘Gavota’, Viola.

Authors photos






Friday, January 29, 2016

Is Btk Safe for Honeybees?


Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
Daniel J. Boorstin
 According to the Peninsula Daily News, “State agriculture officials will decide soon whether to propose spraying a biological pesticide over 10,500 acres across seven sites in Western Washington to kill leaf-eating gypsy moths. Washington and Oregon States will be doing a spray program this year (2016). The proposed Washington sites are Kent, N.E. Tacoma, Port of Tacoma, Fife, Milton, Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, Nisqually, Lacey, Gig Harbor and Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Washington would conduct three aerial sprayings, seven to 10 days apart, in April. In Oregon, state officials propose spraying in mid-April by helicopter over targeted areas of Forest Park, north Portland and Hayden Island with three treatments.“ 



There is much talk in my community about government aerial spraying for gypsy moth this year. And there’s a lot of fear about aerial spraying of any kind, especially in the beekeeping circles. We beekeepers have enough trouble with neighbors spraying insecticides, combatting known and unknown bee diseases, raising healthy bees with organic methods and winter die off. Now add the element of overhead spraying…aargh! ENOUGH CHEMICALS ALREADY!!
 But wait…we’re talking about Bt here. What is it really?
According to Rodale’s All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (1992) “Microbial insecticides such as Bt and it’s varieties are effective, slow acting pesticides with virtually no harmful side effects and considered non-toxic to mammals.”
In Garden Insects (2004) Whitney Cranshaw writes “Bt is the best known bacterium…and is commonly  used as a microbial insecticide. Several strains exist, each of which affects only certain types of insects that ingest the bacteria or the toxic protein crystal it produces”. 
On the subject of organic beekeeping, Ross Conrad is my go to guy for my beekeeping questions. He is an author and organic beekeeper. For cases of preventing wax moths in bee hive equipment, in his book “Natural Beekeeping” (2007) he touched on the use of Bt for control of wax moth, a highly destructive insect in bee hives.  He writes “Bt has been used safely by the organic farming community for decades… is a bacterium that, when ingested by certain insect larvae, will kill the host…it becomes toxic only when exposed to the unique digestive environment found within the wax worm’s gut. There are no harmful side effects like with chemical (synthetic) pesticides.  Bt is sprayed directly onto the plant’s leaf. The toxin is not produced until the pests eats a leaf upon which the Bt microbe rests, it is safe and non-toxic to animals, humans, and beneficial insects, and it may be used right up until harvest. Also used by organic beekeepers as a safe alternative to moth balls for preventing wax moth infestations in empty hive equipment.” In this case Bt can be sprayed on frames and hive bodies that will be stored for later use. The presence of the bacterium will kill any larvae that hatches and feeds on the wax.
Gypsy moth, today’s subject, is a major pest known to defoliate millions of acres of hardwood forests annually and perpetually defoliated trees means death. WSDA claims gypsy moth control is often necessary to prevent damage in backyards and many urban areas to help stop the spread into neighboring forested areas. Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki (Btk) is the variety of insecticide of choice for this insect. Btk is a natural soil born bacteria which biodegrades in sunlight within about 10 days, hence the multiple applications and it will likely be done at night, minimizing exposure to people and animals and for sure honey bees who don’t fly at night or eat leaves. What about the leaf cutter bees, our native pollinators...they wrap their nests with leaves but they do not eat the leaves so this poses no harm to them either. And I don’t see their activity in my garden that early in the spring.
 mindfully.org writes “However, in their natural form, acute toxicity of commonly-used Bt varieties is limited to caterpillars, mosquito larvae, and beetle larvae. Bt var. kurstaki which cause disease in moth and butterfly caterpillars.”
 Yes, Btk would mean death to butterfly larvae too. However the spray applications will be in April. I don’t know if our native butterflies breed in temps that cold here in the Pacific Northwest, and those that migrate from warmer climates to our south don’t arrive till June. I did some research on temperatures necessary for butterfly breeding but couldn’t find a definitive answer. If you know, please drop a line in the comments section. The cooperative extension in Wisconsin suggests “If you are concerned about your butterfly garden plants being sprayed (with Btk), place a tarp over them the night before a spray is scheduled. Then, remove it after spraying is completed.”
 Part of the controversy also lies in the fact that caterpillars, larvae and even moths are a food source for birds. While the infected larvae won’t be harmful to birds, the lack of their populations could represent a decline in a food source for birds.
 The gypsy moths found in Washington and Oregon are two non-native species (European and Asian) of insects that have the potential to devastate our forested lands. They have been brought here inadvertently by international trade. In cases like this we must pick the lesser of two evils and I think a timely and occasional spray with an organic control as deemed necessary when populations show sustained increase is prudent. Yes, you will find extreme cases of human illness due to overexposure if you dig deep enough online but I think by and large it’s a safe choice considering the other alternatives. The cases I found were due to overexposure by splashing large quantities of the liquid on themselves as opposed to a focused spray or drift. Naturally if you are highly sensitive, it is suggested that you stay indoors during the spraying.  Maps of proposed spray areas are published online in states that I found using this method, but do keep in mind drift can enlarge targeted areas.
 My personal opinion? I am not a chemist or a scientist. I’m an organic gardener and beekeeper. I use integrated pest management (IPM) practices. I’m sick to death of all the synthetic chemicals in the world and I use natural, organic methods that include biological controls when I have an infestation that the birds and other predators are not controlling. Bt is one biological control that I have used many times. I’ve been using Bt to combat cabbage moth for years. And I think I’m safe to say, most if not all organic farmers have been using Bt to control leaf eating worms and larvae for eons. The way it works is topically. The bacteria adheres to the outside of the leaf and when the larvae eats the leaf it ingests the bacteria. Bt does not penetrate the leaf so will not be effective on leaf miners. Nor is it effective on adult moths. The larvae must be young. It does break down and does not stay of the leaf, so in the case of my cabbage moths, who lay eggs all summer on all brassicas, I spray weekly, in the evenings all summer.
 The method of Btk is proven effective and the least toxic available, so is prudent and organically approved.  After all, the goal of organic farming is to use the least toxic method to control pests and disease. Btk is far less toxic than the synthetic chemical choices out there.
 In Bloom In My Garden Today: crocus, Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Sarcococca confusa, Hellebore, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), viola, pansies
 Author’s photo of my bees


