Monday, October 17, 2011

Tyler Street Bees

“First find your bees a settled sure abode…”
~Virgil, The Georgics, IV

Honey bees swarm. It’s a fact of nature. When their colony gets too big for their space they will raise a new queen to stay with the original colony and the old queen takes off with a portion of the bees to find new digs. It’s an amazing sight to behold and hear as the buzz from that many bees moving in unison is loud.

Sometimes their new home happens to be in your home. I’ve never heard of a case where the homeowner will actually go for that. Hmmm, what to do? Mostly the freaked out homeowner will just get a can of nasty spray poison and be done with them. It is understandable but unnecessary and undesirable from any viewpoint.

Happily this was not the case with a homeowner on Tyler Street. Her’s is an older home, not insulated like they are today. Homes used to be built with just big air cavities between the inner and outer walls. To remedy this holes are drilled into the outside wall and loose insulation is blown in. Then the hole is patched up. Or at least it should be. In this case the hole was not patched, nor was the cavity filled with any insulation which left a nice, protected, warm, perfectly sized space for some bees looking for a new abode. When the bees moved into this house, the homeowner wisely contacted her local beekeeping club to find help. And naturally my challenge-loving-dad answered the call.

We went out to look the situation over. Dad decided to try the cone method of removal, where he formed a cone from aluminum mesh, attached it to the house pointing up (bees naturally move upward), and provided an empty bee hive up close to give them a place to go. The worker bees can leave but they can’t get back in, so they eventually move into the hive close by, which we ‘baited’ with 2 frames of sealed brood (developing pupae) and 4 frames of honey. The queen on the other hand will not leave, which poses some problem which is why the wall must be opened up. You could leave her in there with the handful of bees that won’t leave her, close it up whereby they’d die, or you could take the wall apart after most of the bees are out to capture and transfer her into the baited hive that now contains the rest of the bees. That’s what we did since neither of us liked the idea of leaving the queen with a handful of her loyal attendants to die.

This kind of swarm capture obviously involves some structural tear out and repair to remove the bees. You may have trouble finding a beekeeper that is willing to do that because all kinds of liabilities get in the way but if you have a handyman or handywoman to work with the beekeeper, the bee removal can go quite smoothly. Such was the case with the Tyler Street bees. The homeowner had a handyfriend up for the challenge and he went to work on the wall after most of the bees had now moved into the baited hive.

And that’s what the inside of a natural honeybee colony looks like. Sheets and sheets of overlapping wax comb in which they store their honey and raise their young. Incredible sight isn’t it?

The white arc across the top is capped cells of honey. The tan cells in the center are capped brood which is the term for sealed pupae in stages of development. That is typical of how bees arrange their combs in the wild.

After the wall was opened up the sheets of wax were cut out and dispersed. The wax with brood was put into the bait hive so they could emerge and join their colony, as was some of the wax with honey. The remainder of wax with honey was put in my hive. By laying it out horizontally over the frames of a hive, the bees will clean out the honey and store it in their frames we beekeepers use in our standard hives. Then the cleaned wax was removed and melted down to sell to local entrepreneurs who make lotions and salves with beeswax.

Bees are truly remarkable. Maybe I’m just a bee geek but I never get tired of seeing these kinds of amazing situations when bees and people cross paths. All in all this whole process took over a month to complete. Once we transferred the queen and her handful of remaining bees we moved the entire colony in their new hive to my dad’s apiary. Presumably the handyman patched up the wall and made sure that hole was closed this time.

So if your path crosses with a swarm, please grab the phone and call your local bee club instead of grabbing a can of poisonous spray. You’ll do the world a favor.

In bloom in my garden today: Armeria, Ajuga, Calluna vularis ‘dark beauty’, Canna, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Caryopteris, Cyclamen, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Kniphofia, Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Lobelia, Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Russian Sage, Salvia, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), winter pansy, Rose, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed)

Author’s photos

Monday, October 10, 2011

Garden-y Baby Hats

I have never had so many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.
~John Erskine

Not all the love of gardens has to do with digging in the dirt. Being a follower of Cindy’s blog I love reading about her beautiful and creative knitting and this summer she designed the most adorable newborn caps in the style of vegetables! Lucky me, we have a new baby about to enter into our family, so I just had to order two for our new forthcoming nephew.

Aren’t they adorable? One has two actual green peas in a pod and the other is a lovely aubergine color for an eggplant. Both are complete with calyx, stem and leaf. The yarn she used is soooo soft too and the colors vibrant. How she fashioned a leaf complete with vein is beyond me but she did it.

Mom-to-be, an accomplished knitter herself loved them as I knew she would. Who wouldn’t? They are wonderful. I can’t wait to see them on baby. Yay for bringing the garden into more aspects of life!

