Friday, November 26, 2010

A Catalyst

Gardens always mean something else, man absolutely uses one thing to say another.
~Robert Harbison, Eccentric Spaces, 1977

Do you celebrate Christmas? Well I do, and if you are like me sometimes you may need something to help transition you into the mood for all the hustle and bustle that can at times accompany this blessed celebration.

This week I got that catalyst at the greenhouse where I volunteer and I thought I’d share it with you.



Gorgeous I think. We have two greenhouses full of nothing but Poinsettias, truly a sight to see. And it was snowing outside.

In 1829 Joel Roberts Poinsett brought cuttings of this plant to the US from Mexico. The Poinsettia we enjoy today is reportedly nothing like that original plant as hybridizers have improved its ability to be brought indoors and kept in a pot. Poinsettias are of the Euphorbia family, and are native to warm climate regions like SE Europe, Mediterranean, Africa, South America and Morocco.

Depending on where you are they can be annual potted plants or perennial shrubs. I’ve seen a picture of my grandmother standing in front of a six foot (1.82 m) shrub in California, in full bloom. That is amazing to me as up here in the colder north our winter climates will kill them. Just getting a potted plant from the store to the house can do serious harm if you let them get too chilled.

• In the cold north if purchasing a potted poinsettia is on your day’s list of errands, pick it up last just before you go home. Leaving it in a cold car all day can kill it.

• In your house they need warm temps, nights in the low 60’s F (15-17C) and day highs around 70 F (21C).

• Place them away from cold drafts and give them a half day of sun.

• Let the soil dry slightly between watering.

• If you get one in a decorative foil or plastic sleeve be sure to cut the bottom of the sleeve off or be sure to allow the pot to fully drain after watering it before you return it to the sleeve. A poinsettia sitting in a pool of water in the sleeve will drown.

• The white sap you see if a leaf or stem breaks off is normal for the Euphorbia family. For some it can be a skin irritant so wash it off if you get any on you. If you have pets that like to eat plants or grass, put it out of their reach if possible. My local poison control center says today’s varieties are no longer poisonous to pets but better be safe than sorry. I personally know of 2 cats that have nibbled on poinsettia leaves with no ill effects. But that’s nibbled not devoured.

Are you going to get a Poinsettia this year? What’s your favorite color? I love the dark burgundy ones but last year I was partial to a red speckled beauty. Maybe I’ll get a white one this year. It’s fun to see the new hybrids that come out every year.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: nothing, three days of below freezing temperatures has wiped out all that was blooming.

Author’s photo

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just in the Nick of Time!

Thanks, thanks, and ever thanks.
~Shakespeare

Normally I do minimal fall cleanup in the garden. I save the majority of trimming for spring. But the weather forecasters have been warning us of some unusually early temperatures in the 20’s F (-6C) and winds from Canada coming our way by weeks end. Normally we don’t get these low temps till January so I had to get moving on some garden chores. Saturday I spent the morning mowing the lawn for the last time, wrapping faucets, trimming roses a little so the winds wouldn’t whip and break them and generally tidying up some of the garden so plants wouldn’t scrape against the house with winds. But also I did a few winter protective things like tucking leaves and trimmings into neat little protective mounds around the crowns of some plants, covering others with burlap bags, draining and covering the fountains, wrapped bubble wrap around the hummingbird feeder and filled it with a heavier syrup, hooked up the birdbath heater so the water won’t freeze and so on. The temp was around 42F (6C) and breezy but I was moving at a good clip so I felt warm.

Later that afternoon we had to winterize the trailer and repair some fencing before more winds blew it down. The temps were dropping into the 30’s (2C), and with the wind chill it felt like -20 F to me. I was getting cold. I could no longer feel my fingers and I was getting a wee bit crabby. Ok…really crabby. I came into the house to put my hands in a sink of warm water and looked longingly at the tea kettle when I noticed the mail had come. And a happy package was awaiting! I tore into the envelope as fast as my stiff, cold hands could. It was a beautiful knitted fluffy, warm, cozy warm scarf in gorgeous colors and 2 tiny knitted bees from my friend, knitter and fellow blogger Cindy! Did I say warm? I was so cold that I wrapped that scarf around my head! It is a perfect length to go around twice and tuck into the collar of my coat around my neck! I was as snug and warm as my bees in their hive. I wore that for 3 more hours while we finished our chores. The sky was turning pink like it does when it’s about to snow and the dark was closing in. The air felt arctic-esque to me and we finished the fence by the illumination of the street lights.


Snow is on the way, but I’m ready. Thanks Cindy, you saved the day. You Rock.  I love it!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Geum, Primrose, Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cyclamen hederifolium, Gaura, Fushia, Alyssum, Nepeta, Schizostylus, Veronica, Salvia, Lavender, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Criminal Beekeeping

How hard or easy something feels is simply a matter of where you choose to aim your focus.
~ Shari Becht, FitFeat.com



Urban beekeepers are a nefarious lot. For the greater good, and our own pleasure, many have scoffed the laws for decades, simply by keeping bees. Beeks (a loving term for us bee geeks) have persevered under cover of hedges, fences and balconies and many lug their equipment up fire escapes to reach their secreted roof top apiaries. Some have faced stiff fines and/or jail time. But over time their tenacity has been to their benefit…and yours. Many have spent those decadent years petitioning their governing agencies for the right to bring beekeeping back into legal standing. The good news is not all hives are being forced out to pasture anymore. Every year municipalities are beginning to heed the cry of beeks all over the US to re-evaluate misguided bans on city beekeeping.