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gifts for the Gardener

"For gardeners, this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogs, making lists ..., and dreaming their dreams." ~Katharine White, "A Romp in the Catalogues," The New Yorker, 1958 (collected in Onward and Upward in the Garden) 

Gift giving is a year round opportunity to bring joy to those we love, is it not? This time of year it is of course ramped up as we celebrate this season of Christ’s birth with the giving of gifts following in the tradition of the wise-men that lavished gifts upon the child Jesus (Matthew 2:10-12).

As we consider which gift would bring the most meaning to those in our lives, I have a few ideas to share for the gardeners in your life. Here is my top 10, not necessarily in order of preference, but as ideas came to mind like a shuffling of a Rubik’s Cube, these kept recirculating to the top.

1. Number one and the most obvious of course is a Gift Card from a favorite nursery. If you are unsure what to get, your gardener friend will no doubt already have a list in their head of needs and wants. If however, you’d rather give items not money, read on.

2. Feed the birds – because bird song feeds the soul. If your gardener friend loves birds, and I don’t believe that I’ve met one that doesn’t, anything that will bring birds to the garden year round will be applauded. Bird houses, bird seed, seed cakes and the proper holders for each, suet cakes in winter as well as a heater for the birdbath, there are so many birdy gifts that will delight your gardener friend. Books to help identify the birds that come for a visit are invaluable. And don’t forget about the butterflies and bats, as both are extremely beneficial to the planet. There are identification books galore and specially designed houses for each you can buy that will entice them to the garden too.


