Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Potted Garden

"When in these fresh mornings I go into my garden before anyone is awake, I go for the time being into perfect happiness. In this hour divinely fresh and still, the fair face of every flower salutes me with a silent joy. . . . All the cares, perplexities, and griefs of existence, all the burdens of life slip from my shoulders and leave me with the heart of a little child that asks nothing beyond the present moment of innocent bliss."
~ Celia Thaxter, 1835-1894, New England poet and author of An Island Garden

The quote from Celia Thaxter above is one reason why I love gardening so. Years ago, at a particularly difficult time in my life, I stepped out my back door to begin yet another emotionally dark day. My burdens were too heavy. As I turned from the door toward the garage I heard my bubbling fountain, which caused me to look up. I hadn’t been looking up enough. I saw the sun was shining and my garden was there…in all it’s restful beauty. For a brief moment I stood there, looking and listening to the sounds of my garden and some of the burden slipped off my shoulders. I so needed that in that moment.

Everyone can experience that peace from a garden, whether it’s their own garden or a municipal garden or a park to visit. You don’t have to have acres of land or a big yard to have a garden. Many a garden is made up of pots. Big pots, small pots, lots of pots or just a few pots. The potted garden is just the thing if you are limited on time (far less weeding), space (think of balcony gardens), physical ability to reach the ground (easier digging and accessible by wheelchair) and easier to install than raised beds.

However there are some things to keep in mind if your garden is in pots.

Water – pots can dry out faster than the ground, so you may be watering more often. You’ll need to dig down into the root area to see if the pot needs watering. Just looking at or touching the soil surface, which dries fastest, is not indicative of what the moisture level is at the roots. There are moisture meter probes available. I haven’t had the greatest success with them but they may be just the thing for you. I just worm my finger down into the soil an inch or two to test for moisture. Hanging pots or moss lined wire pots may need to be watered daily, especially if they are in windy or warm sunny places.

Good drainage is life or death to potted plants. Roots need oxygen. Oxygen increases as soil dries out and creates air pockets. In the case of most plants if the soil never dries out, even just a little bit, the roots will drown and rot. I do not recommend keeping saucers under pots outside. The saucer will hold water which will wick back up keeping the soil too wet. Remove all saucers and if necessary add ‘pot feet’ under your pots. Pot feet lift the pot up off the ground so water will flow freely out. Depending on the surface your pots are on you may or may not need them. They come in many styles, shapes and sizes. You can buy specialty feet or just use a few bricks or flat stones. Rolling trays allow you to move your pots but if they are solid like a saucer, drill holes in them so you won’t have any sitting water. I find covering the hole with a small square of window screen material before you add the soil works better than stones or pottery chards which can shift and plug up the hole.

Potting soil – Since I am an organic gardener I buy only potting soils and compost from organic sources. Organic soil companies are tested regularly so you can be sure you are not putting your plants into soil with petrochemicals that will leach out into your surrounding environs or taint your pot of veggies. I do not recommend any bagged soil or compost that has fertilizers added. You don’t know what they are using and the term ‘organic’ is being tossed around too freely and deceptively in the bagged soil industry. Buy your own organic fertilizers from reputable sources and add it yourself depending on the specific needs of the plant(s) in you pot. Potting soil has a neutral ph so if you have a pot for acid loving plants like blueberries, you’ll want to add some spent coffee grounds to raise the acidity level of the soil, and you’ll fertilize with an acid loving plant fertilizer.

Fertilizer - There is no such thing as one fertilizer fits all. Depending on what you are growing, you’ll want an organic fertilizer that will boost flower and fruiting production, another to boost nitrogen for leaf production. Pots may need fertilizer added more frequently than garden beds because the available nutrients get pulled into the roots or flushed away with watering. Organic fertilizers break down more slowly than chemical fertilizers so you’ll be using a safer ingredient and fertilizing less often. Once in early spring and once in summer are enough for dry organic fertilizers, but synthetics may need to be added monthly or in 6 week intervals.

The pots themselves – I prefer terracotta or glazed pots. I just like the look of them, but they are really heavy when filled, so they stay where they are. Terracotta can chip and crack. Every winter my terracotta pots show a bit more freeze damage. Some glazed terracotta is marketed as frost proof and will last longer with little or no damage depending on how fierce your winters are. If you need to move your pots, plastic may be perfect for you. Plastic is lighter and easier to move but deteriorates from the sun and becomes brittle over time. If your potted garden has perennials that you want to survive cold winters you’ll need to move them to protected areas. Pots do not provide the insulation from freezing to the root zone like ground soils.

