Meet TS and Come See the Rest of the Garden...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflections and Resolutions

About two years ago I started keeping a garden journal. Filled with pictures I've cut from gardening magazines and catalogs, I scribble my plans for the coming months and remininsce about the successes and failures from the previous season. It's both heartbreaking and humorous to reread my rants - plants that died, plants that grew too much and took over the garden, empty skies devoid of rain for weeks on end...

I'm not much for resolutions. Instead of resolving to do someothing different in a coming year, my resolutions are spontaneous and are often the result of a three part thought process:

Part One: Oy, that was stupid!
Part Two: Why did I do that?
Part Three:  Ugh! Don't do it again!

I've found this approach quite effective, especially when followed up with a note to myself posted on either my calendar or in my journal as a reminder of what NOT to do. But this year I've decided to post my end-of-year reflections here.

1. Don't lose your Felcos again!

I finally broke down and bought a pair of Felco pruners this year. Tired of the junky pruners I had used for years, I bought a perfect pair of Felcos and guarded them closely. They lay perched atop a box of Kleenex on the counter near the back door, ready to prune at a moments notice. Until I lost them. Always the optimist, I consoled myself with the thought that when my garden went dormant, I'd find their red handles poking out from the dead foliage of some Felco-eating plant and all would be well in my world. It didn't happen and I angrily ordered a replacement pair. Thinking I had purchased the same style, I eagerly opened the box and lifted them from their wrappings. Instead of buying the small everyday pruners meant for flowers, I had selected a larger pair designed for cutting small branches. They fit awkwardly in my small, square hands but worked perfectly. I will NOT lose them!!

2. Don't lose your sunglasses in the asters again!

After spending the summer canoodling with the aster divarcatus, my sunglasses aren't the same. But at least I found them.

3. Quarantine plants with spider mites!

A hideous invasion of spider mites ravaged my potted plants this summer. I took a leaf to the US Botanical Gardens in DC for an accurate analysis, I blasted my plants with water, but did I actually move the orginal host plant away form the other plants?? Of course not! That would have been way too easy!!! Initiate three part thought process. Part One; Oy, that was stupid!....

4. Fill bottoms of large pots with packing peanuts. 

I do this every year and every year I'm glad I did. It seems the more decorative the pot is, the worse the drainage. By filling the bottom of the pot with packing peanuts (the kind that do not dissolve in water), I use less potting soil, improve the drainage, and make the pot less heavy in case I decide to rearrange my pots. I reuse the packing peanuts every year.

5. I mulched the garden this fall.

I've never mulched my garden in the fall before. I always spent the winter pouring over catalogs and magazines, dreaming up new garden beds or mentally rearranging current plants. Come spring, boxes of plants would arrive and I would disappear into the garden, rushing home from work and my daughters soccer games to spend as much time outside as possible.

This past summer was hot and brutally dry. By the beginning of August, it became painfully apparent I had a massive amount of work ahead of me if I wanted to avoid the same problems (too much dry shade, overgrown shrubs/vines) I spent the summer fighting. By the middle of November, I had taken out two tiny trees, two shrubs, spent hours pruning and transplanting, and had lifted every plant from an 18 foot bed so I could raise the soil level and ammend the soil. With so much bare soil visible, I decided to mulch the entire garden to prevent the newly transplanted roots from heaving. I filled in any bare spots with bare root plants, selections from my favorite online nurseries, and super sale plants from local garden centers.

The plants in the picture were ordered from Lazy S's Farm, an amazing online nursery in southern VA. I ordered ruellia 'White Form', purple toadflax, lots of coneflowers, and some veronica. Every thing arrived in perfect condition. Even after shipping, I paid less than I would have locally. Toadflax and perennial ruellia, a VA native, aren't available at the garden centers near my house.  

Our winter has been incredibly cold and windy but when I look at garden, tucked quietly in for the winter with a blanket of leaves and mulch, a peaceful sense of satisfaction creeps through me. Initiate new thought process: Part One: Smile, that was smart!

6. Spend more time on Blotanical.

In an average year, I grade over 12,000 assignments, the vast majority of which are graded at home. This figure doesn't include the Science Fair, of which I am the Grand Poohbah. At a minimum of 20 assignments per quarter (There are four qtrs in our year) x 150 students, I spend hours grading, grading, grading. I am required to post 18 grades per quarter, so changing these numbers isn't really an option.

However, I'm a big believer that spending time doing the things we love, makes us happier people. So one of my goals for this year is to spend more time discovering the amazing blogs on Blotanical. When the only garden we ever see is our own, it's easy to lose perspective. This summer as my stratospheric water bill inspired me to find creative ways to keep my garden moist, it was comforting to know I wasn't the only one struggling with scorching weather. So I've created a goal, but not a resolution, to discover one new blog a week. Here's to the future! Clink! Clink!