 A side note about bird feed. Beware of the ingredients listing on the compressed ‘cake’ style blocks of seed…most contain gelatin to hold the seed together in addition to dextrose and salts. Personally I would not buy any with added salts and sugars, but a contact at NWF says “It (gelatin) is the standard for all molded bird seed products that are available in the market. The gelatin is safe. There isn’t any salt in the gelatin. All similar bird seed products (bells, logs, wreaths, ornaments, seed covered houses, seed cakes, seed blocks etc) have been made this way for the last 30+ years. The birds do not eat the gelatin, they eat the seeds inside the shell.” If you like to make your own gifts, there are many recipes on the internet, some may contain harmful ingredients like salts and corn syrup which is a GMO. Look for recipes from reputable birding sites like National Wildlife Federation (NWF.org), Audubon Society (audubon.org) and birdwatchersdigest.com. If you use peanut butter, it is recommended to use unsalted.

3. ARS HS/KR 1000 pruning shears – I spent 3 days trimming the topiaries at work this fall and after that I expected to have some repetitive motion fatigue in my hands and wrists. I would have been in trouble had I used my own heavy, wooden handled pair but not with these. From Japan, the hard-chrome plated carbon steel blades keep a sharp edge and the tool is so light weight. I couldn’t believe the difference this pair of shears made when there’s a lot of trimming to be done. There are other ARS models but replacement blades are available for this one. Even if you don’t have topiaries or hedges to shear, these make easy work of trimming the heathers, lavenders and thyme after flowering is finished.

 4. Felco hand pruners/secateurs – THE best pruners in my opinion and most professionals in the industry use these. They are built to last and the red handles make it easy to find when you forget where you put or dropped them in the garden or shed. There are several sizes and handle shapes available for a comfortable, personal fit in your hand. They also make a left handers pair. All the working parts are available for spare parts purchase so you can replace any as needed without having to buy a new pair. And don’t forget the leather holster. Having a place to put the pruners attached to my hip means I misplace it much less.

 5. Pocket blade sharpener –iSTOR and Corona make a nice pocket size sharpener. The more you use pruners of course the more you have to sharpen them. iSTOR’s website also has a short video that shows exactly how to use this style of sharpener. Dull blades translate to poor cuts and tired, sore possibly inflamed hands and wrists. I keep one of these in my pocket while at work to sharpen as I need. Save the grinder and rasps for the shovels and hoes, this is better for those more delicate blade edges.

 6. Magazine Subscription. A one year paid subscription to their favorite gardening magazine would no doubt delight your gardener friend. A couple of my favorites have been ‘The English Garden’ and ‘Fine Gardening’. If they already have enough instructive magazines coming to the house they may enjoy ‘GreenPrints - The Weeder’s Digest’ which is comprised of real-life stories written by gardeners rather than the how-to. And if you’re lucky, you may even find an article by yours truly in this year’s line-up!

 7. Memberships to various gardening organizations or foundations. A one year membership may give your gardener a new way to hone their skills in something they are specifically interested in. If you like to “buy local” there may be several clubs and foundations close within your gardener’s community. A few years ago I was given a one year membership to Seed Savers which is national. This year I’d like to join the Hardy Fern Foundation which is local to me.

8. If your gardener is like me and likes antiques, these gifts are awesome! My friend has delighted me twice with antique watering attachments. Made from brass they will likely outlive my gardening days. First was a really cool spray nozzle to add to my collection. I’ve never seen anything like it.
















Then more recently this wonderful fan sprayer….


9. In recent years I’ve discovered the absolute need for stretching my body to keep it happy. Stopping my work to do some meaningful deep stretches makes all the difference by the end of my day. I’ve found yoga stretching to be an outstanding exercise practice. There are many books and DVDs specifically for gardeners.

10. If you want to help them expand their library, visit my ‘library’ tab located under the banner at the top of the page for a list of my favorite books on gardening.

Well, there you have it my friends…but wait! A BONUS IDEA!

