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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Portrait of a Gardener

I've begun to notice that a variety of garden catalogs are carrying clothing designed just for gardening. This is an intriguing concept. On a typical day in my garden, I am happily clad in whatever holey, stained clothes were closest at hand and pay little to no attention to my appearance. Devoid of makeup and hair care products, my short locks stick out at odd angles and my blonde lashes are rendered invisible.

This casual approach, although very comfortable, has significant drawbacks. Babies cry, dogs bark, and people have actually crossed to the other side of the street to avoid me. I began to wonder that if perhaps if I looked less like this

or this

and more like this

dogs wouldn't bark, babies wouldn't cry, and people would stop crossing to the other side of the street.

Instead of purchasing expensive new clothes, I decided to cruise a local thrift store and then follow several tried and true fashion rules when creating new gardening outfits.

1. Sassy black boots and a scarf will liven up any dull outfit.

Knee pads aren't required if your boots go past your knees. Just consider them already built in.

Thigh high rubber boots are the perfect garden accessory. I was able to carry both my pruners and a small trowel in the side of each boot. The 4 1/2 inch heel is excellent for aerating the soil.

Now I don't have to worry about my tools falling out of my pockets and the scarf will protect me from the sun.

2.  A little black dress should be a staple in every gal's wardrobe.

The Irish tweed hat kept my hair out of my eyes and gave me that "I know what I'm doing" appearance.

This breezy little dress will keep me cool on the hottest days.

3. You can never go wrong with a floral print.

By pairing it with my favorite baseball hat, I'm able to color coordinate my entire outfit.

It's such a relief to know that all these gems were waiting for me. I feel more fashionable already!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dear Chief of Police,

Dear Chief of Police,

   I have called the station many times to voice my complaint and have been laughed at each time. So I thought that perhaps I should put my concerns in writing. My neighbors, Mr and Mrs. McPhloxy, are gardeners. Normally, I have no problem with gardeners since they've shared their veggies and flowers with me on many occasions. However, the McPhloxy's have a strange habit that is driving me crazy. Many days after work they rendezvous in their garden shed where I am quite sure they're boinking. It's disgraceful!

  How do I know this? Well, their shed is close enough to my fence that if I stand nearby I can hear them! I am so offended. I have tried to shoo them away by clearing my throat or rustling the bushes, but it doesn't do any good. Yes, I know they are on their property but if I have suspicions raised on my property, it becomes my concern, too.

   I am quite worried about the propriety of all this boinking. Garden sheds are NOT for amorous assemblage but for the storage of tools, etc. I think they're violating a zoning code and should be reprimanded at once. I can barely walk around my own property because of what I know might be happening on the other side of the fence. Please take care of this.

Edna duSnoops

I assure you this shed is large enough for two! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dystopian by Design

Act I

If garden pests were music, Japanese beetles would arrive to the eerie creak of a fiddle and the rolling beat of a drum. The hollow whistle of the winds and the urgent discord of cymbals would announce their every step. Instead they sneak silently into my garden, their iridescent 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.  Scooping them into my hand, they scramble and crawl across my palms before sliding to their death. 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.

Rose of Sharon
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 twist and knot. I grab a bottle of systemic insecticide and thinking of the damage waiting at home, rationalize my choice, pay, and drive away. I mix, pour, apply. The soil reeks of chemicals and I avoid the garden, guilty and ashamed. The beetles die, the leaves grow back, but the garden is quiet. 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.

My Abraham Darby rose is full of buds that will open to highly fragrant apricot pink blooms. This picture was taken today. The picture below is from summer 2012. 


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. Brown beetles would be splashed with the green racing stripes of a swallowtail caterpillar and the ruby throat of a hummingbird. If words were replaced by emotions instead of evoking them, "garden" would feel like pure joy and the thrill of surprise. 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!!!

* A similar version of this post was originally published in September 2010. I stopped using pesticides in 2009 and applied milky spore to my lawn instead. The increase in wildlife was dramatic as was the significant decline in Japanese beetles. I no longer have any problems with beetles.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stone Grown Rick

Escaping from her pond, she climbs
onto the rocks towards leaves of lime
Stepping sideways with a glance
She snuggles in and takes a chance
Stone grown Rick meets a watery flirt
Sweet and pink in a too-short skirt
She kisses quick then slides away
"I'm only here til the end of May."
He reaches out to kiss her twice
"From now til May sounds mighty nice."