What are your resolutions and reflections?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from the dogs of Casa Mariposa

The only way to get all five of my dogs in a picture is to hire a professional photographer, photograph them asleep, or have my daughter (The blonde in the too big sweats) help me. Option one is pricey, option two is boring, but option three?? Well, here ya go!! I had to act quickly since my littlest dog, a rat terrier named Chance, was determined not to cooperate.

May everyone have a peaceful weekend, and if you celebrate Christmas, here's a big Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you, Dr Santa!

Christmas has come early to Casa Mariposa. It didn't bring holly berries, hellebores, or carolers. Instead it brought an operating room, a skilled surgeon, and general anesthesia. As I write this I am wearing garden gnome pajama pants, my Save A Life Adopt A Pet sweatshirt and a giant bandage down my right leg. A pair of crutches stands at the ready.

Bending my right knee without yelling out words that rhyme with holy ship! or fire truck! had become virtually impossible. I decided this summer that I had several options to consider: hiring a large, muscular man to pick me up every time I bent down and, inevitably, couldn't get up again without cussing or crying, replacing the Yoshino cherry tree in the yard with a crane, strapping myself into a harness, and gardening from aloft so that I never had to bend much of anything, or going to the doctor. I choose option three, although option one was mighty tempting....

For twenty odd years I had been given the highly scientific, medically precise diagnosis of "bad knees". When I mentioned this my doctor, as well as the official names of the knee problems that plagued me as a kid, he shook his head and asked if I'd like a real diagnosis. Yes, please! Patella tilt, is what it's called. Hurts like hell, is how it feels.

I mentioned to the doctor that I really needed to have the surgry during the winter. I explained I needed time to recover during my off-season. My off-season? Was I an athlete? Despite being proud of my ability to run in heels, my shoe of choice next to my yellow 15 year old Birkenstock gardening clogs, no, sir I was not an athlete in the conventional sense. I looked him square in the eye and explained gently, "I'm an extreme gardener. I need to be completley recovered by spring." He looked at me, paused , and laughed. Undaunted, I forged ahead. "My garden is an organic, certified wildlife habitat that I landscaped myself. I'm not talking about about a few pots full of pansies." He smiled, I scheduled, and the surgery went well.

Tonight I'm hoping to dream about my garden, a quiet dream filled with bird song and no shouts of Holy ship! My knee hurts! Only time will tell....

Friday, November 26, 2010

The University of Don't Do That Again! Lesson One

As a teacher, it may seem that I'm the one who teaches while others learn. However, that is rarely the case. Every day, my students, family, dogs and garden teach me something I either didn't know before or had learned and promptly forgotten. Despite being a science teacher, I am especially skilled at forgetting the basic laws of science as they apply to my garden. This was made absurdly and painfully obvious this summer.

Lesson #1 -  Gravity Does Not Exist
Summer rain in northern Virginia comes in two forms: too much or not at all. Intense thunderstorms occasionally roll in, unleashing torrents of rain that flood streets and basements but run off the slightly sloped areas of my garden, leaving the mulch wet, but not much else. Summer storms are offset by periods of drought that inflate my water bill and turn my garden into a botanical ICU. Despite planting as many drought resistant natives as possible, after a month of high temps and no rain, even the locals are thirsty. To solve this problem, I laid soaker hoses. Incorrectly.

My son works at our local garden center, a job that allowed me, since I feed, clothe, and shelter him, to enjoy a whopping discount. A discount at a garden center is to me what a designer purse is to others. I whooped and hollered for joy, drooled over my savings, and planned my purchases with glee. And then I got to watch him load it all into my car. Ahhh...satisfaction!

By the time he was hired and I had bought miles of soaker hoses, my garden had already woken, its beds filling with clumps of perennials. It wasn't the best time to lay the hoses, but I was undeterred. I was determined to solve the problem of soil robbed of moisture by giant, thirsty trees and unpredictable rainfall. Armed with turf staples, a wheelbarrow full of hoses, and an iron will, I headed toward the back yard. Several weekends later, black hoses snaked through the garden, a serpentine system of moisture delivery guaranteed to conquer drought and dryness. Layers of mulch covered the hoses and the garden grew around them, covering its secret. I smiled to myself and smugly surveyed my domain. "Drought and dryness, cower at my feet!", I thought to myself. "I have soaker hoses!"

