Would growing herbs make me clever?

>> Friday, November 30, 2007

Gee, I want to be a clever gardener! Someone said that clever gardeners know about companion planting. I’ll have to look into this ‘simple technique’ just to see if it makes me feel clever. I’m already learning about putting perennials together for color, fragrance, and texture, so it seems learning about companion planting shouldn’t be any great stretch.

In the past, I have grown nasturtium and marigolds along side my tomatoes as a pest repellant. Not every year, since I’m not sure if it works or not. Sometimes I would find the dreaded Tomato Hornworm merrily chomping away on a tomato stem next to nasturtium, so I don’t think he was too bothered by that repellent plant. Maybe he didn’t know he was supposed to be repelled.

There are many plants that benefit from having companions around. People benefit from having companions, so why shouldn’t plants? Many of the companion pairings I have seen listed involve at least one herb.

Herbs are something that have both intrigued and mystified me for a very long time. I see herb gardens featured on TV garden shows and in magazines, etc and they either look manicured and formal or wild and unkempt. I like the wild, natural look myself. It just seems more inviting and alive.

I always think after viewing these gardens that I would like to have one of these but then I think “what would I do with all of those herbs?”

Herbs are that branch of the plant world that cries out to be used. And it seems there is an herb that can be used in almost every aspect of our daily lives. But when it comes right down to it I don’t know if I would or even could use them properly. Like I said earlier, they mystify me.

I have great admiration for anyone who can take a plant and make soap out of it or spice up a bowl of soup or add a sweet fragrance to a home. The utilitarian aspect of herbs is what, I suppose, appeals to me most. Maybe its my frugal upbringing that tells me that if a thing can be used for more than one purpose then it becomes more valuable. Herbs both look good and can be used for other beneficial and useful things.

Despite my few failed attempts to use herbs as an insect repellent, I still am motivated enough to expand my knowledge of how the plant kingdom can do more than just look good and feed us.

I have read plenty of books about the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs but I’m not sure where to start or what use I should go for. Using a plant for medicinal reasons just seems out of the question, what with all of the fast acting medications we have available to us. It’s not that I have overwhelming trust in the FDA when it comes to allowing only the best medications to reach the market, it’s just that I’m not sure I want to be experimenting with something that may not be very effective in ‘curing’ me when I’m sick and want to get well quickly. There are an awful lot of people who swear by herbal remedies and herbal preventatives, my wife being one. She takes these Wellness Formula tablets every cold season and urges me to take them as well. She never seems to get sick but I do every year just before Thanksgiving, just like clockwork, whether I take them or not. So, based on these two samplings of using herbs as preventatives, I’m not convinced they work all that well.

As far as culinary use goes, I know fresh herbs add a little something extra to foods, because I have tried them. We have bought basil, thyme, rosemary, etc from Farmer’s Markets and our foods do taste better as a result. But honestly, I don’t know just how much parsley or basil our family would use for cooking if we grew it ourselves. I suppose the excess could go to the compost pile or friends.

We lead pretty simple lives and are not given to extravagant or gourmet meals. Occasionally I enjoy testing my culinary skills by trying a new recipe that sounds especially tempting. Sometimes the recipe tastes pretty good, if I may say so.

I would like to make potpourri, sachets or soap, etc but that would take an awful lot of Lavender and I just don’t have that kind of space.

Making my own insect repellent seems, to me, to be the most practical reason for growing herbs. There are many herbs that can be ground up and mixed with water and used as insect repellent and/or fungicide. A few are elder leaves, chamomile flowers, chive leaves, horseradish leaves, feverfew flowers, etc, all of which can be interspersed throughout my perennial beds since they require the same growing conditions. And they put on a show of flowers as well.

So, let’s see, scattering them throughout the garden would add some fragrance, help fill in the odd gap here and there, attract beneficial insects and help feed birds. Maybe companion planting can make me a clever gardener after all.


Deciding on what path to take

>> Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My yard is beginning to evolve from a typical suburban landscape of lawn, a few trees and a fence. I have added some raised beds and a few level beds. Although I am pleased with the progress in this first year of perennial gardening, I can’t help but think the design is boring.

Maybe it’s because I have time on my hands now that the winter chores are done and I can take the time to just look around.