In bloom in my garden today: Armeria, Ajuga, Calluna vularis ‘dark beauty’, Canna, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Caryopteris, Cyclamen, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Kniphofia, Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Lobelia, Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Russian Sage, Salvia, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), winter pansy, Rose, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed),

Authors photos

Monday, September 19, 2011

Harborside Gardens

Human beings find less rest in idleness than in a change of occupation…just try it. Instead of collapsing in an easy chair, try tackling your hobby. Or write that neglected letter, or help Johnny build a radio receiving set. Activity – especially creative activity – is better recreation than loafing.
~Gardner Hunting

Lately our summer weather has been glorious!

So we took the opportunity to get the kayaks out of their dusty moorage from under the front porch and put them afloat. There must be some rule somewhere that says kayaks should never be idle long enough to accumulate dust!

It was a beautiful day, low 80’s F (27 C) a slight breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Wanting to stay somewhat close to home we put them in at a local harbor not 30 minutes away. I took the opportunity to test out my new, way-too-expensive paddle which proved to be worth every penny. As we paddled around a harbor seal actually followed me around for awhile (but proved camera shy)…how cool is that?

Mostly though, as I dodged mindless, dingy (no pun intended) boaters who didn’t seem to see anything without a motor, I perused the local harbor-side homes for their gardens. I must say I was disappointed. You’d think homes facing a peaceful waterside paradise would have oodles of plants and landscaping in which to engage in peaceful tranquility. As far as I’m concerned peaceful tranquility requires gardens. Oh, there was landscaping yes, but mostly of the green shrubby sort. Lots of Nandina (heavenly bamboo), barberry and box, grasses and a hillside of heather that must be beautiful when in bloom, but not much in the way of color or artfulness. And nearly every deck that had flowers had pots of red annual geraniums. What gives? With the plethora of flowering plants available why not focus your perennial landscaping so that it will provide color, fragrance and seasonal changes? But alas out of dozens of waterside garden potential oasis’ there were only a few I felt were photo worthy.

After this disappointing lack of garden creativity I consoled myself as we docked for lunch. I can’t tell you how fun it is to ‘dock for lunch’. That’s the point of my kayak in the lower portion of the photo.

After a delicious rest we paddled again around the rest of the harbor to view gardens on the other side. Many had lounge chairs on their dock…ahhh, nice.

This one had a chiminea on the patio.

All in all a great day, and throw in participation of a group water rescue (I rescued their paddle and a water jug) of some poor tourists who somehow managed to flip over their rented canoe and I’d say the day was “very satisfactory” (as Nero Wolf would say).

In bloom in my garden today: Ajuga, Calluna vularis ‘dark beauty’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Kniphofia, Nandina, Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alpine Strawberries, Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Lavender, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini

Author’s photos

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Corn on the Cob on the Grill

Earth is here so kind, that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.
~Douglas William Jerrold, about Australia, A Land of Plenty

Have you ever grilled your corn on the cob? I’ve read about it several times but never tried it. Mainly because I’d read you have to soak them beforehand for a few hours and I never managed to be that organized to get it done. But I love grilling in the summer and today’s the day, the corn in the garden is ready.

Every year I grow my own corn from seed. When I decided to try growing it in my own garden I asked a local, long time gardener what variety she recommended. Without hesitation she said “Bodacious, that’s the only corn I’ll grow”. Local, first hand advice just can’t be beat so I figured why inquire further? Off to the store I went to find a seed packet of Bodacious. I’ve been growing it ever since. The corn is sweet, juicy and the skins are not tough.

I start the seeds indoors in April and am sure to plant them outdoors by June 1. Since there’s only two of us to cook for I grow between 6-8 stalks. Each stalk will generally produce 2 ears. Sometimes you’ll only get one ear, sometimes 3 but usually 2 is the standard.

My normal corn on the cob cooking method is no doubt atrocious to the gourmet cook so I decided this year to read up on it in my Joy of Cooking cookbook. They recommend boiling the shucked ear 2-3 minutes only or grilling in the husk. For grilling they say you don’t necessarily have to soak it and you’ll get a different flavor if you don’t. Nor do you have to shuck them or mess with the silks if you grill it. Wow, how easy can that be…just pick it off the stalk and lay it on the grill.

So that’s what I did…picked two off the stalks and after tearing off just the dried silks at the top (I thought they might burn and smoke) I grilled them for 3-4 min on the med setting, turning it on 4 sides. That equates to 12-16 minutes total. I have to say, I think closer to 10-12 minutes rather than 16 minutes would be perfectly done. I have several more ears to experiment timing with so next time I’ll try it on the low setting. Ours isn’t a sophisticated grill, just the small, portable gas type that’s great for camping and tailgate parties. It only has low, medium, and high heat settings so I don’t know any actual temperatures.

This is a brilliant way to cook fresh corn from the garden. Quick with no dishes to clean and no waiting for a big pot of water to boil! Just snap it off the stalk and lay it on the grill for 12 minutes, turning every 3. Yay!