Fast forward to the middle of July - hot hot hot and dry dry dry. With the rain barrels empty and dry weather in the forecast, I skipped over to the garden hose and eagerly hooked it up the soaker hoses. I turned the spigot to full blast and smiled, anticipating the relief my wilting, weary garden would soon enjoy. The hoses under my river birch  and near the trumpet creeper sputtered to life but the rest of the garden remained strangely parched. No water. Nothing. Not even a drip. Shocked and frustrated, I dug at the mulch and checked the hoses. Finally, I could take it no longer. "Drip, damnit! Drip!!" I yelled. It didn't work. I threw down my garden gloves and stomped off. Later that evening, I wandered the yard and scanned my garden detemined to figure out where I had gone wrong. Hunched next to the blue mist flowers, my daughter began yelling across the yard, "Mom, these are all kinked up!" "Where does this hose end?" In my eagerness to corral my rapidly expanding garden, I had morphed the sinuous curves of the hoses into sharp corners and angles. Too many hoses had been connected, creating an transgarden super highway that went nowhere and accomplished nothing. I stood back in disbelief. My eyes wandered to the end of the soaker hose, it's origin marked by a cute hose guide. It lay at the front of the bed, snaked through several low spots and then back up again. Speechless, I just stopped and stared. In my haste, I had expected water to flow uphill, around right angles, and with enough force to pulse through 200 feet of hose.

I used dancing frog hose guides to remind me of where I put the beginning of the soaker hoses. I also used hose guides with a decorative ball on top.

As a student of the University of Don't Do That Again! I will never graduate and have no idea what degree I'm working towards. I am forever the student, a proud bearer of a Certificate of Perpetual Enrollment. Weeks spent laying soaker hoses this spring has culminated in weeks spent digging them up and relaying them correctly this fall. This time I'm not smug or victorious, just cautiously hopeful.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Annual Play With Fire Day

Monday through Friday I tend a garden completely different than the one that surrounds my house. I spend the day with 150 sixth graders exploring the weird and often wacky world of science. None of my students are weeds; they are all roses, some just a bit thornier than others. They arrive in September excited to be in middle school but with minds already dulled by five years of worksheets. And then we race gerbils and measure the distances covered using meters, not feet, we chew chew gum to see how much mass is lost, and shake our butts to dance music for three minutes when we've been sitting too long. Hopefully, every day my garden will bloom and grow, roots shooting deep into mushy brain cells. They pepper me with questions, their filterless thoughts erupting from their mouths like cognitive popcorn. On Wednesday, I climbed to my favorite platform, giving a quick sermon on the importance of independent thinking as opposed to filling in blanks or bubbles. A student in my public, separation-of-church-and-state school yelled, "Amen!" and I giggled.

Tomorrow is my annual Play with Fire Day. To teach the concepts of density in the atmosphere, I light a piece of paper on fire, slip it into a milk bottle, plop an egg on top, and watch it forced into the bottle by the change in air pressure. I didn't create this demonstration but wish I had. My students watch in rapt silence. I always wear short sleeves and joke about how I hope I don't set myself on fire this year. I station a kid next to the fire extinguisher and ask him/her seriously if they know how to use it. The entire demo only takes a few minutes and after the egg sinks into the bottle with a smelly, smoky plop, the class erupts in cheers and the students yell, "Do it again!" Just an egg, a match, some paper, and a milk bottle. The roses burst into bloom and grow taller and stronger. Am I a teacher? No, just a gardener.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Downward Dogwood aka The Borer War

In the garden outside my kitchen stands a Rutgers hybrid Stellar Pink dogwood. Tall and beautiful, it is resistant to dogwood anthracose, powdery mildew, and borers. At least that's what the tag said... In reality, its flowers are very pale pink instead of dark pink, it's trunk is peeling, and half the tree has tiny leaves while the other half has normal sized leaves.

My, what tiny leaves you have! 

All summer I stewed about the dogwood. The trunk shouldn't be so weird looking, I thought.   Having convinced myself the tree was being suffocated by a girdled root, I weighed my options, and decided to call an arborist. I'm embarassed to admit how little I know about trees: they are usually big, usually green, and don't like being drowned in mulch or whacked by lawn mowers. But I did know that every time I passed the dogwood, regardless of the direction I took, I ran into the same thought, that something was wrong and I was not the person to make an accurate diagnosis.

 According to the perky arborist, who called my trees by personal pronouns and petted all five of my dogs, my dogwood has a problem with dogwood borers. Apparently, it hadn't read its tag. It also has a tree wound of myserious origins. After completing a root collar excavation and soil tests, it was determined that the tree didn't have a girdled root, or any strange diseases, and that other than being full of borers, the reason for half the tree being covered in tiny leaves was unknown. 