Moving pots - even if you don’t plan to move your pots, there are times it seems it must be done. If you are not Ms/Mr. Brawny, don’t happen to have a Mr. Brawny nearby, or are too impatient to wait for him to get his act together, treat yourself to a handy hand truck. Mine is small but has a 300 pound capacity. Try to find one with bowed support rungs in the back so your pot doesn’t go sliding off as you round a corner. You may want to strap your pot to it for better security. I wouldn’t get one with inflatable tires either, they always seem to be flat when you need it most. Solid, hard rubber tires or the like are fine, and the bigger the better if you have to go over bumpy ground.

For the sake of keeping this post from being pages and pages long I’ve not elaborated too much on several points. If I’ve left you with unanswered questions, please drop me a line in comments so we can chat more. Or take your questions to your local nursery where they will have pot feet and fertilizers and what you need to have an awesome potted garden.

May your garden be one of many sanctuaries of rest for you as mine is for me.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: sadly nothing to report

Author’s photo

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cheer

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."
~ Thomas Cooper, American scientist and patriot, 1759-1839

This year’s winter bouquet is far more simple than last year's. Two weeks ago we had fierce winds so there were lots of downed limbs for me to choose from. I gathered Douglas Fir and Cedar for the backdrop. In the center I put stems of Skimmia japonica which I cut from the garden. It is in bud and the bud’s stems are reddish, giving the color. A collar of gathered silvery lichen finishes off the base. I had some red orbs to add to it but in the end I liked it much better without them. There’s beauty in the simplicity this time I think.

As the year draws to a close, I think of all of you who visited me this year. Thank you very much for supporting my blog. I hope it has inspired you in some way and I look forward to spending more time with you next year. Until then…Merry Christmas to you all.

May His love and presence fill you to overflowing and bring you a most joyous Christmas and a wonderful new year!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: sadly none to report

Author’s photo


Friday, December 17, 2010

Garden Companions

“A true friend can multiply your joy and divide your sorrow.”
~Bruce Bickle and Stan Jantz

What a day, what a day! It was a gorgeous day to be in the garden on Monday. The buckets of rain ended but the unseasonably warm temperatures from the tropical jet stream that remained lured me out. It felt like March! First I went for a long walk, soaking up the sun. Then I brought my orchids out for a thorough cleanup and repotting, a messy job I’d rather do outside than in. A bit of sweeping and trimming needed to be done as well, and it was then I noticed bulbs pushing their way up. I saw the green tips of crocus, colchicum, and daffodils.

While the birds were singing and flitting about, I got to thinking of all the garden companions I’ve had visit this year. I’m never alone when I’m in my garden. Here’s a few of the many friends that kept company with me this year.

Now the rain has returned but for the morning at least the bees were flying and happy, birds were singing and happy, cat was galloping around and happy and I was happy. Now the orchids are happy. What a day!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Primrose, Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance' and 'Summer Ice'

Some photos courtesy of Pat Chissus
The rest are authors photos

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Feed the birds, Tuppence a bag…
~Mary Poppins

Just in case you need any more reasons not to do big-time fall cleanup in your garden, perhaps this will do.

I looked out my kitchen window and saw this song sparrow, feasting on the delectable seeds left on the seed head of the Echinacea that I didn’t cut down in fall. Do you see the cone behind it just to the right? Every seed is completely devoured, leaving only the core, which I will compost in the spring when I do my garden cleanup.

A delightful sight I wouldn’t want to miss! Juncos and Chickadees also partake of the Echinacea seeds left on the stalk as well as the plant just to its left. That Caryopteris is also full of seeds which these birds feed on all winter and leaving the branching structure intact can also provide roosting shelter during storms. The untidy winter garden is a veritable smorgasbord for the birds. Keep them coming in the winter and they will come in the spring and summer to get those bugs that bug you.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ are both eking out a few new blossoms.

Author’s photo

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.

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 cafés 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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's in Your Pot?

Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. ~Mrs. C.W. Earle, Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, 1897

Fall is here in my world and with the colder weather and nights dipping to freezing already, many garden and potted plants are taking a hit. It’s time to refresh your pots, add cheer to your front door or patio and fill in a few holes in the garden. I took a stroll around my district, looking for great fall combination plantings to share with you. I don’t know about you but sometimes I need to be inspired. Usually in years past, front porches have been a treasure trove of ideas around where I live. This year, not so much! I did find a couple of bed planting combinations but they were both commercial establishments. Wow, more evidence of people spending less? Or is everyone just too busy? Or is it we are not ready to let go of summer? Hmmm, I wonder.

So here is one of what I found that was photo worthy. I think it’s my favorite.

The standard greens and purples of a Kale planting is livened up with what looks like spikey New Zealand Flax (Phormium). You could also use the burgundy Cordyline to achieve a similar look but for a smaller scale like a pot. What I love about this is the Dusty Miller. It really adds some brightness to an otherwise dark grouping.