In bloom in my garden today: Ajuga, Calluna vularis ‘dark beauty’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Kniphofia, Nandina, Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alpine Strawberries, Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), LavenderLobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini

Author’s photo

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer Zucchini Relish

Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden.
~Orson Scott Card

In the growing of zucchini, there’s ALWAYS one that gets away. I much prefer to pick them no bigger than 4-5 inches (10-12 cm) long and with the wilted flower still attached. That is a perfect size to slice up medallions for pizza or slice in half lengthwise to grill for a few minutes on the gas grill like Debra does.  That small size also has miniscule seeds and a still firm center. Catching them at that size takes daily perusal. I was sure there was one to check on…should be perfect for dinner tonight by now. But when I looked, there it was. The first of the year to quadruple in size overnight! Well over a foot long (30 cm) I contemplated tossing it into the compost but that’s such a waste. I could make it into a casserole, or bread but I didn’t want to use the oven and I didn’t have all the ingredients for Vindaloo or Quesadillas. Nor did I want anything to be that involved. I was taking it easy that day, still feeling the effects of a migraine from the day before.

Hmmm, what to do. My friend Kathy LOVES those big’uns for making her relish for canning but I only had one and she doesn’t live close by. Looking through my recipe card files…no…I neglected to get the recipe from her. Ok, this can’t be that complicated…find one in the cookbooks and try it. As you can see I have saved several pickle recipes in years past. I tried pickling some zucchini spears last year but didn’t really like them. I didn’t find a recipe that was interesting and easy for my lack of energy and patience, but reading through a dozen or so for pickles and relish, I made one up and got started.

Making a relish is perfect for trying out the new shredder attachment my sister gave me at Christmas for the KitchenAid. Without it I wouldn’t have attempted all that grating by hand.

Cool shredder! Lickety split, done in less than 5 minutes! I can see how useful this will be for lots of recipes.

I used the ‘coarse’ shredding cone. It did a pretty good job with only a few chunks left uncut.

To that bowlful I added

• 2 tsp of Celtic Sea Salt (the gray salt but pink Himalayan sea salt would be great too)

and left it to sit for an hour to draw out the water from the zucchini. Give it a stir now and then. It will become frothy. After the hour soak, I let it drain in a colander for an hour. Don’t rinse it; you don’t want to lose those healthy minerals from your sea salt nor do you want to add moisture back in.

Meanwhile make up your ‘sauce’.

In a small bowl I combined:
• ½ c apple cider vinegar (local from Rockridge Orchards, yum)
• ¾ c Sucanat (a healthier form of sugar Shari told me about)
• ¼ tsp tumeric
• 1/8 tsp ground mustard seed (prepared mustard is fine)
• 7 twists of freshly ground fenugreek (no, it’s not in any of my recipes but I love fenugreek and in it goes. It’s wonderful on any veg)

Let all that dissolve and blend while the zucchini is draining. When the zucchini finished draining I spooned it into a wide mouth quart canning jar, poured in enough ‘sauce’ just to cover, gave it a stir, capped it and put it into the refrigerator. The jar was about ¾ full, but I took this picture after we had it for dinner. I had enough sauce for probably 2 jars but didn’t have another zucchini that big. You could save it for another batch or I just poured it into a salad dressing jar, added an equal amount of olive oil for a delish salad dressing.

One recipe for ‘quick cucumber pickles’ said by the next day you can enjoy them. I wanted to spoon this relish over a grilled salmon patty for dinner so it didn’t sit that long, but by next day it should be even better….if it lasts that long. I think the salting and draining of the zucchini leaves it softened and ready to absorb the sauce quickly which is why this doesn’t need weeks to be ready to enjoy.

I must say…this was a wonderful meal. Over a bed of lettuce I layered some brown rice, the grilled salmon patty, the relish and drizzled some sauce over the lettuce and rice. Yum. I’m tempted to let several zucchini ‘get away’ now that I have this recipe. It’s a keeper. I can see this jar won’t last much more than a day or two. It will be good on just about anything.

A relish from garden to table in a matter of hours…how fresh is that!

In bloom in my garden today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alpine Strawberries, Alyssum, Armeria, Astlbe, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Bletilla pink, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Digitalis grandiflora, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Green Beans, Hosta, Huchera, Lavender, Lily, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Schizostylis ‘watermelon’, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme ‘foxley’, Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Zucchini

Author’s photos

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Abyssinian Glads Are Back!

If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener.
~J. C. Raulston

Perhaps you remember this post featuring Abyssinian glads  I wrote in 2009.

Well here’s an update, if you will, on one bit of information I wrote then. I wrote that my original bulbs purchased were from Old House Gardens , which produced such beautiful and very fragrant flowers that I was hooked on them. So wonderful they are that I am willing to consider them annuals and buy new bulbs every year since they are not hardy enough for my USDA zone 7 garden to come back strong yearly. For the 2 years following I bought bagged bulbs from the garden center at Fred Meyer (Kroger) because it saved me on shipping costs and price per bulb over all. Well the first ‘thrifty’ batch of bulbs never produced any flowers at all. I wondered if it was due the cold fall that came earlier than normal, so I chalked the failure up to the weather in that given year. The following year my newly purchased package of ‘thrifty’ bulbs were planted and grew lots of lovely leaves again but our summer was overall colder than normal and this time I only got a few flowers to enjoy. Out of about 20 bulbs I got 5 that formed blooms. And it was another bad year for weather. Both of these years also gave me fits in the vegetable garden so you can see why I blamed it on the weather. I decided to buy my 2011 stock from Old House Gardens again to see if my thrifty-ness was the problem.