Dogwood borers are insidious little creatures that bore tunnels into the trunks and damage the vascular system. 

The war has started and it's me against the borers. I have only one weapon, a pesticide deep within the realms of the Dark Side. My favorite garden center smartie advised me to paint it on the trunk, which prevents it from contaminating the other plants or running into the soil. I hope it works.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bent but not broken...

Have you ever watched a movie where so many rotten things happened to the main character that you were either laughing or cringing? That pretty much describes the week I've had....  I just haven't gotten to the laughing part yet. It will come. It always does.

I spent almost the entire weekend in the garden. I finished my transplanting, took down two small trees, redug all the trenches between the grass and the gardens, and started lightly mulching all the new plantings. I'm sore but exhilarated. Hard work always clears my head.

Do you grow impatiens in your garden? I usually grow them in pots but last summer I stuck a few in the ground in between the columbine. They were beautiful and carefree, and even though they didn't attract any wildlife, they did attract me, and that was enough.

This past winter DC and northern VA were walloped with two massive blizzards. In a normal winter we may get a few inches of snow but anything more is unusual. So when Snowmageddon aka Snowpocalypse hit, delivering almost 7 feet of snow in less than a month, I figured my impatiens were goners.

This is the view from my front porch. The stick in the distance is my mailbox. Most of the snow melted between storms. 

Each storm brought about 3 ft of snow plus another foot or so inbetween the storms, just to keep things interesting. When I lived in upstate NY near the Canadian border, heavy snowfall was a regular part of winter and the snowplows cruised the roads daily. When I lived in North and South Dakota, snow and subzero temps were typical. During Snowpocalypse, the entire area shut down completely, including  many government offices.

So imagine my surprise this summer when a patch of impatiens popped up in the garden, not too far from the original cluster. I hadn't expected the seeds to survive such a snowy winter and was thrilled and comforted to see their pink faces brightening the shade. I spent the weekend thinking about the impatiens and other plants that sprouted with such vigor this past spring. They could have floundered and died, but didn't. They survived and so will I. :0)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A different kind of flower...

Today was not a day for gardening. Unaware of the how the day would unfold, I slipped into the garden early this morning and wandered lazily through the dog run, eyeing my beds. I pulled out soaker hoses that need to be rearranged, scattered seeds from dry seedheads, and checked on new transplants. The plans for the day were simple: breakfast, shower, attend daughters soccer game, work in the garden. Several plants are still blooming and I was looking forward to enjoying their color as I finished my transplanting.

This lantana grows in front of one of our rain barrels. It's an effective and inexpensive disguise. A giant Prague viburnum grows to the left and red rock roses grow in the front and bloom in early summer. 

We've had a few nights in the 40's but these are still blooming. Hooray! They're perennial in tropical areas but are annuals here.

My dogwood is in completel denial about the impending winter weather and has decided to only let a small branch of leaves change colors. If it were a child, it would have taken its toys and gone home by now. Maybe if it stays green, the cold weather will go away!!

This blue clematis has decided to celebrate fall by blooming just one more time. Planted in a moist sunny spot, this will be completely covered in flowers in early summer.

Instead of gardening today, I spent the afternoon/evening in the ER with my daughter. One teenage girl running at high speed + a very determined goalie + the hard ground = a nasty collision, a CT scan, lots of xrays and a concussion. Instead of  tending my garden outside this weekend, I'll be tending the slightly-broken-but-will-mend flower asleep upstairs. She is the ultimate perennial. Even if you mow her down, she comes right back!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

From start to finish

NOTE: I fixed the broken photo links, but if they're still not showing up, please let me know!!

I don't really know how to describe today. It started off simply, like the soft opening notes of a beautiful piece of music. Strong coffee, blue sky, easy weather, wonderful friendship. I puttered around the garden as a friend took pictures, our conversation comfortable. We chatted, she photographed, I dug and transplanted. All was well and we marveled at the monarch caterpillar I had discovered Friday hanging so sturdily from the underside of a leaf of white gooseneck loosestrife.

It's thick body curled into a J, I watched and waited for something to happen but nothing did. It just hung there, its schedule oblivious to my desire. I sighed and wandered back toward my shovel, hours of work ahead. I found the caterpillar comforting, its new body soon to form the wings that would carry it aloft, and replace in the migration the bodyless monarch had I found near the dogwood on Friday.