11. Conservatory or greenhouse. Who wouldn’t love to have this in their backyard?









 A REAL greenhouse is on my bucket list but if your budget is like mine…this may be a more realistic option.















In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum ‘Rysi Moon’, Pachysandra ‘Windcliff’, pansies, Geum’ Lady Stratheden’ 

Author’s photos 
ARS 1000 photo from manufacturer’s stock photos 

Please Note: I am not endorsing any particular seller, nor will I receive any compensation for endorsing these products. They are simply products I have personally used and enjoyed. My only goal in writing about them is to pass on my positive experiences with these products to you.







Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winter Beauty


Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle -- a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
-- Barbara Winkler, American writer and editor

Never underestimate the power of a microclimate. Here in the temperate USDA zone 7 it’s not unusual to have some blooms in November and even a rose may send out a single bloom in December. We can get quite cold by our standards, the last couple of nights have dipped down into the 20’s F (-6C) but still I garden in what one friend calls “the place of magical gardens because we seem to be able to grow anything”.  Yes, being only a mile or less from the waters of Commencement Bay does have its advantages as bodies of water mellow temperature extremes.

Micro-climates can be small spaces of protection from the open air and winds just outside of them, those little warm pockets that are created by fencing and closely built houses. Hills and valleys create them too. Some can be warm and protective, others can be cold and ravaging. My back yard is a warm and protective micro clime. The photos below were taken just hours ago. Even though we are in the freezing temperatures of winter, for many of us there is still beauty to be found in our gardens, be it berries, blooms or beautiful leaves.

Blooms of Pachysandra 'Windcliff'

 Cyclamen hederifolium

Pyracantha Victory
 

 Fuchsia 'June Bride'
 

Hyssopus officinalis

Mustard Red Dragon Tongue
 

Fuchsia 'Aurea'
 

Salvia microphylla 'Heatwave Glow'
 

Geranium Lily Lovell

Heucherella 'Sweet Tea'
 

  Dryopteris erythrosora 'Radiance'

Geum 'Lady Stratheden'
 

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the beauty that surrounds us in the garden, the sunny day and the blessing of friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Erysimum, Fuchsia, Geum, Geranium, hyssop, Pachysandra, Pansies, Salvia

Author’s photos

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Save The Tomatoes!!!

How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.
~Benjamin Disraeli

Tomatoes.


This time of summer they are in full swing, producing like crazy. Paired with freshly harvested basil and garlic from the garden, I think tonight’s dinner will be a fresh tomato sauce over capellini and a salad of dark red “Merlot” lettuce.

Well, anyone who has grown tomatoes knows that even the lightest of summer rains can split all of the tomatoes on the vine. They are of course harvest-able once split if you get them immediately after but leave them on a day or so and they will start to mold at the tear. Oh misery! Oh groan! What’s a gardener to do?

Break out the umbrella, of course!



In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache, Alyssum, Aster, Astilbe, Borage, Canna, Catanache caerulea, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s),Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera,Hosta, Hyssop, Kniphofia (torch flower or red hot poker), Lavender, Lily, Lysimachia ephemerum (non-invasive loosestrife), Nandina, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Penstemon barbatus ‘delft blue riding hood’, Phygelius, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thalictrum rochebrunianum (meadow rue), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini, Veronica ‘royal candles’

Author’s photos

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review - A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers

Garden writing is often very tame, a real waste when you think how opinionated, inquisitive, irreverent and lascivious gardeners themselves tend to be.  Nobody talks much about the muscular limbs, dark, swollen buds, strip-tease trees and unholy beauty that have made us all slaves of the Goddess Flora.  ~Ketzel Levine

Do you collect gardening books?

I don’t collect them per say, but I do keep a small library of my most favorite go-to books when I need extra info on a perennial or a particular veggie’s habit. Now and then I find garden writing books at used book stores, read them then sell them back if they are good but not keepers. I do check out some from the library too, by fun to read authors like Beverley Nichols and Ann Lovejoy. I wish Mike McGrath would write more books…his humor never disappoints and always produces belly-laughs from deep within my own experiences. Maybe one day some genius will compile his newspaper columns into a book. I’d buy it for sure. I have Christopher Lloyd’s cyclopedia with pages and pages of his opinionated thoughts on plants. I love it. It is great for information and a chuckle or two as he shares his experiences in the garden.