Well duh! The bulbs I received from OHG are far bigger, more than twice the size of the bulbs I was getting at the garden center. Clearly the package bulbs sold to the discounters are not of blooming size. Have you bought packaged bulbs at a hardware store or nursery only to have them fail. Did you blame yourself for doing something wrong to cause the failure? If a bulb is too small it won’t bloom for a year or more till it reaches the proper size, if it grows at all. It may not have been your fault. I have even seen these same packages being sold at a pricey nursery in my area. As you can see in the photo, four bulbs of the proper size nearly fill my hand.

All I can say is I wouldn’t buy them anywhere but Old House Gardens from now on and this isn’t an endorsed plug for them. It’s buyer beware as you know and when I can I like to steer fellow gardeners to the best resources I know of. Their link has been in my sidebar since I set up this blog in 2008 because they have quality stock are nice and personable to deal with by phone or online. Have you ever heard of Garden Watchdog ? It is a site that rates mail-order companies for gardeners. It’s quite handy to know about as it can save you headaches by learning from others experiences. Good to know that Old House Gardens is in their top 30 of most highly rated companies!

Here it is early August and the first flowers are opening. This has been a bad year weatherwise for us again, but the bulbs which I planted in April grew quickly and have lush leaves despite the cold, wet, cloudy spring and early summer we have had.

Thrifty isn’t thrifty if you are getting a lesser quality product for your money and the disappointment of poor performance. It’s simply a waste of money. For two years I missed out on the gorgeous flowers and fabulous fragrance by unknowingly buying under sized bulbs. They were simply not big enough to bloom.

Forgive me OHG for ever doubting your superiority. I’ll be back next year for my bulbs. From now on my gorgeous, fragrant Abyssinian glads (Gladiolus callianthus) will be from OHG!

In bloom in my garden today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alpine Strawberries, Alyssum, Armeria, Astlbe, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Borage, Bletilla pink, Crocosmia ‘george davidson’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Digitalis grandiflora, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera),Green Beans, Hosta, Huchera, Lavender, Lily, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Oregano, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Purple poppies, Rose, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thalictrum rochebrunianum (meadow rue), Thyme ‘foxley’, Tigridia (Mexican Shell Flower), Tomato, Veronica, Wisteria, Zucchini

Author’s photos

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Garden of Memories

In the sliding glass doors of the kitchen, I catch glimpses of an old woman hobbling around in my garden, and I realize in amazement that it’s me.
~Sidney Eddison

I definitely believe my love of gardening was infused in me by my mother decades ago. She started me gardening as a child growing pumpkins in California. In my 20’s she encouraged me to plant flower beds and revive a weak rose at the tiny house I rented. From then on I never stopped gardening. For years we lived, loved and laughed in each other’s gardens, municipal gardens, garden tours and nursery excursions. We shared the love of gardens and shared our love for each other in gardens. As her garden became too difficult for her to manage, I stepped in to help. Eventually we moved most of her garden to pots on her patio, so she could sit in a chair and tend them at a more manageable level. Her beloved rose bushes and a few perennials in a raised bed stayed where they were, still within her reach. I tended the rest.

A lovely, sunny, warm Saturday in July, my mom spent her day in her garden, doing what she loved, tending her pots. The next day she laid down for a nap, never again to regain consciousness. 24 hours later she was in the presence of her Lord Jesus, new, whole and joyful. Such sweet sorrow these days.

In the 3 days before her death, I kept seeing swallowtail butterflies. Always and only swallowtails, one each day. The day before her death, at the time she fell ill in her home, I was unaware what was happening. My husband and I were on a walk and a swallowtail came right up to us and swooped so close to my face that I jerked back so it wouldn’t hit me. On some level I felt there may be some significance to all these butterflies but didn’t understand what. Brushing such weird thoughts aside I decided it was simply a hatch brought on by the sudden burst of warm weather. I just enjoyed them. Every day for 5 days following her last breath I saw a swallowtail flit through her garden or mine. One day I saw two, one in each of our gardens as I had opportunity to be in both that day. Each time I strongly felt her presence and could smile. One landed briefly on her red rose bush, then proceeded away. The day we buried her, as the graveside service concluded, a swallowtail flew in the midst of us, swooped down and up over the casket and disappeared around the side of the grave stone. I smiled as I felt her presence, understanding now how you can feel sorrow and joy at the same time.

