Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Spring Ramble


On an afternoon ramble I found:


  yellow epimediums


cherry blossoms


daffodils


tulips the color of sunset


a wood poppy that planted itself next to the cowslip primroses


 silene 'Rolly's Favorite'


fresh growth on the sweetspire


toad lily takeover


heart leaved asters and pots waiting to be filled


golden alexanders (zizia aptera)


'Starry Night' violas


bleeding heart 


red epimediums


clematis around the birdhouse


lots of buds on the lilacs


purple leaved euphorbia growing between the epimediums and wood anemones


pots ready for summer

Saturday, March 24, 2012

And Then There Were Four

"The one best place to bury a good dog 
is in the heart of his master."



A small scrap of a dog, he paced nervously in front of the gate, his cagemate whining and pawing at the the metal fencing. He stood as tall as his long, thin legs could reach, sticking his little nose through the chain link and into my waiting palm. Surrendered by an abusive former owner, Chance was six years old and bonded to the chubby daushund mix, Baby, who waited anxiously for me to slip through the gate and into their cage. I slid to the floor and folded my legs around them both. Chance clambered over Baby's broad back as she licked my jeans, climbing up my chest like a goat. At twelve pounds, he looked like a chihuahua on stilts, his twig-like legs out of proportion to the rest of him. I stroked his ears, murmured platitudes, and then took them both home.
  
At six and eight, they were considered senior dogs and needed to be adopted together. Lucky to be placed at a no-kill shelter, their chances of being adopted were slim. Chance growled like a gremlin when excited, his trachea partially collapsed from being beaten. One dog soon became five but Chance had claimed me as his. Lying in the grass while I gardened, he would doze, waking at my slightest movement to watch me as I puttered. He slept against my chest when I read on the couch, small contented sighs sputtering to the surface as he slipped off to sleep.

He'd been listless all week, mopey and out of sorts. He needed his teeth cleaned and I worried about infection. His little belly was rounder than usual and I prayed silently as I headed for the vet. Tumors circled his organs, his liver bulbous with growth. His abdomen taut with fluid and blood, the vet diagnosed an aggressive liver cancer with no cure or treatment. The family gathered and we said our farewells with Baby at our side. She sniffed his paws and looked away. I'm spreading  his ashes in the garden, where he loved to pee on the plants and harass the squirrels, his tiny paws sidestepping the flowers as he zigzagged through the beds. Dog heaven, I am convinced, contains a garden, squirrels, large grasshoppers perfect for pouncing on, warm blankets, and lots of bacon.


Chance was a rat terrier we adopted  five years ago.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Scarlet G: The Heretics Guide to Gardening

I've come to realize lately that to some gardeners, I'm a soulless heretic. Despite my worm composting, organic methods, and native plants, I should be emblazoned with a scarlet G because my small yard is full of grass. Grass stretches from my patio to the garden that surrounds my lawn like a circle, providing a playground for my five  dogs and a spot to put the hammock. It will never win Yard of the Month and unless you're drunk, you'd never think it was a golf course. While I chop away at it every year as my garden slowly expands, I'll never eliminate it completely. A new bed was added last fall and as much as I relished digging up the grass to stuff the soil with perennials, I kept the needs of my dogs in mind as I planned.  It's much easier to play fetch in grass than in a perennial bed.

Trying to combine a garden with five dogs that require a play area can be challenging, but one of my favorite gardening books makes it easy. The Southern Living Landscape book is a meat and potatoes guide to landscaping your property. Written by Steve Bender, it's design ideas are accessible and most include a lawn. Page after page of gorgeous gardens framed by lawns spill from its spine. Having lived in the south for almost 10 years, memories of magnificent gardens with grass paths and beautiful front lawns seep like tea into my designs and I find myself unapologetic about the two small patches of green I keep on my property.


A small lawn of cut grass helps us control ticks and the diseases they carry. A weekend spent in bed one spring while a bulls eye rash spread on my thigh was matched by a week spent in tears while one of my dogs fought a deadly tick-borne disease. As I garden and dream, I turn to this book without feeling guilty for my grass. Hand me the scarlet G, if you will, but don't expect remorse.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

25 Bags of Love

What's heavy, squishy, and only cost $1.28? A big bag of Moisture Max potting soil from Lowe's!! Apparently last years stock is way too out of fashion to be sold next to the shiny new bags of 2012 soil, so Lowe's is selling them for almost nothing.  An email from my garden goddess friend, Annemarie, sent me racing to Lowe's yesterday to  see if there were any left. 25 bags later I have more soil than I might need. Sounds like an excellent reason to buy more pots! Hooray!!! One more thing - if you are active duty or retired military, you save an extra 10%. Just bring your military ID. :o)


I don't normally buy Moisture Max soil since I try to keep my containers xeric, but this gives me more freedom to grow moisture loving plants without having to worry about the soil drying out too quickly. For my container plants that love to be dry, like penstemon, I'll just mix some soil I already have with a bit of this to keep them happy. The 2012 bags of soil are $7 a piece.