As the afternoon drifted by, I stayed close to the bed of loosestrife. I had too much, it's eager roots shooting through the soil like jets poised for flight. They raced between the milkweed and suffocated the phlox. I dug, and stopped, dug and stopped, afraid of disturbing the caterpillar but too fascinated to leave. The caterpillar ignored me and I returned to wandering, the dogwood garden waiting patiently as I puttered between pots of plants and bags of plump bare roots. I grabbed a armful of plants and wandered back toward the loosestrife. And then I stopped completely. Hanging from a stem of phlox that had been bare twenty minutes before was a monarch butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis.

If you look to the very far left in the middle of this photo, you can see the caterpillar.

Its wings bright like stained glass, it was motionless. I gasped and ran to find my camera. I ran back quietly, hopping through the grass like a rabbit. The butterfly slowly made its way to the top of the stem and began to open and close its wings.


This picture shows the butterfly right before it flew to the crepe myrtle while the caterpillar contiues to hang from the loosestrife leaf.

I had never been so close to a monarch before. The garden was quiet, the dogs asleep in the sun. I continued to take pictures and the butterfly continued to ignore me. I backed up into the grass and it slowly climbed to the top of the stem, opened its wings and took flight to the nearest branch. 

I was so close to the monarch I could have touched it. It continued to open and close its wings to warm itself and dry its wings.

Suddenly the garden erupted in sound, like the crashing symbals and thundering drums of a crescendo. I spun around as my dogs raced along the garden bed by the trumpet creeper and through the dog run, barking in fury. Fat and grey, the squirrel escaped through the fence and across the neighbors yard. Lucy, the most bumbling of my beasties, continued running towards the deutzia and I turned back to the butterfly. It was gone. As I headed across the yard, Lucy came trotting by, her mouth full, her head low. Too small to be a squirrel and too big to be a mouse, I stared at her in confusion as she slowly edged towards the dog run. "Lucy!" I called, my tone strong and demanding. She stopped and her mouth popped open. A small sparrow fell to the grass, it's eyes blinking, its body shaking from the frantic beating of its heart, its head hanging at an odd angle. I stopped and picked up the small bird. I couldn't move. It lay in my glove looking at me, blinking, quivering, silent. Softly laying the sparrow in a patch of anemones outside the gate, safe from the dogs, I stood and watched it shake in rhythm to its heart. It was painful to watch and I turned away. Death came slowly to the sparrow, the shaking giving way to twitching and then stillness.

From a butterflies first flight to a sparrows last, I had seen so much. I carried the dead bird to the woods near my house and covered it in brush. The garden was quiet, the music subdued. My garden is a concerto, an opera, a symphony but I am not the conductor. I am an usher, privy to the performance but not a part of it. I seat plants where they'll be happy, I keep everything organized, and then sit back and enjoy, even during the sad parts.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Buckeye Bonanza and Garden Freebies

NOTE: Pictures have been added!

Every spring and fall, I spend every spare moment in the garden, composting, rearranging plants, finding spots for seedlings, weeding, etc. My methodical mental planning of where I want all the plants to go borders on the absurd, since I always change my mind mid-dig. Every spring and fall I stand back and survey my domain, smug in my satisfaction that this year my garden will achieve a sense of perfection and splendor found only in novels and movies. I sigh, deep and happily, knowing that all my hard work will pay off. Cloaked in fabulosity, my garden slides sweetly into night, and I sleep in bliss.

Fast forward to mid-July: It's brutally hot, hasn't rained in weeks, the rain barrels are empty, and my garden is crispy to the touch. I move slowly through the yard in fear of creating so much friction I spontaneaously combust and burn down the whole damn thing. I turn on the hose to saturate the brittle soil and the folks at the city water co. smile in delight.

Every summer, I water, pinch, weed, deadhead and water some more. But that's all. I do not believe in micromanaging Mother Nature and I let my garden drift into barely controlled chaos. The plants tumble into each other and either thrive or die. I wander the garden and take mental notes of who's happy and who's not. I am a tough love gardener and plants that are quite determined to die, despite my care, are yanked unceremoniously from the soil. In the past year I've created a new category of Plants That Don't Contribute to supplement the two most popular, Dead and Alive. Plants That Don't Contribue are the equivalent of botanical placeholders. They're green and alive but don't attract wildlife, or are green and barely alive and have begun to irritate me. Placement in the last category is a guaranteed one-way ticket out of my garden.

'Chocolate' eupatorium was first given to me as a seedling from a friend. I never dead head it to make sure I always have seedlings to pass on. Here it grows next to a 'Purple Dome' aster.

