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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Everything That's Right

1. Coming home from a seed swap with a chunk of snowdrops

2. Making new friends at Dirtworks first meetup

3. New growth in the flower beds

4. Pulling weeds - If the weeds are growing, my garden isn't far behind.

5. Chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast

6. Having a former student run up the hallway yelling my name and then grab me in a bear hug. 7th grade boys do hug their teachers. I have proof. :o)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sow Easy I'm Suspicious and Other Seedy Tales

Don't tell anyone but I'm pretty sure I've discovered the secret to global seed growing success: wine and lots of tin foil.
Step 1: Drink the wine and then fill the bottle with pea gravel
Step 2: Stick the bottle in a container full of sand
Step 3: Add a clamp light and a grow bulb.
Step 4: Encase the entire thing in foil.
Step 5: Drink a bit more wine and feel smuggly satisfied.

I bought this wine because the label featured a toad wearing a vest. It seemed logical to me.

Insert bottle into a container full of sand and step back to admire how high class you are.

Last year I helped the bottle stay upright by using a clean paint stirrer and plastic bags. This year I upgraded to a can of leftover pumpkin.

By encasing the entire "greenhouse" in foil, I prevent the light from diffusing into the kitchen and am able to keep the seed trays warm without needing to buy a heat mat. I turn the lights on every morning as I stumble about making breakfast and then turn them off about 12 hours later. This is set up next to my coffee pot to guarantee I'll remember to turn the lights on.

The little greenhouse trays are balanced on two huge cutting boards that have been wrapped in old towels. Magazines and newspapers keep the plants close to the grow bulbs in the clamp lights.

'Sweet Chocolate' pepper seeds from  Baker Seeds germinated in about 10 days. I use little coir pots that came with my Burpee seed trays.

'Yellow Brandywine' tomatoes from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I picked these seeds up at a seed swap in early February. I didn't think the seeds would sprout so quickly and had little seedlings before I remembered to prop up the seed trays with old newspapers and magazines. Oops! The seeds germinated in a week. Ultimately, it doesn't matter that the seedlings are a bit taller than I wanted since tomatoes grow best when the main stem is buried several inches into the soil, anyway.

As much as I love my Rube Goldberg Greenhouse, I'm limited to only growing a few types of seeds. While I should be satisfied, I'm not. I've also started something called winter sowing, which is allowing me to grow more plants than I have room for. Most excellent!  

Here's what you do:
Step 1: Get an old plastic container and poke some holes in the top and bottom.
Step 2: Fill it half way with seed starting mix and then water it thoroughly.
Step 3: Sow your seeds and put the lid on, unless it's a plastic milk jug.
Step 4: Stick it outside in a spot that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
Step 5: Forget about it. Water it if it doesn't rain/snow for a while.

I've never done this before and am suspicious of how well it will work since it just seems too easy. However, after spending the weekend researching winter sowing online, it seems effortless and highly effective. The natural freeze and thaw cycles of winter/early spring weather is perfect for helping seeds germinate in the mini-greenhouses you created with all those plastic containers. The seeds germinate and grow in the containers and are hardier than seeds grown in traditional greenhouses or under lights because they don't need to be hardened off. Once the seedlings are several inches high, they can be transplanted into the garden.

I filled several containers with seed starting mix and then watered well.

Dalea (purple prairie clover) seeds were the only perennial I sowed. Leaving the lid off the jug helps water reach the plant. I cut the jug almost in half to plant the seeds and then taped it shut.

I also sowed biennial malva 'Zebrina', also known as French hollyhocks. I used a hot screwdriver tip to poke the holes.

I sowed talinum (Jewels of Opar) and garlic chives as well. Once the rest of my seed orders come in, I'll sow more seeds.

I tucked these containers into the mulch and have high hopes for their success. It might not work, but I'll never know till I try.

Links to bloggers who know more about winter sowing than I do:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An Annual Affair

It started small, as all flirtations do. Bright flowers wink from the pages, promising easy growth and summer blooms. My heart beat quickens and I forget my other tasks, weak to the temptation of garden love, desire expressed in large black circles,     emphatic red stars, and finally the click of a mouse  How to choose when you love so many? Here are the ones I just couldn't live without:

These are linked in green to the websites I purchased them from. The pictures are taken from the websites, as well.

Ammi visnaga 'Green Mist'

I've been a bit in love with this annual since I spotted it last year on Select Seeds' website. It looks like Queen Anne's lace but isn't invasive. I'm hoping it will self sow in my garden so that I'll have it every year. I've never grown it before but it was described as being of "the easiest culture". This is in the carrot family and is a host to swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Cardinal climber (Ipomea multifida)

I found these seeds at a seed exchange I went to in early February. After seeing gorgeous pictures of them in Sage Butterfly's garden last summer, I scooped them up. It's supposed to be easy to grow and attracts hummingbirds.

Orlaya grandiflora 'White Lace'

Orlaya is similar to ammi 'Green Mist' but is much smaller and has more open flowers. It needs much sharper drainage than the ammi does so I'm planning on adding it to my container garden. Because it's in the carrot family, it will also host swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Sweet Peas

My mom grew sweet peas along the side of our military base house when I was a kid and I was transfixed by their fragrance. I haven't grown them since my kids were babies but decided about an hour ago to try them again. I'm glad my impulses come cheap!