We gardened very differently. Her's was more of a formal style with swept grounds and 4 feet between each of her 25 rose bushes “for air circulation which helps prevent disease” she said. Mine is more closely packed with perennials crowding out weeds. Sage and ajuga grow closely beneath my roses…overall a billowy English style with a perpetual layer of leaf mulch covering the soil. “Messy…I like it but can’t seem to do it, I need more neatness” she would say. Some plants she’d describe as ‘leggy’ if she thought they should be fuller. “They are airy” I’d say. "Airy" she'd mimic and we’d laugh. Right now I can’t hear her laugh in my mind. I hope one day it will come back to me.

And as all gardeners do, we shared plants. She loved the pink old fashioned coral bells (huchera) and she kept a pot of the red flowering ones which were her mother’s favorite. I have cuttings of both in my garden. She had this Mullen chaixii ‘Album’ pictured below in a large pot for years. It began to languish and she was ready for me to remove it to the compost. I always loved it and was unsuccessful with its seeds for my own garden so I took it home, planted it in the ground where it thrives and has doubled in size, rewarding the bumblebees with its nectar and pollen.

One day she enjoyed standing next to my blueberry bushes and eating them right off the bush as we talked. So much so that she bought a dwarf blueberry for a pot on her patio. This year her bush is loaded with blueberries though she’ll miss the ripening. I bet the blueberries in heaven are far better.

My Alpine strawberries came from her plants too. Having plants and cuttings from her garden in my own has taken on a new meaning for me. Her potted garden has acquired a few treasures from my garden over the years. Her pots of Geranium ‘Lily Lovell’ and Lily of the Valley came from my holdings, and some of my hardy geraniums are blooming along the front walk to their home.

I feared that joy would leave my garden for a time after her death, but it has not. I find it a peaceful, restful place still, one in which I can smile as I think of her. I don’t think my gardening will ever be the same. I think forevermore I’ll feel mom’s presence in the garden whether I’m working in mine or hers as I maintain it for as long as my dad remains in their home. And I hope every summer the swallowtail butterflies will always come bringing me peace and some of her presence as God sends them my way. He does things of love like that you know.

In bloom in my garden today: Alpine Strawberries, Armeria, Astlbe, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Bletilla pink, Borage, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne, Digitalis, Geranium, Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Hosta, Huchera, Kniphofia, Lavender, Lily, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Peas, Phygelius, Purple poppies, Primrose vailii, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine, Thyme, Tomato, Veronica, Zucchini,

Author’s photos

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Good Garden Bugs

On every stem, on every leaf,... and at the root of everything that grew, was a professional specialist in the shape of grub, caterpillar, aphis, or other expert, whose business it was to devour that particular part.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

When you see a garden bug, what’s your first reaction? Squash it at all costs? Spray it? Or study it?

Today when I came home I spied this guy on my Pat Austin rose bush, just putting forth its first apricot blooms of the year. I’d seen these beetle like bugs flying and crawling around in the past few weeks but didn’t pay much attention to them, not knowing what they were. But today I saw one on this rose, at the buds which have been chewed and deformed. I wondered if it was the culprit, so I watched it. It appeared to be eating the aphids that were there also. Hmmm, is this a good guy, I wondered?

I watched more.

Have you ever just sat and watched a bug? It is fascinating. You should try it. If I hadn’t watched it I’d have assumed it was what caused all the damage…the chewed out base of the buds, the curled buds that will open to a deformed rose. But I watched. Ok, first I had to go find my magnifying ‘reader’ glasses, THEN I watched. For several minutes. It WAS eating the aphids! SWEET! Since I do not use chemical insecticides, I rely on beneficial insects like this and birds to keep the bad bugs under control.

If you look closely you might be able to see some webbing under the leafy green that is below the bug’s abdomen. THAT is the culprit of the bud damage…a worm of some kind (I need to look that up) who had eaten into the buds and spun a cocoon. I can see it moving in there. Fascinating.

So, I have this great bug book. The fabulous photographs and descriptions of Whiney Cranshaw’s book Garden Insects of North America tells me this bug is a Rove Beetle and that they are generally predators of insects, specifically root maggots, found in soil. Boy Howdy am I glad I didn’t jump to a disastrous conclusion and squash this sweet baby before I knew what it was. From now on the Rove Beetle, a beneficial insect, is my friend.

As for that cocoon spinning worm…as soon as Rove Beetle has had its fill and moved onto another smorgasbord I’ll be removing those deformed buds and squashing that worm…it is not my friend.