It used to be every Pennsylvanian one room schoolhouse had curriculum that included beekeeping because every house had a hive to provide wax for their candles and honey for their table. Those days are long gone, but the urban household hive is making a comeback because of focused beeks who would not be defeated.

For 10 years New York City beeks have illegally kept bees despite the possibility of a $2000 fine if caught looming over their heads. But with determination, beekeepers spent 2 years gathering signatures to petition their Department of Health to lift the ban on city beekeeping which became law in 2000. Until this year, bees were forbidden and classified as dangerous in that city along with tigers, panthers, tarantulas, cobras, alligators and Komodo dragons to name a few. As of 2010 NYC beeks and their bees are now lawfully communing.

In 2008 one Denver beekeeper was fined nearly $1000 and a year in jail if she didn’t get rid of her hives. She successfully challenged her penalty, which resulted in the city council re-evaluating and lifting their ban. Now Denver beeks can proudly and publicly promote the Denver Beekeepers Association. One Santa Monica beekeeper is currently in negations for legalization with that city council and reports support for his proposal.

Last year Minneapolis beeks successfully got a ban lifted that had been in effect for over 30 years. Yay!!

Today studies report that city bees have an easier time finding a continuous supply of nectar and pollen that isn’t found in many rural areas. And the wider range of flower types over a longer growing season in the urban landscape provide more variety of pollens and nectars which benefits hive health. Also urban areas appear to be less exposed to pesticides and fewer chemical traces are found in urban honey. Streets and rooftops absorb heat making it a warmer environment than rural areas and urban beeks can devote more time and can monitor hives more closely.

As more and more people learn about the importance of honeybees in our existence, I have seen fear recede into the background. In the years I’ve been attending our 3 nearest bee clubs, last year alone we saw membership double at each club. DOUBLE! Not just a handful of interest walked through the door but 30-50 people per club joined and took classes with serious intent to add beekeeping to their life experience. Clubs that numbered 20+ members now number 60-100. One club had to start another club because our meeting room was bursting at the seams.

With this kind of strength, municipalities that continue to ban bees will have a strong force to contend with when petitions and ordinances get drawn up by beeks and proposed for review. Not all ordinances are the same, each city has its own specifications. Some municipality requirements include registration of hives with the city or state, an annual permit fee and/or restrictions on the number of hives per acre. Some require a specific fence height and distance from property lines. Some regulate hive management and transportation of hives. Some have very few regulations.

They will also have many bee-friendly examples of urban success around the country with which they cannot argue. Managed hives have reportedly been thriving on the rooftops of London’s Royal Festival Hall, Paris’s Opera, Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, Academy of Science in San Francisco, Chicago’s City Hall, The White House grounds and hives were recently installed on Google’s Mountain View, CA campus after the company’s executive chef dreamed of a plan to cook with and serve the honey in the corporate cafĂ©s under his charge.

And more good news…in April this year West Virginia was the first US city to pass an ordinance that protects beekeepers  (page 6 in pdf file) providing they follow ‘good neighbor’ practices. In exchange for following 14 rules, beekeepers are protected from lawsuits. No doubt more and more cities will be looking into this and protecting their beekeepers as well. This law received strong support from both our national House and Senate.

Are you an outlaw beek? Do you know one? I promise I won’t tattle.

The time is ripe to find a favorable environment to petition for the legalization of beekeeping in your city if it is currently banned. For a list of US cities still banning beekeeping check out this post from The Daily Green .

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Geum, Primrose, Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cyclamen hederifolium, Gaura, Fushia, Alyssum, Nepeta, Schizostylus, Alyssum, Veronica, Salvia, Lavender, kirengeshoma palmata, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photos

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doing The Limbo

People should enjoy your garden, not be assaulted by it.

Has this ever happened to you?


You are happily walking or jogging along, fiddling with your iPod, considering animal shapes in cloud formations or surreptitiously checking out someone’s garden through the fence and all of a sudden…SMACK…a low hanging tree branch gives you a slap in the face!


Everyone I talk to about pruning say they don’t prune because they are afraid of doing something wrong. Or in the case of trees, they think given enough time the too low limb will eventually grow upward as the tree grows taller. This is not the case in most trees. Trees put new growth and height from the top, so it keeps producing new branches from the tree tops and those low branches will stay there and get bigger and longer. Those low branches need to be pruned off, or ‘limbed up’ as we say, and while it’s not rocket science there are some things to keep in mind when pruning tree limbs.

First are the pruning tools. The 3 I use most are pictured here. From the left…Felco bypass pruners (secateurs), loppers, and finally a garden saw.