So the other day was a beautiful day in May.  We went on a walk and found the first of the summer’s yard sales were set up. As usual we scrutinized the goods as we ever so slowly walked by. We certainly don’t need more stuff but I can never resist a look-see. One in particular had a bunch of books out for sale. Lo and behold I found a gardening book so I picked it up and started leafing through. Written in 1933 (how cool is that?) it had beautiful hand colored photographs and some illustrations for every flower and plant detailed within its pages.

Reading old gardening books is a little like old science books….things change. New discoveries are made and botanical nomenclature changes as plants are reclassified by who-knows-who, rendering them inaccurate, but I thought one can always learn new things, even if they are outdated, right? So…well, it was just a dollar after all…so…I bought it. It would be nice to have for the gorgeous old time photos alone.

It is titled Garden Flowers in Color. A Picture Cyclopedia of Flowers by G. A. Stevens.

Once home again and comfortably flopped down on my chaise lounge, I read the introduction. The author states, and I quote “The text has been prepared with as much fidelity to the floral facts as that provided in the illustrations. It has been written, for the most part, from actual garden acquaintance with the wide range of subjects covered in these pages and it is believed that a book of definite educational value as well as a convenient adjunct has resulted” end quote.

Ok, so that said I commence perusal. Wow, lots of varieties back then that just aren’t seen these days. Educational and fun but not particularly helpful for researching today’s cultivars.

Hmmm, Funkia…the apparently old fashioned term for Hosta. Cool…I do have elderly customers at work asking for plants in terms we don’t use these days…this may be really helpful! Matter of fact one of our customers is 100 years old!! Scouts honor! I’ll have to ask her if she knows the term Funkia.

On and on I read, mostly it is indeed factual stuff…till I get to page 225. Rose Acacia. "Professionally known as Robinia hispida or Pink Locust." We sell Purple Robe Locust where I work and it is truly a beautiful flowering tree, but I’ve never grown one myself. Reading the description…”Robinia hispida is the botanical name of the Pink Locust, which gardeners for some reason or other have decided to call Rose Acacia. It is a clammy shrub, usually grafted on the top of a tall waking stick and stuck in the most conspicuous place in the garden. The flowers are obese and ugly, and they hang in sticky profusion from the foliage. It is a most unattractive thing without beauty or merit as a garden plant.”


Wait…what? But G. A., on page 7 you said your writing was prepared…”with as much fidelity to the floral facts…” Hmmm. Apparently this excerpt is more closely associated with the “actual garden acquaintance” you mention later. Ok, really, I have to ask…what in the world does “a clammy shrub” describe?

Well the rancor fun doesn't stop there. Weigelas don’t escape the author’s verbal lashing either…oh no my friends, read on...


“Among the commoner shrubs for ordinary purposes are the humble Weigelas. Great, rank bushes they are, with coarse foliage and still coarser and uglier flowers….But one of the most dreadful shrubs which have ever been foisted upon a defenseless nation is the supremely ugly variety called Eva Rathke. No one can imagine how hideous a flower can be until one of these monstrosities is brought to his attention. In fact the blight of Eva Rathke rests upon all Weigelas and no garden would suffer if all the Weigelas in the world were piled high and dry and burned to ashes.”

Oh dear, oh dear. A tad harsh? I've had Weigela. Mine was a lovely graceful variegated shrub with soft pink blooms much enjoyed by hummingbirds. Quite nice actually, er…in my humble opinion.