Next is another kale display but with a geometric design of color blocks and blue pansies for a texture change. Truly I’d have chosen a creamy white or soft yellow pansy color but I was not the designer. Somehow the blue color looks off to me.

For cool weather displays Kale is kind of a standard and yet somehow I don’t get bored with it. To liven up your kale planting, you can choose from Aster, winter Pansy, Cyclamen, Chrysanthemum and Heaths and Heathers. All make nice textural combinations. And remember to leave a space in your pot to tuck a little gourd or pumpkin. And a casual tumble of pumpkins around the base is nice too. Hopefully next year will bring more ideas for me to pass on to you. But here’s one more I couldn’t resist sharing with you. Not a garden but adorable no less…

Dancing ghosts! The imagination of people never ceases to amaze me! Happy Halloween!

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

Authors photos

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sweet Cyclamen

Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.
~Karel Čapek, The Gardener's Year, translated by M. and R. Weatherall, 1931

The best kept secret in my garden is the Cyclamen hederifolium (hedera leafed, of Turkey, SE Europe).

I know that’s a mouthful of a name but I know of no common name with which to ease your discomfort. However, Cyclamen you probably know. Think of the large flowering florist cyclamen which is Cyclamen persicum (of Persia, Iran) that are on sale now in cooler climates for indoor or protected outdoor plantings. Locally this time of year, the large flower florist cyclamen is used a lot for commercial indoor and outdoor plantings but they are not good for hardy re-bloom year after year in the garden. Here these are just annuals. They sport large flowers in white, reds and pinks, have showy leaves and are considered annuals here in the northern US states.

But today I’m talking about hardy Cyclamens that are smaller flowered and will survive winters to USDA zone 5 so they are perennials here. They are a secret in my garden because for a portion of the summer they are dormant and covered by other perennials. In late winter the gorgeous, green leaves with silver marbled patterning come out, and are showy till mid summer. Then after the leaves die down and a brief period of dormancy, the flowers make their entrance in fall when some surrounding perennials are wilting from the cold. They just seem to appear…I’m always caught by surprise. Oh! The Cyclamen is blooming. The picture does not do it justice…it is a must see in real life.

There are many varieties, all reportedly hardy in USDA zones 5-9, except for the persicum variety (the florist ones). According to Sunset Garden writers the hardy Cyclamen grow best in rich, porous soil with lots of humus (an annual mulch of your leaf raking can give you this, especially if you don’t walk on your beds). The tubers like to be planted fairly shallow, just about ½ inch (1-2 cm) below the soil surface, but understand if you live in a colder zone than my zone 7-8 you may have to plant them deeper. Be sure to consult with knowledgeable nursery staff for your regions specific requirements. These Cyclamen self sow, which for this diminutive, non-invasive treasure is desirable. I don’t think you can have too many and they are easy to transplant the pea sized starts the following year to areas not in reach of the ‘seed toss’. If you look at your plant after the flowers have died down, you’ll see the seed head, coiled up like a spring. So cool! I imagine it must give a good fling at some point as I’ve found new starts coming up within several feet of the original tuber.

Some varieties of Cyclamen may sport leaves with the blooms. C. hederifolium has just a smattering of leaves during flowering. All have interesting leaves for a nice show when not in bloom. Some flowers are fragrant, but I really have to get my nose close to catch the scent, and since they are only about 3” (7-8 cm) above the ground your flexibility will really be tested. Shari can help you with that.

Mine have been in the ground for several years. I noticed a few years ago, even though I planted it below the soil surface, the top of the tuber is now exposed. It seems to have moved itself up. I used to worry about this and dig and replant when bulbs would do that. My Lycoris did it too. After replanting them, within a few years they would be up and above ground a bit again. I’ve left them alone for several winters now and they always come back, they must know what they want more than I do.

As for pests, I’ve never noticed any bug, slug or snail damage on Cyclamen. They reportedly prefer dry, dappled shade or full shade areas, so under trees or largely un-watered shady spots will make them happy.

The time to choose and buy C. hederfolium is either in spring when the potted selections will be in full leaf or in fall when they are in bloom. Some of the leaf patterning is so beautiful you may choose the variety on this alone. If you want to see the flower to make your selection…waste no time…head to your nearest nursery NOW!

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

Author’s photos

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkins and Poppies...It Must Be Fall

It is good to be alone in a garden at dawn or dark so that all its shy presences may haunt you and possess you in a reverie of suspended thought.
~James Douglas, Down Shoe Lane

I love growing plants in the garden that keep giving long after the plants have become compost in my bin. Every fall I look forward to making a fun arrangement at my front door using the seed pods from the purple poppies that bloom in the summer. I also like to grow the mini pumpkins in white or orange up a trellis. This year I grew ‘Baby Boo’ which is the white variety. Combine them with a fun Halloween plaque and the front door is ready to greet the October 31st revelers seeking candy treats for their tricks.