In bloom in my garden today: Allium shubertii, Alpine Strawberry,Alyssum, Aquilegia, Armeria pseudarmeria latifolia ‘joystick mix’,Baptisia, Blueberries, Brunnera macrophylla,Chives,Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice,’ Daylily, Dianthus, Digitalis grandiflora, English daisy, Geum, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera , Iris, Lilac, Lobelia, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Peas, Peony , Rose, Rosemary ‘hill hardy’, Salvia, Saxifraga , Solomon’s Seal, Tellima grandiflora (fringecup),Tomato, Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower)

Authors photos

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Strawberry Vine

In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful,
~Abram L. Urban

Isn’t that the funniest looking flower you’ve ever seen? When the red cherry-like bud opens it reveals something like a pine cone to my eye but its common name is Strawberry Vine. Shisandra rubiflora is a twining vine that likes a sunny or semi-sunny spot. Twining vines do best with some sort of a trellis or arbor with an open construction so the vines can spiral themselves around the supports. It does not like to dry out and reportedly will reach 10-15 feet (3-5 m) tall. It is hardy to USDA zone 7. Originally, in 2007 I planted it in a fairly shady spot that only got sun late in the day. It didn’t settle in very well nor did it bloom, then an errant soccer ball broke it to pieces, so 2 years ago I moved it to a safer spot that gets sun till well past mid-day. This year it is taking off, is filling out and there are more blooms than ever before.

A perfect example of ‘right plant, right place’. If you have a plant that is not happy, it is possible that it is simply in the wrong conditions for its needs. Read the tag that comes with it carefully for the necessary information to make it thrive in your garden. Of special note: the tag also says vigorous. Be aware that tags are written to sell plants, not warn of possible problems. When you see the term 'vigorous' on a tag let that be a red flag. A vigorous ground cover could become an invasive pest, difficult to eradicate. A vigorous vine could swallow up what ever it comes into contact with so beware. I may have to do a lot of maintenance on this vine like I do my wisteria to keep it under control. That will remain to be seen.

All in all it is a very odd flower and one to look for if you are a plant collector with a penchant for the unusual.

My friends, I am sorry that this post is so long in coming. I never meant to keep you hanging on, wondering if I was going to write more. Lately other responsibilities have been demanding more of my attention and I have had less time to write. I still have lots of ideas to write about and am not willing to say good bye, but I will be posting much less often. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and will stay with me. I know I have enjoyed having you visit and comment. It has been so fun to see visits from around the world, making our global garden so much smaller. If you are fairly new to this blog, there are many, many more articles archived for you to read and comment on. The previous posts will remain valid and I will answer all comments or questions you may have. If you want to be notified the next time I post, you can click on the subscription button in the right column and it will come to your email.

Until we meet again, I hope those of you in the northern hemisphere have a wonderful summer enjoying your gardens, and those of you in the southern hemisphere – enjoy the respite and have fun planning what you’ll do next year in your garden. Cheers!

In bloom in my garden today: shisandra rubriflora, saxifrage, hardy geraniums, lily of the valley, iris, huchera, lilac, dutch iris, columbine, peony, geum, dianthus, solomon’s seal, sedum, daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and 'Summer Ice’, wisteria, tellima, azalea, ajuga, chives, tomato, raspberry, alpine strawberry

Author’s photo

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kale for Bees?

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!
that I had a beehive here inside my heart.
And the golden bees were making white combs
and sweet honey from my old failures.
~Antonio Machado

So, we attend the meetings of three different bee associations in the region, and at one of them last month a fellow mentioned that he lets his kale go to flower for the bees. Hmmm, I got to thinking, I grow kale, the Tuscan variety (aka Dino kale or Black kale), and usually when it begins to flower I yank it out and start the garden over again. I didn’t know bees would go for it. This spring, if you can call it that, has been so cold and wet for so long that I’ve not been able to get any new seedlings other than peas and leeks in the ground. The garlic and remaining leeks have wintered over well, the asparagus is coming up, the alpine strawberries are blooming and now the kale is in full bloom.

Woo hoo! Not only do the bees love it but the hummingbirds are going for it too! Not in droves but the other day I saw a hummer flitting around and sampling all the flowers. In addition to honey bees and hummingbirds, there were also other different tiny pollinator bees going for it. Check out the honey bee in the picture here. Honey bees have shorter tongues than bumblebees and hummingbirds who could easily reach into such a deep flower. These flowers are a little too tight for the bees to get their heads in far enough for their tongues to reach the nectar so the smart little bee is accessing it from between the petals from the backside of the bloom nearer the stem end. Smart huh?

Who knew?? Not me, that’s for sure but I learned something new that I will continue in the years to come. Leave the kale to bloom for your pollinators.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alpine strawberries, Bergenia, Ajuga, Kale, Tulips, Geum, Erythronium ‘pagoda, Fritillaria, Brunnera macrophylla, Anemone nemorosa, Dicenta alba (white bleeding heart), Skimmia, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Rhododendron, Mahonia, Clematis, Wood Hyacinths, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy),

Author’s photos

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Take thy spade,
It is thy pencil;
Take thy seeds, thy plants,
They are thy colours.
~William Mason, The English Garden, 1782

Are you one that thinks red and magenta shouldn’t go together?

Perhaps Bergenia ‘Evening Glow’ will change your mind. The color combination is truly eye-candy, grabbing your attention from across the garden. When I originally purchased this plant, the tag was labeled Bergenia ‘Abend Glut’ which is German for Evening Glow. For some reason all the tags I see now have been translated to Evening Glow. I think I liked the German vernacular better but it seems to be changed, at least here. Look for either to be sure to find the correct hybrid.

