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Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sunday Marathon

I do not like super busy weekends. I prefer slow, sleepy days that begin with plenty of coffee and extra time spent in my pajamas finished with a glass of wine and a good book. But despite my desire for leisure, three impending days of rain and garden chores side tracked by a nasty bout of the flu have left me behind schedule.

Normally, this wouldn't bother me. But I'm feeling abnormal today and just want to get it all done. It's time for the Sunday marathon. Scissors are optional.

Dig, amend, protect

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Dogs dig, I fill

Haul, lift, groan

Fill, fill, stake, smile


Plant, plant, plant some more...

and some more. 



Dig, trench, consider, fix, dig


Paint, saw, hammer

The mailbox is for my small garden tools, like my trowel, etc. 

Stuff and smile



and enjoy some more. That's all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Lavender Confessions

It recently occurred to me that I should probably come with a warning label. People and plants would all have the option of either running away screaming or at least feeling more informed about whatever madness and shenanigans I have planned. But it's too late for the lavender. They weren't given any warning at all.

While I may be successful at growing plants that don't need my help, my true talent lies in torturing lavender. It's one of my least favorite skills, along with the tendency to end up in the wrong state on road trips, or buy the same book twice and then forget to read it.

In December I decided to sow 334 lavender seeds. Spending all day with twelve year olds and several hours at night grading is a proven recipe for teacher insanity. Sowing 334 seeds seemed less insane. But of course, in true Tammy-style, I couldn't just grab a pot of soil and throw in some seeds. That was way too easy. I had to create an experiment to determine if a piece of growing advice I'd read online was true or not.

Step One:

Read questionable advice and decide to take it a step further. Because why be questionable when you can be completely batshitcrazy? Advice says to take lavender seeds, stratify them by soaking in a tablespoon of water and refrigerate for a month.

Step Two:

Buy three types of lavender (l. augustifolia English Tall 'Vera', l. augustifolia 'Hidcote Dwarf', and lavendula stoechas 'Purple Ribbon'), and and a grocery bag full of little cups. Place 16 seeds in one tablespoon of water in each cup for each type of lavender. Repeat the process with a second group of cups. Label all the cups, feeling very organized and scientific.

Lavandula stoechas 'Purple Ribbon' is also known as Spanish or French lavender, but I'm not sure if the Spanish or French are aware of this. This cup was in the fridge for six weeks. 

Step Three:

Decide to discover the perfect time span for stratifying seeds by breaking experiment down into three time periods: six weeks, three weeks, and 10 days. Put half the cups outside during the worst winter in years and the other half in the fridge. Look proudly upon all 18 cups of seeds and feel smugly satisfied. Keep three seed packs at room temperature to use as a control group. Make a chart to document data and write reminders on the calender. Sleep soundly knowing you are about to unlock the mystery of growing lavender.

Lavender seeds in the fire pit waiting to spend the winter freezing and thawing. I do not recommend this stratification method, but love the irony of this photo.

Step Four:

After brutally freezing my seeds, it was finally time to plant them. Did I mention lavender seeds are microscopically small and need to be planted with tweezers? Of course not. I've already blocked that from my memory. I numbered each compartment on the seed trays and then labeled each grow light greenhouse.

I should never be left unsupervised.

Step Five:

Run down stairs like a five year old on Christmas every day to see if anything is growing. Wait for the basement to look like this:

instead of this:

The germination rates of English Tall 'Vera' and 'Hidcote Dwarf' were about 5%, most of which were so wretched I pulled them. My best 'Vera' seedling came from a seed I dropped that sprouted out the side of a coir pot.

By the time the grand experiment was over, I was the proud owner of a single 'Vera' seedling, a teensy 'Hidcote Dwarf' seedling, and half a tray of Spanish lavender. Even the control group, which spent the winter in a box at room temperature grew. 

The lone lavendula augustifolia survivors. 
'Vera' is on the left and 'Hidcote Dwarf' is on the right.

I transplanted the seedlings into little plastic cups and keep them in these baskets to make it easier to take them outside during the day.

I have 17 tiny Spanish lavender seedlings. The pathetic 'Hidcote Dwarf' is in the back. Since the Spanish lavender seeds are immune to subzero temperatures, I may try hot lava next. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Big Cups of Happy: A Seedling Success Story

Sometimes things just work out. When I discovered last summer that nursery plants were packed with pesticides, I decided to grow all my own annuals and only plant perennials in the fall after the systemic pesticides they'd been given the previous spring were no longer active.