I have noticed a distinct pathway developing between the rear door of the garage, where I keep the bird seed, running past the deck and on toward the two trees where I have bird feeders hanging. I make this trip every evening at dusk to refill the feeders so I don’t have to go out at the crack of dawn when the temperature is at its coldest. Plus, this way the feeders are already stocked full when the birds decide to show up. Sometimes, they would actually get their before I would in the morning so this method just works out better for all of us.

It is amazing to me how a path can be worn through the grass by only two human feet making this trip just once a day, but I’ve been doing it now for about three and a half years. Granted the path isn’t real obvious yet and it gets blended in when I mow the lawn, but I know it’s there.

Now that I see this path being laid out for me I have turned my thoughts to building a path through the yard. It would make sense to have the path follow this straight-line course that I obviously have felt is the best way to get to the feeders because, as they say, a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. And since there are no obstructions, a straight line is what I take. But sometimes taking the long way around is more enjoyable and my right-side brain tells me to make the path more, shall we say, 'interesting'.

In order to make the trip from garage to feeders most interesting there should be planting beds along the way. This intimates that I would design the path first and then the beds, but hold on. I have a few concerns about what I want to see from the deck, since that is where I will view the garden most often, and what I don’t want to see. For instance, I would like to be able to view the bird feeders and the birds on the ground under the feeders that don’t sit on the feeders, such as the Mourning Doves, the Dark-eyed Juncos, the ducks, etc. Also, I would like to block the view of the compost area. So these consideration dictate that I should design the beds first and build the path around them.

Starting a path from all entrances and destinations would seem to be the most logical, i.e., the garage, both sheds, the deck steps, compost area, bird feeders, vegetable beds and both side entrances from the front yard. Where the individual starting points of the path would meet depends on the design of the beds and the path would, of course, run along side some of the beds. Maybe this path design is creating itself for me.

The beds would have to be designed to be inviting enough to come off of the deck to investigate. Up to this point my beds have abutted fences around the outer edges of the yard, in a very typical manner, and although the leading edge is curved, giving each bed varying depths, I have not yet reached toward the center of the yard. Since I have been thinking about paths, I now feel compelled to expand my gardening experience into this uncharted territory. I will no longer be restricted to creating beds for three view points, I can now design them for viewing from four sides. The shape of the fourth side, previously dictated by the straight line of a fence, will now become curved as well. I feel so liberated.

I have never been fond of a balanced or symmetrical appearance in any design, except where efficiency or safety has to be a factor. Even the wall hangings in my house are not perfectly balanced or symmetrical in their layout. I find symmetry to be boring. Nature is not symmetrical so why should I force symmetry where it is not natural?

But I digress. Allowing oneself to be drawn into parts of the garden that are unseen from somewhere else in the garden is like giving yourself a gift. Rounding a shrub in order to view a particular plant, and then comparing that new vision with that which you remember from the last time you saw it offers a sense of newness, a freshness that cannot be had with the constant familiarity of a plant that is always in view such as that obtained from standing in the middle of the yard and being able to see everything at once..

Your garden should be a place of surprises. It should be your personal amusement park drawing your senses from one combination of plants (grouped by color, texture, fragrance or height) or single specimen to a contrasting group or single specimen. You should be able to arrive at your destination by traveling through a range of sensory triggers. Textures, fragrances and colors that both soothe your spirit and give a sense of well-being and peace are something we all strive for in our gardens.

Most books I have read concerning landscape design says you should have one or more focal points for your eyes to rest on. I can see merit in this. Focal points could be anything, a statue, a trellis, a shrub or other planting and can fit anywhere within the garden. But they don’t necessarily have to be seen all at once. Winding paths through the garden allow these focal points to be hidden and encountered singularly.

Hiding focal points can be extremely challenging in a small suburban yard so the paths and beds need to be constructed in such a way as to make the yard appear larger. I have heard the term ‘garden rooms’ used to describe just such an illusion. I’m not so sure I want garden rooms in my yard, mainly because of the limited space I have to deal with, but smaller areas along the path like pockets can work the same way.