That's where Terri comes in. Why garden in just one yard when you can vicariously garden in two? Astilbe, japanese anemones I can never keep watered enough, and ibiris growing in too much shade, an extra 'Blue Fortune' agastache to ensure a summer of butterflies, coreopsis, eupatorium 'Chocolate' and obediant plant seedlings that have come together, organized and threatened to take over the garden are all headed to her house. She's thrilled and dreaming of a garden. I'm thrilled to be helping her with one.

About two years ago I planted perennial snapdragons on the premise that they would attract buckeye butterfly caterpillars. Last summer the plants grew thick and strong but I never saw any caterpillars or even buckeye butterflies.

This picture was taken in late spring. The snaps are growing near lavender, rose campion, and orange milkweed. The black wrought iron fence to the left forms part of the dog run. This cultivar is called Dulcinea's Heart.

Perennial snapdragons are similar to some salvias in that they need to be cut back by half, without mercy or remorse, in order to continue their seasonal careers as garden wonders. I knew I needed to cut them back, but I hesitated, not wanting to lose any of the beautiful flowers. Stick them in a little vase and bring them inside? Sigh... this didn't occur to me. My hesitation finally gave way to absolute amnesia and by the time I remembered to cut them back, they had split down the middle from the weight of their beauty and looked pathetic, the stems too close to the ground, the plant almost prostrate in its utter squashedness. I was angry at myself and convinced that, once again, my snaps wouldn't make it into the butterfly buffet. 

Yesterday, when I should have been running errands like a responsible adult, I was wandering the garden, testing out my new Felco's and pruning the trumpet creeper. When I finally headed to my car, a bit dirtier than when I started, I noticed a small greyish caterpillar clinging tightly to my jeans. I scooped it up and ran inside. Flipping through my butterfly book, I suddenly stopped at the caterpillar page. In full color before me lay a picture of a buckeye butterfly caterpillar that matched the small creature in my palm. I scanned the text, nervous I would put it back in the wrong plant. Back into the garden I ran, screeching to a halt in front of the dry, ragged snaps. The leaves were covered in caterpillars of every size. They roamed the branches, oblivious to the plants faded beauty.  I stopped counting at 12 and ran back into the house, jumping up and down as my 15 year old watched me and laughed. And cloaked in fabulosity, my garden slid sweetly into night.  

A buckeye butterfly caterpillar in the snapdragons. I also found them in the verbena bonariensis, which is pictured below. They seem really spikey but were so soft and vulnerable in my hand.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

10 Facts About Me

I was invited by Missy from Missys Garden to play a game that told my fellow gardeners 10 things about me. Ok! Sounds like fun...:0)!

1.  I live in the Virginia suburbs outside of Washington DC. It is the land of long commutes, horrific traffic, and unpredictable weather. But I'm close to DC, which I love, and also close to the gorgeous rural countryside of Virginia, which I also love. ( I didn't take the picture below, unfortunately!)

2.  I am a volunteer for the no-kill animal shelter Friends of Homeless Animals, which is why I have five dogs!! Two of my dogs are foster dogs. I love to work with dogs that are shy/have issues and need the help of a patient human/canine pack. My three shelter rescues do as much, if not more, canine rehabilitation than I do. I would be less successful if I didn't have three easy going, goofballs that welcomed every new pup into the pack. Check out The Dogs of Casa Mariposa to see the crew.

Rigby was one of my former foster dogs. His previous owner had cut his ears off and later dumped him at a high kill shelter. FOHA rescued him off death row before he was euthanized. Needless to say, he had major fear aggression issues and didn't trust humans. He stayed at FOHA for six months while I worked with him every weekend. Adopters avoided him because he barked so much and hid in the back of his run. But I knew this sweet boy had potential so I took him in as a foster dog. He stayed with us for 2 1/2 months and in that time, he became confident, very silly, and learned to trust humans and accept canine leadership, as long as it was female. He was adopted three weeks after he returned to the shelter and is now living the good life!!! PLEASE adopt shelter dogs!!

3. I enjoy cooking, especially if I have the time and energy to spend creating a wonderful meal, but I truly LOVE baking, and make great cookies! Baking is pure chemistry - it's all about the quality and combination of ingredients. It's a relief to take take my frustrations out on the contents of my mixing bowl and create something beautiful in return.

4. I love to make jewlery and am hoping one day to have crazy mad skills at wire wrapping! I love beads that are made from natural stones. Being a CA native, I'm currently working on a necklace that I want to evoke the colors of the Pacific ocean.

5.  I love the rain, crazy storms, and the sound of the wind howling as it comes rushing in from the Dakota prairies. Have you ever been to the Dakotas? Go! It's beautiful! It's life in the vast lane.

6. I love being a teacher and have no patience for teachers that are mean, lazy, incompetent, or indifferent. My favorite subjects to teach are English/writing and science.