Zinnias were the first flower seed I ever grew successfully. Water, sun, a bit of compost, and being pinched back a bit is all they need to be spectacular.

Button Box zinnias are a compact variety from Baker Seeds that only grows to about a foot tall. These are also headed for a pot  in my container garden.

Park's Pastel Cutting Blend are tall zinnias with huge flowers. I was captivated by how soft the pastel shades are. These are also headed to a big pot in my container garden.

Monday, February 11, 2013

And it went a little something like this:

Last weekend while millions of people were digging out of a snowstorm, I decided to throw a little party called Yick Yuck Blah. But after reading the news and the stories of other bloggers whose gardens were under several feet of snow, I realized I needed to have a quick talk with mySelf.

And it went a little something like this:

Self: Girl, I heard you threw yourself a party because you have too much blah.

Me: I'm tired of blah. Everything is brown, brown, brown. I miss my garden.

Self: Well, moaning and groaning about it isn't going to make spring come any sooner. At least you can find your garden! You know what I'm about to say...

Me: Hey, I'm still getting over the last can you opened on me. Put that away!

Self: Alright then, but you know what you need to do...

Me: Got it!

Self: Now get out there and find some beauty in all that blah. After all, your garden could look like this:

I bought these hyacinths on sale at the grocery store. It's like having spring on my windowsill.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Yick Yuck Blah




I'm tired of all the brown. I'm ready for some ahhh!

Little red daylilies

Aster ericoides and variegated sedum

Lantana, flax, and 'Piglet' pennisetum in the rain garden


'Abraham Darby' rose

Helianthus, 'Johnson's Blue' geraniums, and pink yarrow

White trumpet lilies 

Drumstick aliums, 'Rocky Top' coneflowers, and orange milkweed grow alongside daylilies and agastache

I have coneflowers all over my garden.

This perennial bed runs from the dog run down to the rain garden. The rain garden is being expanded this spring to create a much greater curve into the grass. 

Marguerites (anthemis 'Susanna Mitchell') grow in pots alongside Stella d'Oro daylilies, white petunias, and zinnias

Joe Pye Weed (eupatorium fistulosa)

My garden has many trees, including three crepe myrtles, and I've learned to garden in various degrees of shade. This spot is pretty sunny. 

Spigellia marylandica, a native southeastern wildflower grows easily in well drained filtered shade.

Part of the back garden

Most of the plants in this bed were seedlings rescued from other parts of the garden. The grass path was redone in  November 2012 and featured in my last post. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on 'Laura' phlox

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Package Deal: Compromise in Gardening

He stood in the backyard eyeing the pile of sod. Large chunks of perfect grass lay mounded in a heap, my garden beds wider and longer than they had been at breakfast. Sensing his irritation, I turned to face him. "I'm planning on using the extra grass to patch all the places the dogs dug up. Plus, I can use it to repair the mess by the drainpipe." His shoulders relaxed as he watched me load the grass into the wheelbarrow and head for the lawn.

My husband never wanted a garden. He would be happy with one dog, a couple of bushes, a tomato plant, a few trees, and a large unbroken swath of grass. He never realized the wild twenty year old he married so long ago would morph into a passionate organic gardener intent on ripping up his lawn to plant hundreds of flowers and shrubs he'd never heard of. We discuss the lawn repair project quietly as the dogs, all four of them, ignore us to sniff and bark. I have a plan, I assure him, but these words are seldom comforting. I always have a plan, which is part of the problem. How messy will it be, how much sod will disappear, and what will it cost?

In November I made both beds wider, leaving a narrower curving path between them. I extended the bed to the right. This picture was taken in spring 2012.

I do not expect him or need him to help me fix the lawn. A long commute paired with even longer office hours leaves him little time to pursue his own interests and hobbies. There are no To Do lists or projects for him to work on. His free time is his own, I remind him. "Do what makes you happy" is a constant refrain and gardening doesn't make him happy. The lawn is quickly and effortlessly repaired, holes patched, clay soil amended. He looks over the finished project and his relief is palpable. Bunny fencing encircles the newly laid grass to keep out the dogs and he smiles. Neat in his work clothes, I have already shed mine. Heels, skirt, and a sweater are exchanged for oversized grey pants, a stained hoodie and  mismatched socks. Mud cakes the bottom of my red garden clogs and my sweatshirt is covered with dirt.

The change was subtle and the curves are less voluptuous than I would prefer but you have to work with what you've got. This was taken on Thanksgiving 2012.

The garden may be mine but the property is ours and as much as I need a garden to nurture and enjoy, he is sated by the cool expanse of our small lawn. A weekly mowing and he's done. I like the lawn, I tell him. It gives the dogs room to play and is a soothing frame to the color in the borders. He thanks me and is off. Asking a gardener not to garden is like asking a sports fan to ignore the game. My garden is my heart not a battle to be won and we compromise out of love for the other. I return to the garden to think and dream.

Both sides of the garden feature grass paths leading from the gate to the small lawn and surrounding perennial beds. This was also taken in spring 2012.

I am a package deal, I joke with a friend. I come with a garden and dogs. But ultimately, we are all package deals. My husband's package includes a lawn and no expectation to become a gardener. On summer nights we eat outside and he comments on the garden, listening to me chat about the wildlife I've seen or my challenges with growth and design. He understands my energetic nature and knows I have spent the day outside, immersed in the profound singularity of gardening alone.