My Lime Rickey heuchera grows in a pile of rocks next to a tiny pond surrounded by variegated water celery that may go dormant once our spring rains are over. The plants are intertwined and I imagine them as young lovers.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

At Last

'At Last 'by Etta James isn't about spring but perhaps it could be...

At last
My love has come along

 My lonely days are over
And life is like a song

 Oh yeah yeah, at last
The skies above are blue

My heart is wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you 

And I found a dream I could speak to
A dream I could call my own

I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have always known*

 Oh yeah yeah and you smile, you smile
Oh, and then the spell was cast


And here we are in Heaven
For you are mine at last

 * Lyrics slightly altered

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Here not There

I don't want to go to work today. I'd much rather be...



or here.

Bluebells (mertensia) in a field near my house

But I really wish I could just spend the day here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Sow Easy I'm Suspicious: The Seedling Update

A while back I published a post called Sow Easy I'm Suspicious and Other Seedy Tales about starting seeds in my wacky counter top greenhouse and my foray into winter sowing. I started different seeds than I did last year and have learned a few things along the way. Here's the scoop:

Tomatoes and Peppers

In February I started 20 coir pellet pots each of  Yellow Brandywine and Sweet Chocolate peppers. I hadn't planned on growing tomatoes at all, but after receiving the tomato seeds in a seed swap I decided to give them a try. Both seeds germinated quickly and are doing well, especially the tomatoes. However, there have been a few bumps along the way.


This is what the tomatoes look like today. They're not growing on the window sill. This was just a good spot to take a photo.

The seed trays were way too far from the lights, resulting in leggy seedlings, so I raised them closer to the grow bulbs.

However, I raised them too close which turned the foliage yellow. After doing some research, I discovered the yellow foliage was also caused by water logged roots and a lack of nutrients. They had developed incredibly long root systems that were tangled in the capillary mat. I trimmed off the bottom 8-10 inches of stringy root.

The roots had grown through the little coir pots and into the water          reservoir below the capillary mat. It was time to move them to a larger pot.

Instead of using nursery pots, I used cheap plastic cups and poked holes in the bottom with a hot screw driver tip. I love how shocked they look. This gives the seedlings the depth they need while also being narrow enough to fit onto the tray in my 'greenhouse'.

The cups also allow me to watch the root development and monitor how moist the soil is. When it's time to transplant them to larger pots, I'll just cut away the cups and recycle them. I planted the tomatoes as deep as possible to help them form stronger root systems and watered them with water enriched with liquid kelp.


Growing the peppers has been a bit trickier but only because I've never grown peppers indoors before.

They germinated quickly but the more they grew, the yellower they became. Some also developed weird purple spots on their leaves.

Worried my peppers had somehow contracted some kind of bizarre Purple Pepper disease, I tossed the seedlings with the most purple spots. A few seedlings didn't have any spots at all, which should have been my first clue. The peppers closest to the light turned purple from being overexposed to the grow bulb and had developed a phosphorus deficiency, which is indicated by purple blotches.

I repotted them into plastic cups and moved them a little bit farther away from the grow light. They are slowly turning greener.

Winter sowing

With the exception of a few ambitious plants, the winter sowing is coming along slowly. However, I'm not dissuaded at all. This March was the coldest March in thirteen years, which has put all growth in the garden several weeks behind normal, whatever normal is any more. Quite a few of the containers have grown moss next to the seedlings.

What I Sowed

Malva 'Zebrina'    SPROUTED
Heliopsis (seed collected from my garden)    SPROUTED
Dalea (Purple Prairie Clover)
Lavender augustifolia     SPROUTED
Sweet peas 'Painted Ladies and Old Spice'    SPROUTED
Ammi 'Green Mist'     SPROUTED
Orlaya 'White Lace'    SPROUTED
Scarlet flax    SPROUTED
Sweet scabiosus    SPROUTED
Garlic chives    SPROUTED
Tomatoes 'Principe Borghese'
Talinum (Pearls of Opar)

The dalea seeds were free but I'm not surprised they didn't sprout since they've never reseeded in my garden. Plus, I think it's too cold for the talinum and tomatoes. I haven't given up on them yet.


Malva 'Zebrina'

Sweet peas

 We finally have some warm weather forecast for next week so I'm hoping to take my seedlings outside and see more growth in the winter sowing containers.