7. I would love to be independently wealthy so I could travel more. I have a great love and appreciation for other languages and cultures. Egocentric, close minded people frustrate me! My way is simply my way - it's not the only way!!

8.  I love to read, especially books that force me to look at a situation from a different perspective. I recently finished The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Both were wonderful! One of my favorite books is Join Me by Danny Wallace. It's laugh till you cry funny. :0)

9.  I have a bubbly, goofy personality but am very calm around animals. I love fashion, especially clothes that are a bit retro or artistic. I have no desire to look like everyone else.

10. When I was in high school, early college years, I had no desire to be a teacher and used to kill every plant I came near. When my son was born I asked people NOT to give me plants because I knew they would face a slow, dry death in my care. When my son was about 2, I was in the plain, ugly yard of my Air Force base house lamenting to myself the utter drabness of my surroundings. I looked at my yard and then at my son and thought, "Hey, I kept him alive for 2 years. I could probably keep a plant alive." Thus, my gardening adventures began. I created a garden at several base houses and at each house we purchased later. Having moved 17 times in 34 years, it was my way of saying, "Yes! I was here! And this small patch of Earth is the better for it!"

I originally wanted to be a foreign correspondent, so that I could make a career of writing and traveling. Marriage, kids, teaching, suburbs were NOT in the plan! Fast forward to age 41 - I've been married almost 21 years and have a 15 yr old and an 18 yr old. Life's just like that sometimes but I'm very glad I made the choices I have. There's only one road to NOW and I'm happy I'm on it!!!

11. I decided to add one more fact!! I LOVE live music!! In the past year I've been to concerts by No Doubt, U2, Muse, Pink, and Sheryl Crow. I would really love see Allison Kraus perform!

(I will try to add more pix to this post later. Blogger is telling me to get my pix off Picasa instead of the My Pictures file on my computer which is slowing me down to a glacial speed. UGH!!)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Milky Spore, How Do I Love Thee??

Act I

If everything had a color instead of a word, japanese beetles would be puce green and black and my garden would resemble a flaming red bull's eye. If the colors were replaced by scent, the beetles would reek of rotten fish and my garden would smell like fresh laundry, chocolate chip cookies, and Thanksgiving dinner. I would smell their evilness or see their  hideous shells before the damage was done.

Instead they sneak quietly into my garden, their irredescent shells cloaked by morning shadows and sleep filled eyes. They devour roses and crawl deep into my rose of sharon blooms, ravaging the flowers with neat, circular bites. They hang from the leaves like jewels in an Ethiope's ear, heavy and full enough to make Shakespeare proud. They sway with the breeze but do not slip, their hunger sated only when their handiwork is done and the leaves resemble lace, the stems supporting a network of open space punctuated by rigid veins. Shock and anger shake the sleep from my eyes and I run for my bucket of bleach water, furiously grabbing the hideous things and flicking them into its depths.

Again and again this scene has played out in my garden, the beetles emerge as the victor, my garden the hapless victim, and I, the flailing fool, complete with hat and gaudy garden shoes.

Act II

I stand in the pesticide row at the local garden store, contemplating my choices. So much death, so little time, and I feel my stomach lurch, my lunch headed due north. I grab a big blue bottle of a systemic insecticide and walk away. Thinking of the damage waiting for me at home, I rationalize my choice, pay, and drive away. I mix, pour, apply. The soil reeks of poison and I avoid the garden, guilty and ashamed. The beetles die, the leaves grow back, but the garden is quiet. The birds avoid the rose of sharon and the butterflies are absent, the milkweed and parsley empty. I have created an oasis but poisoned the water.


If being completely organic had a color it would be the blue of a can of milky spore and the chalky white of its powder. The puce green and black of the beetles would be splashed with the racing stripes of a butterfly caterpillar. If words were replaced by emotions instead of evoking them, "garden" would feel like pure joy and new life. Long gone is the systemic insecticide poured at the base of my roses and rose of sharon. The role of the fool has been rewritten and my garden bursts with life. Bravo!! Bravo!!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hello Science, Goodbye Summer...

Starting tomorrow I'll be introducing at least 150 11 year olds to the fabulous world of sixth grade science. Science in my class is a lot wackier than it is in more traditionally minded classrooms, it isn't very quiet, it always involves rodents and sometimes student created skits to illustrate a scientific concept. I even have the sheer audacity to require my students to write complete sentences instead of filling in blanks. Teaching is definitely not for the weak or weary!