A few of the bags had popped open, but duct tape and a big plastic bag solved the problem. One of our local grocery stores recycles plastic bags, too! Yay!


 A still dormant lespedeza grows in this spot between the driveway, rain barrel, and the Prague viburnums.


I'm redesigning/rethinking my container gardens and have been slowly replacing my ugly, broken pots with nicer fiberglass and ceramic ones. These are from Home Depot. I can hardly wait to fill these with soil and plants!


I bought several greenish ceramic ones in various styles at Home Goods.


An older pot sits inside one of the newer ones to protect the rose from extremely cold winter temps. But we barely had any winter so the rose came through unscathed. I'm going to hide the sloppy slip job on this pot by putting another pot in front of it. The raised design is on both sides so it will still show. It's hard to tell in this picture, but this pot is huge!


This is one of my favorite new pots, purchased at a local garden center. The rim reminds me of pie crust. Most of my pots are clustered together on the patio, waiting to be arranged around the porch, patio, and garden.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Seed Starting for Zombies

Every year as seed catalogs catalogs arrive I fantasize about starting seeds indoors. Maybe I'll turn the unfinished room in the basement where I make worm compost into an indoor potting shed, complete with grow lights and a multi-tiered plant stand. I'll add some funky furniture, cool music, and munch microgreens all winter long.

Photo Credit

I can fit this into my basement. No problem!
  
But the problems with my plan begin as soon as my alarm goes off at 5:45 am. Zombies move faster in the morning than I do. I do not hop, pop, or jump out of bed but slowly ascend into wakefulness with the focused intensity of a giant sloth. I stumble towards the kitchen in a daze with only one goal in mind: coffee and lots of it. Despite my fantasy of having a mini-greenhouse in the basement the probability of remembering to turn on the grow lights early in the morning is doubtful, at best. Since relocating the coffee pot to the basement seems ludicrous, I'd have to bring the greenhouse to the coffee pot.



 A warm corner next to the coffee pot and toaster seemed like a perfect spot for a tabletop grow light system like this one from Gardeners Supply. I could wade through my morning vat of coffee while also checking on my seeds. But of course, the available space is only 22 inches high while the system above is almost 26 inches high. Detemined to start my seeds early, it was time to get creative.


It looks weird but it works!

 Who needs a pricey tabletop greenhouse when you have bricks, clamp lights, a few bottles of wine, an asparagus steamer and a paint stirrer?


I bought two grow lights and despite having read that I could use them with a regular lamp, was seriously worried I'd come home to a smoldering pile of ash if I employed a lamp built for a 60 watt bulb to light a 150 watt bulb.



I bought two clamp lights designed for the Agrosun lights and clamped one on a bottle of wine balanced on a soup can in an asparagus steamer full of sand. I raised the height of the steamer with bricks and catalogs/magazines.  


The second light was attached to a wine bottle partially buried in a solid ceramic pot full of sand. I buried a brick  and a paint stirrer to help stabilize the wine bottle and tied together two newspaper delivery bags to keep the bottle from leaning forward too much. I tucked the ends of the bags under the pot. I'm planning on putting a dwarf water plant in the pot this spring since it doesn't have a drainage hole. If the pot doesn't drain, then I'll give it a plant that likes to be wet.



Four seed trays are kept warm on an old towel covering a marble pastry board and a huge wooden carving board. I'll turn the lights on when I get up and turn them off when I get home. Easy!


These trays were cheap and came with coco fiber pellets and a capillary mat. They're the perfect size for my little greenhouse.



I'm starting ground cherry and salpiglosis seeds.Ground cherries are delicious little fruits that have been described as the love child between a tomato and a pineapple. I learned about them from Bumble Lush. They look like little tomatillos.


I've never grown salpiglosis before but they're so beautiful I thought I'd give them a try. The name sounds like either a disease or an odd body part. I'm not sure its common name of 'Painted Tongue' is much better. 

 



I soaked both kinds of seeds overnight before sowing them. The salpiglosis seeds are super tiny. I used a piece of dry fettucine to help me plant them so they wouldn't stick to my fingers. They need to be sown on the surface and then kept in the dark. 


 

I used a piece of the original packaging to cover the seeds and then covered both trays with a kitchen towel. Once the seeds germinate, I'll take off the cardboard and the towel.


Two of the trays of seeds were started using the coco fiber pellets that came with the kits while the other two were started using No Damp Off, a product I found at our garden center. I'm curious to see which growing medium works the best. It's 100% Wisconsin spaghum moss.



It was very easy to work with, especially with my Ultra Fabulous Gardening Fettucine.