Pruners are either bypass or anvil type. I prefer bypass, which means the blade actually cuts the limb cleanly as it passes. You will need to keep them sharpened for best cuts and less bodily strain to you. Anvil types just crush the limb till it breaks. Anvil styles are more stressful on the hands and wrist and don’t make a clean cut whereby allowing bugs or disease to enter the rough cut. Most hand pruners are for stems less than 1” ( 2.5 cm) in diameter. The packaging will indicate diameter limits when you buy them.

Loppers are for stems 1” diameter or larger, needing more leverage. Or if you are like me for stems as big as you can muscle through before the vein on your forehead bulges like a rope…then you know it’s time to give it up and stop being lazy, head to the garage and get the saw.

Obviously the saw is for the big ‘uns. And this ain’t no ordinary saw that might be in the wood shop or miter box. Nope, this is your very own special gardener’s saw that has thick, wider spaced, bucked teeth that look like they are badly in need of orthodontics. They cut through a limb like butter. Or should…if it doesn’t, treat yourself to a new one.

When it comes to buying tools, you get what you pay for. And if you skimp on quality in search of price chances are you’ll pay for it in aches and pains later. I went through too many cheaper pruners before I succumbed to buying a Felco.  Not only do they have different sizes for your small or large hands, but they have a left handed style too. They sell parts, so you can FIX it rather than try to figure out how to make it into yard art after it breaks. By now I could probably have paid for 3 pair of Felco pruners for all those others that froze up or had parts that broke which I threw away because rusty tool yard art isn’t my thing. And only Sears Craftsman loppers will do, because they still have a free replacement policy for ANY Craftsman tool that breaks, guaranteed, no receipt needed, no statute of limitations, no sniveling, no sour looks. Lastly a folding saw like mine is easy to store and safely carry around in your back pocket, but be sure to get one that has a locking mechanism so the blade locks in open position so it can’t accidentally fold back onto your fingers while you’re sawing that branch. Believe me, it happens.

Now where to cut. Yes there is a sweet spot.

But this isn’t it.



Cutting only half the branch (hard to see but there are 3 in this pix) not only looks like a job undone, it leaves that remainder vulnerable to freezing, die back, breaking and bug or disease damage that can cause further problems. Plus you avoid the whole “you could poke somebody’s eye out with that thing” liability.

When we’re talking about tree branches, the sweet spot is a ring at the base of the branch where it comes out of the main trunk. The bark will look like a collar. You want to cut up to that collar (where my finger is) but not into it. Nor do you want to leave a long peg.



Remember the saying “leave a stub but not enough to hang a hat on”. Resist the temptation to cut it flush with the trunk thinking it will look better. That’s my usual problem, but I keep reminding myself it’s not about me (drat again), it’s about a healthy cut and speedy healing for the tree. There are cells in that collar that will grow and cover the edges of the cut, stopping bugs and disease from entering under the bark and causing damage to the tree.

And as importantly, don’t try to cut the whole branch off with this one cut. The weight of the 6 foot limb with leaves attached will pull down and tear off the bark you are trying to save. Cut most of the branch off first in shorter sections, working your way toward the trunk. When you are about a foot (30 cm) or so less from the trunk, then make your cut close to the collar. If you make a small cut under the branch first, then move to make the full cut from the top, you’ll again end the possibility of tearing into good bark should the limb begin to fall before you’re done.

The finished natural growth repair will look like a doughnut.



Here’s a healthy doughnut...no doubt the only doughnut that can be called healthy. Make your cut as smooth as possible, with sharp pruners, loppers or a saw. Never use a ‘tree salve’ of any kind to paint over pruning cuts. They are not helpful, necessary or needed. They are old school and can actually cause damage. Trees were designed to heal themselves.

Lastly is timing. Spring pruning stimulates growth so your perfectly pruned specimen will fill out, heal quicker and cover your cuts sooner. Many deciduous trees can be pruned when they are either in full leaf (summer) or dormant (late winter, no leaves). Fall is risky for this kind of pruning so wait, unless people are sustaining too much injury from your blasted low branches. That requires emergency efforts. Depending on which side of the equator you live and what you are pruning, timing will be different so best to consult with your local nursery. Don’t leave it up to your lawn trimming service if you use one. It’s a bit more complicated than the skills needed to cut grass and blow the debris all over your freshly washed car.

Most plants are very forgiving, but if you’re working on a prima donna and it rewards your efforts with death, just look at it as another opportunity to go nursery shopping! Remember, mangled lemons make lemonade.

This is your goal. The walkways that border your garden should be unobstructed to passersby.


No doubt they’ll be so enthralled with the splendor of your garden that they would walk right into a low hanging branch…uh…or gate left open.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cyclamen hederifolium, Gaura, blue fall crocus speciosus, Fushia, Alyssum, Nepeta, Russian sage, rose, Eupatorium ‘Chocolate (Joe Pye Weed), Schizostylus, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Veronica, Salvia, hardy geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, Lavender, kirengeshoma palmate, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’


Author’s photos