But today I am simply a gardener who at 2:45 pm is still in her pajama shorts enjoying a very quiet day at home. I spent part of the morning wandering around in the garden (in my pajama shorts) and despite several weeks of high heat and no rain, beauty abounded. Here's what I saw:

This is agastache 'Shades of Orange' from High Country Gardens. It loves the heat and doesn't want much extra water. It's much loved by the hummingbirds.

I love peachy orange flowers. When I look out my kitchen window and see this plant in bloom, it's like having a constant sunrise in the garden.

This caryopteris (Blue Mist Spirea) is supposed to be a dwarf cultivar. However, it's huge and has been in a shoving match all summer with a nearby sweetspire. I finally intervened and cut back the sweetspire a bit to give the caryopteris more room. It's been covered with bees since it started blooming.

Phlox 'Delta Snow' has bloomed almost all summer. It stands stalwart under a crepe myrtle, overshadowing it's cousin 'Nicky', enjoying the shade, and growing taller every year.

The bees and skippers busily canvas the sedum even before the blooms open. This is planted near several large trees that contiually rob the soil of nutrients and moisture. On my fall to-do list: compost, compost, compost!!!

I've had so many monarch caterpillars on my bloodflower (Tropical milkweed) that every leaf is gone. I hope the new growth grows fast enough to nuture and feed a few more!


My father in law calls my chenille plant "caterpillar plant" even though it doesn't attract any caterpillars. It was one of the few plants, along with my rue, that survived the horrific spider mite infestation that destroyed several of my potted plants. No amount of blasting from the hose could get rid of them. I plant it in a pot with my rosemary every summer. It doesn't attract any wildlife but it does attract me, so that's good enough!!

Bird seed sunflowers under the platform feeder and verbena bonariensis. The trumpet creeper, giant hog of all moisture and fertility, is off to the left.

This section of the garden is, as we used to say when I lived in the south, a hot mess! I've tried for years to make this a low-fertility, xeric garden bed, but my plants have decided that I'M NUTS!! They would like more compost, please!! This fall I'm planning on digging up the entire 18 ft bed, which includes two small serviceberry trees, raising the soil height by about 5-6 inches with compost and peat moss, and then rearranging most of the plants. Not an easy job. My very strong 6'5" 18 yr old is going to help me, he just doesn't know it yet... He no help me. I no feed him...!!

My gomphrena are so extremely pot bound that they've become a bit anemic but are still beatiful enough to make me stop in my tracks when I saw them hanging out with the yellow lantana. I have a wonderful surprise planned for them: worm juice from my compost bin added to their daily bucket of water tonight. Yum!!

Sorry hostas!! No water for you till it rains!! I finally figured out what was wrong with my hideous heap of siberian iris: not enough moisture or sun. Plus they probably need to be divided. I already have their new home mapped out for them. I hope they're happy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Caterpillar Pile Up!

I went outside today to check on the newest batch of monarch caterpillars and had to laugh when I spotted this. It looked like a three caterpillar traffic jam. I just hope the birds don't find them!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A day in the garden...

School has started, which leaves me less time to blog so I thought I'd just post a few pics of the garden and the flowers speak for themselves.

A wonderful friend of mine gave me a few obedient plant (phytostegia virginica) seedlings, which I've let go to seed. I've ended up with a large patch of plants and will be sharing a few with friends this fall. I love plants that gently take over because it has allowed several of my friends to create gardens out of plants I've gifted them!

I don't know how this stem was knocked over but it looks pretty growing along the dwarf glossy abelia. Both the odedient plant and abelia grow in my front yard.

Obedient plant is a southeastern native that can reach 4 ft tall. It likes a bit of bright partial shade and moist soil. The bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love them.

This is silphium, commonly known as cup plant. It's leaves form a cup that catches rain water, serving as a "cup" for birds. They also love it's seeds, which look like they are about to shoot out of the flower like a Gatlin gun.

Silphium can grow over 6 ft tall, although mine is in a dry spot and is much shorter.

I just can't resist a reddish orange zinnia!

This is oregano 'Rotkugel', a favorite of the bees. It grows near a patch of dwarf solidago, callirhoe, and a 'Purple Dome' aster.

Yellow chrysoganum 'Quinn's Gold' and plumbago both do well in dry shade.

The plant in the front of the photo is an east coast native, spigelia marylandica, commonly known as Lipstick plant. It grows to about 2 ft and is much loved by hummingbirds. It's hard to find and I always end up ordering it from either Niche Gardens or Lazy S's Farm Nursery. It's in a moist spot with bright shade and is really happy. It grows alongside a big patch of 'Chester Thornless' backberries  and some purple milkweed seedlings that I sowed last fall.