Bergenia, also known as ‘pig squeak’ (I have no idea why) or ‘elephants ears’, is hardy in USDA zones 1-9. This variety seems to do better in my garden with more sun, providing they don’t completely dry out too often. I have some in less sun but they don’t bloom as well, the leaves are smaller and they don’t have as much winter color. Those planted in morning sun or early afternoon sun with partial shade in the hottest part of the day give me the best blooms. You may want to experiment with locations to find the best spot in your garden. As always, the further north you live from the equator the more sun these plants can handle. If you live in a hot region, try them in some afternoon shade or light dappled shade all day. If they get too much sun, you could see shriveling leaves, spotting on the leaves, crispy leaf edges, and/or general unhappiness in the plants appearance.

Left are the lovely, large leaves of ‘Evening Glow’ …green in summer turning a gorgeous wine color in winter’s chilly temps (below). The more winter sun they get the more the leaves color up. This variety also keeps its leaves all year. While other varieties I’ve seen become a mass of dried or mushy leaves after a freeze, ‘Evening Glow’ stays strong in the garden. The photo below was taken in March after an especially cold, icy, snowy winter; obviously unaffected.

Bergenia is a great ground cover filling in to form a nice mass of large leaves. Our city has it in these sidewalk plantings. It can handle a little abuse from pedestrians concentrating on texting when they should be watching where they’re walking. Also when the clump is established it can take some drying out. This city planting is not irrigated.

To divide your mass, simply begin lifting the plants out of the ground with the help of a garden fork. They’ll break into smaller chunks. You can trim the rootstock to manageable size and plant them.

Even if you don’t get any smaller roots with the main rootstalk, it’ll root out. A piece as small as seen below will be fine, providing you don’t let the surrounding soil dry out. They store a lot of water and energy in the rootstalk, stems and leaves.

Plant it and water it in…notice how the leaves look chopped off in the next photo? They are. That piece of root can’t support full leaves anymore so cut them in half. That will allow the energy to go into producing new roots and not be wasted on trying to keep the whole leaves hydrated. It will put out new leaves as the roots grow and strengthen. Cut all the leaves in half on all your root pieces, even if they look like the bigger one. This practice also helps the plants stability. On windy days leaves can act as a sail, wiggling the plant out of the soil. Cutting the leaves down (but not off) keep the plant stable so new roots won’t be damaged while they are trying to grow.

Not all varieties are as nice as ‘Evening Glow’. I used to have Bergenia ‘Silber Licht’ aka ‘Silver Light’. The leaves did not seem to be as sturdy so was constantly eaten by slugs, not as nice in winter and they spotted with red spots. It’s white flowers spotted too so I got rid of it and divided my ‘Evening Glow’ to replace it.

So now what do you think of red and magenta together? Bergenia ‘Evening Glow’…it’s a stunner!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Bergenia, Ajuga, Kale, Tulips, Geum, Erythronium ‘pagoda, Fritillaria, Brunnera macrophylla, Anemone nemorosa, Dicenta alba (white bleeding heart), Skimmia, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Rhododendron, Mahonia, Clematis, Wood Hyacinths, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy), violet primrose

Authors photos

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taming the Vine

A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
~Frank Lloyd Wright

Vines are a great way to cover an eye sore or add vertical plant interest to a small garden. Just about every garden has something ugly or boring that could be covered with a lovely vine. A dull fence, a neighboring garage that you’d rather not see or perhaps you’d like to add an arbor over your gate.

Are you afraid of vines after having seen a wisteria or English Ivy (Hedera helix) swallow up someone’s house? Not all vines are rampant thugs nor do they have to take over the house. I am going to describe how I prune 3 of my vines, Solanum, Wisteria and Fuchsia in my yard. This will be general pruning advice for many (not all) woody, deciduous, perennial vines.

The above picture is of a Solanum crispum glasnerium (Blue Potato Vine) taken in late summer. The trellis it is on is 16 feet (5.2 m) long and 7 feet (2.1m) tall. As you can see the plant covers it and rises several feet above it. In my locale it is in perpetual bloom from May well into December. Only our coldest sustained deep freeze will stop the blooms and make the leaves fall. It is a fast grower with no pest problems that I’ve experienced. After you initially train the twining branches where you want them, it is no work at all aside from annual pruning. Hummingbirds love it and I see the squirrels eat the green and orange berries in winter. I’ve had two of these vines. Only once, on a previous vine did I see sucker growth coming up a foot away from the plant. I’ve never had suckering from the second vine. It may or may not be a problem for you.

Above is the same vine after I prune it in March. Initially I tied the young pliable vines to a fence or trellis where I wanted them to grow and thicken. It blooms on new wood, so every year when you prune you will keep only those branches that will create a main framework for you. All the rest, prune out.