But as confident as I am in my gardening abilities, I was frustrated and slightly worried I wouldn't be able to grow the plants I really wanted. Some of my favorites, such as trailing lantana and 'Blue Daze' evoluvus are only grown from cuttings and seed isn't available. So to resolve this I did what I always do: I created a plan, convinced myself it would work, and jumped right in. My reward is plastic cups plump with seedlings to help fill my garden.

Plants Under Grow Lights:

I've already transplanted my ammi majus 'White Lace' and 'Graceland' to extra large 32 oz cups to give the tap roots plenty of room. These have huge root systems! The other plants are jealous. I just consider it botanical motivation.

The leaves of ammi majus remind me of Golden Alexanders' (zizia aptera) while ammi visnaga foliage looks like fennel. Both support beneficial insects and have beautiful white flowers. 

 All my plants are still under grow lights but on warm days I take them outside to help harden them off. Some of my plants have already been transferred to larger pots from their original 16 oz plastic cups.

Annual Scarlet Flax is so easy to grow. It's even sending out new growth at the base. However, I found its letter to management requesting  warmer weather and a different paper umbrella in its drinks a bit snarky.

Gomphrena is one of my favorite summer annuals. I had a self-sown seedling surprise me one year so I gave germinating it a try. This is 'Mixed Colors' which grows to about 2 ft tall and has purple, pink, white, and orange ball shaped flowers.  Sweet basil seeds from High Mowing Seeds picked up at a Dave Matthews Band concert last summer are growing in one of the pots as is a single phacelia sprout.

 Gomphrena, also known as globe amaranth, needs darkness to germinate so I covered the cups with newspaper until sprouts appeared.

The cerinthe 'Pride of Gibraltar' plants are huge! I bought the seeds on impulse and had no idea what to expect. They've been very easy to grow.

Pictured from top left are 'Mixed Colors' gomphrena, 'Pride of Gibralter' cerinthe, ammi (the flowers on both a.majus and a.visnaga look the same), and annual scarlet flax.

Smokey bronze fennel and 'Mortgage Lifter' tomatoes will keep me as well as the pollinators well fed.

So whatever happened to all the plants I wintersowed?

They grew, too!!

Instead of wintersowing in small containers or milk jugs, I used empty containers and tented them with thin plastic propped up by bamboo stakes and held tight with bungee cords. After a wind storm caused the stakes to pierce the plastic, I topped them with ping pong balls. It was highly effective and allowed me the amazing opportunity to buy 144 ping pong balls for $9. I have now a gross of balls, a statement that makes my husband nervous.

Black Eyed Susans, Malva 'Zebrina' (French hollyhocks), linaria 'Fairy Boquet'

NEWS FLASH: Two local nurseries, Merrifield's Garden Center and The Farm at Broad Run are now selling annuals, herbs, and vegetables that have been grown without any pesticides! Hooray!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Welcome to Cheeksylvania!

I once had a neighbor who gardened in a pink dress, its waist cinched and skirt flowing as she carefully tended her small plot. I found her attire both horrifying and fascinating and could not fathom ironing a dress just to wear gardening. This memory pops to the surface as I dig through my dresser for my favorite pair of work shorts. The loose, quick drying fabric and deep pockets wick away sweat and help me keep track of my pruners. I slip them on and secure the built-in belt as tightly as I can. I throw on a faded pink t-shirt, dog chewed baseball hat and head out the door. If my former neighbor could see me, she would close the blinds.

Kneeling in the garden, I lean and bend and when no one is looking, wipe my sweaty face with the bottom of my shirt. In and out of my pocket slide the pruners, the belt of my shorts loosening with every drop of their heavy blades. Too big for my frame, my shorts begin to dip and I'm vaguely aware my underwear is showing. I tug at the waist, half-heartedly tighten the belt, and continue to weed.

Lost in thought, I methodically pull weeds and errant trumpet creeper shoots. The still heat has begun to cool and the sweat along my back is beginning to dry. A slight breeze drifts across my lower spine and around to my stomach and I smile gratefully. I continue to lean forward, ripping the rampaging stems of the trumpet creeper from my agastache and feel the pruners brush against my lower thigh, the pockets almost touching the ground.

The slam of the fence gate and teen chatter fill the silence. Suddenly, I hear my daughter shriek and gasp.

"OH MY GAWD!!! Mom, I can see your butt! Those stupid shorts are falling down again!"

The rolling hills of Upper Asster, Cheeksylvania are on full display and I bolt upright, grabbing my shorts as I burst out laughing. I quickly tighten the belt and call out, "Sorry, hon! My shorts are too big. At least now my butt's not sweaty."

I fumble with the shorts but cannot stop laughing. Hiking shorts off the clearance rack: $20. Flashing your daughter while gardening: Priceless!!

This post first appeared during the summer of 2011. I've reposted it for April Fool's Day.