Purple poppies are gorgeous in summer.

The seed pods ripen in August and September. As they dry and the tops open I shake out all the seeds and save them for the next year and to share with friends.

Add a terracotta pot with the plaque and voila! This years fall decoration that will last till it’s time to change it to something for Christmas.

Happy Autumn!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: cimcifuga ‘Brunette’, colchicum, gaura, blue fall crocus speciosus, fushia, alyssum, coryopsis, nepeta, Russian sage, rose, eupatorium ‘chocolate’, oregano, Schizostylus, mullen chaixii ‘Album’, veronica, salvia, hardy geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, lavender, kirengeshoma palmata, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photos

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm OK...Really I Am

Hi Friends!

Sorry for the lapse in posts. Lest you worry that I’ve fallen into my rain barrel and can’t climb back out, worry not. I am still gardening and keeping bees, and I want to write about it, but I am having technical difficulties with blogger.com. We seem to have differing opinions about the easiest way to upload photos, and what fun is a gardening blog without photos? Please be patient with me as I explore my options and remedies. Until then, I trust you are raking your fall leaves for mulch and smiling every time you see a honeybee. Oh, and did you remember to buy and plant Abyssinian Glads this spring? Mine are blooming now…ahhh the fragrance!

Happy Fall season to you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's Fair Time!

Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand.
~Native American Saying

One of the many fun things beekeepers get to do is volunteer to share their enthusiasm for bees with others. And in my experience, the beekeepers booth at the local county fair is hard to beat. Every year my dad and I volunteer at our local beekeeping club’s booth for a few hours for a couple days. It’s a hit with school kids and adults alike. The kids are the most enthusiastic, so eager to learn and see the queen. There is always an observation frame with bees and a queen going about their business so people can see first hand what it’s all about and what goes on inside the hive. Some are afraid of bees when they get there, but usually are no longer afraid when they leave.

In the 'box' the kids are looking at a frame of bees and their queen.  It is ventilated, and we put honey and water in daily for feed.  The frame is changed out with new bees and queen from a different hive every other day so as not to stress out the bees.  The bees are not harmed by this.

If your county fair is awesome enough to have a beekeeping booth, please stop by and learn all you can about honey bees. I think you’ll be fascinated.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: ajuga, colchicum, hardy geranium, primorse, schizostylus, pumpkin 'Baby Boo', tomato, basil, oregano, zucchini, cucumber, black mondo grass, lavender, borage, veronica, fushia, rose, nepeta, salvia, russian sage, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, echinacea, liatris, coryopsis, caryopteris, begonia, alyssum, lobelia, heather, hosta, gallardia, Star Jasmine, anise hyssop, gaura

Author's photos

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Sweetest Crop of Them All

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best…" and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called”.
~ A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh

Have you ever given much thought to the honey you buy? Like where it came from or how it was actually made? I’ve spoken about honey now and then in this blog so since now is when much of the nations honey supply is being gathered by beekeepers from coast to coast, I thought you may be interested to see how it all works.

Bees gather the flower nectars and bring them back to the hive.

They mix the nectars with enzymes from their saliva and deposit the liquid in the cells. Then they evaporate some of the moisture out of the nectar by fanning their wings in the hive. When the moisture content is just right they cap the cells with wax for lengthy storage. In the photo above, the white stuff is the wax cappings over the ripe honey. The cells in the background contain honey that still needs some evaporation and/or filling.

Then I come along and take just some of those finished frames of honey. I must leave a certain number of pounds for them to use for their winter food. If I take too much I could cause them to starve and die over the winter months. The presence of honey in the hive also helps to equalize sudden temperature changes. In the Pacific Northwest each hive will need approx 60 pounds for winter survival. I usually leave more in case of a long, cold spring.

Then I scratch off the wax cappings, put the frames in an extractor and spin the honey out by centrifugal force.

The honey is then sieved to remove bits of wax and decanted into jars.

Isn’t it beautiful? I think it is. And it is ever so sweet and wonderful to eat. Just ask Winnie the Pooh.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: green beans, tomato, basil, oregano, zucchini, cucumber, black mondo grass, lavender, borage, veronica, fushia, rose, nepeta, salvia, russian sage, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, echinacea, liatris, coryopsis, caryopteris, begonia, alyssum, lobelia, heather, hosta, gallardia, Star Jasmine, anise hyssop, gaura

Bee on Chive photo courtesy of Pat Chissus
the rest are the author's photos