Next is my wisteria vine, trained into a ‘standard’. The photo above is in bloom, below is pruned prior to blooming.  Twenty five years ago when we bought this house it was climbing over the roof, into the siding and about to swallow the back stoop. It is not self supporting. The trunk would have to be much thicker, so I have it supported by a cut willow branch. Wisteria is a bit trickier to prune. They bloom on old wood. The leaf buds come out at the same time as the flower buds. The flower buds will begin to elongate with a scale-ly appearance, while the leaf buds will stay tightly closed. Only then do I prune the wisteria, if it needs it, so I can tell if I am about to cut off flower buds. If your wisteria is really a big mess, you may have to sacrifice flower buds for a year to get it back into shape.

If you don’t like to putter in the garden on a weekly basis do not plant a wisteria. While this type of pruning easily keeps it to a manageable size and shape, it sends out new tendrils all throughout the summer that will quickly turn it into a mess. Be prepared to cut them off weekly to keep ahead of it.

Here’s a great example of another pruned wisteria. The main framework of it is trained along the front porch and around the side of this house. All the rest is removed each spring.

The wisteria below is out of control, reaching into the gutters and under the siding. It could be cleaned up and pruned the same as the one pictured above.

Next is my Fuchsia magellanica ‘hawkhead’ after pruning. A gorgeous fuchsia with a small lavender flower which the hummingbirds love. Left alone it will be a bushy shrub, but you can form it into an upright small tree. It took a few years to get it this big (over 6 feet/1.8m) and for the vines to thicken where I wanted them. When it’s in full leaf and flower, it covers the whole area. It is not self supporting. I use green flexible tie ‘tape’ to keep the main stems tied to the support which is an aluminum fence post, cemented in and painted black. I cut all the small branchlettes off the main network of branches in March or when I see new green leaf growth emerging.

• The time to prune your woody vine is when it is dormant but about to break dormancy or just as it is breaking dormancy. If it is still dormant there will be no leaves or buds opening. The leaf buds may be ‘swelling’, getting ready to ‘break’ but no color green is yet showing. The hardest time to prune is when it’s fully leafed out. It is really hard to see you’re progress with all those leaves in the way. In my region, late winter early spring is the best time to prune deciduous, woody vines.

• You need to know if the vine you are buying blooms on ‘old wood or new wood’. It is an important question to ask at the nursery. Wisterias, for example, bloom on old wood meaning they set their flower buds the previous summer and if you prune too hard you’ll cut off those flower buds. The buds will not necessarily be visible to you but they have formed in the stem nonetheless. A climbing rose on the other hand blooms on new wood so you can prune those in the spring with no fear of cutting off this year’s blooms. They set their flower buds on the new growth. I prune climbing roses the same as the Solanum. Leave the long, main arching canes, trim off the small stuff and cut out any dead canes.

• When you are cutting, think framework. Naturally, you’ll cut to a smaller overall size than you want the plant to be when in full leaf/flower. It may take you a few years of pruning to gauge that, as you prune and see how big it becomes when leafed out.

• When you are vine shopping from a reputable nursery, ask for pruning advice from the nursery staff and ask how ‘vigorous’ the vine is you are considering. The term vigorous on a plant tag is the grower’s cheeky way to get you to buy what is possibly a thug, plant or vine. Vigorous often translates to invasive. Yes, really. Ask a lot of questions before you buy, and if the staff can’t answer, find another nursery. In my region, early to mid May is often when nurseries offer vines at sale prices.

As I mentioned above, this advice is for some vines. Not all can be pruned this way. Clematis vines for example, depending on the type of Clematis you have, it can either be cut down to the ground or must not be pruned at all, except to remove dead stems. It’s best to ask the nursery personnel for specifics regarding what you are buying.

A very important post script. If you live and garden in the USA, please do not buy, plant, or even consider English Ivy (Hedera helix). On parts of the west coast Hedera helix is listed on the noxious weed register and now illegal for many (but not enough) nurseries to sell. The seeds are spread via air mail, courtesy of soaring birds. They are fast growers and hardy, quickly climbing over anything. It is smothering and choking out our native woodland shrubs. Not only does it grow up those pretty stone and brick estate mansions, it grows up our forest’s trees and can girdle them, which kills them. There are many grass-roots organizations spearheading its eradication in our forests, woodlands and wetlands, but they are a drop in the bucket of what’s needed. The mature, waxy leaves repel even the most deadly herbicidal sprays. It is best battled by hand. If a gardening ‘expert’ tells you to plant English Ivy for soil erosion control…find another ‘expert’ for a more educated solution. There are many, many better options, specific for your region. Please do not settle on English Ivy.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Daphne caucasica 'Eternal Fragrance', Anemone nemerosa 'robinsoniana', brunnera macdrophylla, Mahonia, Corylopsis veitch (Winter Hazel), Rhododendrons, Clematis, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Hyacinths, Tulipa turkistanica, Hepatica, Daffodil, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy), violet primrose

Author’s photos