And who said gardeners were opinionated?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Bergenia ‘winter glow’, Blueberry, Brunnera, chive, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Dianthus deltoides ‘Flashing Lights’,Exbury azalea, Fuchsia, Geranium phaeum ‘lily lovell’ (mourning widow), Geum, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Oxalis oregana ‘wintergreen’, Peony, Phygelius, Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Rhododendron, Sage, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Schisandra rubriflora (strawberry vine), Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Trillium,Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower), Tomato

Authors photos

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Euphoric Over Euphorbia


All through the long winter I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirit soars.
~Helen Hayes, American actress, 1900-1993


Euphorbias (ew-for-bee-a) are native to the Mediterranean’s sandy, hot regions but hybrids have brought hardy varieties to our cooler northern gardens. Grow them in full sun in USDA zones 5-8. They are quite adaptable so don’t be afraid to try them in your garden even if it’s not so Mediterranean-esque. They have a long spring flowering season, and those planted in the more sunny sites often produce the deeper foliage colors. Give them good drainage as heavy soils will kill them quickly and they reportedly don’t like windy sites.

I have three Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.  Two are in my street side parking strip, notably windier than the one in my back yard. The two that get the wind, flowered just like the one in the back but they are lacking any leaves at this point. They were full and leafy all summer but the cold winter winds have left them bare stemmed. The new growth is coming out leafy so my guess is they will leaf out again with the warmer weather. This is their first year so their performance is yet to be seen over a succession of seasons so I can compare those in the wind to the more protected one.

They are known for their drought tolerance and most have chartreuse inflorescences as seen above on my E. Redwing. An exception being E. ‘Blackbird’ (below) whose flower is more of a rust color aging to apricot with some peachy tones throughout.


Euphorbias comprise a large group of plants ranging from annuals, perennials and succulents enjoying a surge in hybridization which is delighting Euphorbia lovers and collectors with an amazing array of foliage colors and a multitude of plant sizes for both big and small gardens.


E. wulfenii (above) is the tallest I’ve seen, at easily 5 ft (1.5m) tall but E. mellifera reportedly reaches 8 ft (2.4m).  There are others but the shortest I’ve seen is E. myrsinites ‘Donkey Tail Spurge’ reaching less than 6”(15cm) tall and looks quite like a succulent ground cover.

Some Euphorbias are reportedly short lived plants but can easily be propagated by cutting off stems, stripping the leaves off the bottom half of the stem and inserting it into soft soil. This is also a great way to increase the presence of your Euphorbias in the garden. Repetition of plants and or color can make your garden look ‘put together’ and professionally designed.  Some Euphorbias will seed themselves around your garden too. Some may come true to seed but others will not. You may like that habit of self-seeding as a way to fill a garden space.  Nope, not me.  I once had E. dulcis Chameleon that made such a nuisance of itself that I ripped it all out and continued to remove seedlings for a few years to come.  My little postage stamp sized garden doesn't have room for such joyful self-seeding abandon. Either that or I’m too type A to allow it. Hmmm. I think not.

Pruning is easy. When the flower is finished it will begin to turn to seed. That’s when you cut down the old stems to 3-6” (8-15cm) from the ground.  New growth will appear from the base or low on the old stems. Those will be this year’s leafy stems and next year’s flower. Now that you’ve removed the seed heads, the plant’s energy will stop forming seed and be redirected into producing the new leafy stems. When cut or wounded all exude a white milky sap which can irritate the skin and eyes so be careful when working around them.

Lastly a note on using common names. Euphorbias are also known as Spurge and are related to the Poinsettia. However this Spurge must not be confused with the ‘other’ spurge, Pachysandra, which is an evergreen ground cover with white flowers for the shade garden.  They are completely different plants, needing different exposures but sharing a common name. I know relying on common names is easier but as I've said many times on this blog, knowing the Latin botanical counterpart is so helpful to find the plant you are looking for in the nursery because many totally different plants can share a common name, especially if you travel to different parts of the world or even just within the US. 

In Bloom In My Garden: Alyssum, Anemone nemerosa robinsoniana’, Bergenia, Blueberry, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Euphorbia, Geum, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris,
 Tulipa, Trillium,Tiarella, 

Authors photos