We are told to always put the shorter plants up front with the tallest to the rear in order to see everything. Nature doesn’t do it this way and I would prefer not to either. So creating pockets of surprises tucked in here and there allows you to see everything from the path but not from everywhere on the path. For instance, if you move just two feet to the right you can now see that 18” tall Heuchera that was hidden between the 36” tall Chrysanthemum and the 6’ tall Viburnum. This apparent randomness in design, I think, is much more appealing. It may be considered too messy for some, but I think it looks more natural.

Building a pathway that forces you to explore, in addition to getting you to where you are going, should be a worthwhile goal. And as such I think I should build curved beds, not necessarily circular or symmetrical beds. This, hopefully, will allow visitors to want to explore and discover. If you cannot see the entire garden from the porch, deck or windows of your house then you are more likely to walk out into the garden in order to see everything, to experience it more first hand, if you will. Standing in the center of the yard, turning 360 degrees to see everything your garden has to offer, seems a bit boring. This is what I have now.


Winter sowing

>> Monday, November 26, 2007

On Tuesday Nov 20, 2007, Kylee of Our Little Acre, brought up a term I had not heard of before. Winter sowing. This idea intrigued me enough that I followed her link back to another of her posts from January 14, 2007 where she describes how this thing works.

It is such a surprisingly simple idea that makes use of an item, plastic milk jugs, that almost everyone has in their kitchen and gets thrown out when they are emptied.

I put them into the recycle bin and know they get re-used somehow but if I can re-use them myself, all the better. I have saved a few of them to use as cloches, which work pretty well, but after seeing this idea I can now use more of them as mini-greenhouses as well.

The idea probably won’t replace my indoor seed-starting setup but it will sure give me more space to start even more.

I’m going to set my jugs in the raised beds which are currently covered in about 6” leaf mulch. The mulch should give the little greenhouses a bit of extra protection from the cold. Plus, with the jugs being filled part way with soil, they will provide extra protection for the raised beds. I love this idea!

Now I can start those sweet peas that my wife loves so much. I haven’t had any success starting them early enough and this just might work. Also, there are a bunch of other seeds I could start and haven’t because of limited space, like cosmos, lithianus, zinnias, candytuft, and, and... Oh boy, I can see this is going to take up my ‘extra’ garden space pretty quickly. Hmmm, maybe I can find some space in the neighbors beds.

Thanks for enlightening us to this marvelous, simple idea, Kylee.


Warmer drier winter predicted

This winter is predicted to be the warmest winter since record keeping started 127 years ago. This is according to the National Climatic Data Center. Previously the record was set in 2005. I didn’t have a perennial garden bed during that winter so I wasn’t as concerned with sustaining a garden as much as the usual worry of getting enough snowfall to get through the next summer.

Utah depends a great deal on winter snow melt to provide most of our water. Snow, tricky to forecast, might do well this year in the Northern Rockies. That may or may not mean much for Utah. It is too early to tell.

The Climate Prediction Center says La Niña strengthened during October, making it even more likely that the USA will see below-average precipitation in the already drought-stricken regions of the Southwest and the Southeast this winter.

I am beginning to worry about the new plants I put into the ground this past month. Do I continue to water them? Are they going to make it through a drier than normal winter without my help?

With temperatures, December through February, predicted to be 4% warmer than the 30-year average, is this increase in temperature enough to make me drag the garden hoses out of storage and start watering again? Are we going to expect future winters where we don’t even disconnect our irrigation systems because we will use them year round?

Predictions coming from the Farmers Almanac aren’t very rosy either. Their predictions pretty much match everyone else’s.

The only areas forecast to be wetter-than-average are in the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio Valley. And since I don't live in either of those areas, I guess I'll just have to break out the hoses and continue to water.

Well, enough whining for now, there are plants to be saved! So what if I have to drain the garden hoses every day and put them away every night, this is what I signed on for and this is what I’ll have to do.

Happy gardening everyone!


Do you have to plan a garden to become a gardener?

>> Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I want to thank Michelle of Garden Rant for her thoughts on garden planning. She states that garden planning is a ‘poisonous myth’.

I have to agree with her, garden planning made a paralytic, indecisive, procrastinator out of me. As a first year perennial gardener, I feel that my insight in this matter, being as fresh as it is, affords me some expertise on whether or not planning is ‘an important step’. I have been planning my perennial garden, literally, for years. I have drawn up so many plans I can’t even remember where I have put them all. Every house we have ever lived in has become a masterpiece of gardening excellence, if only in my own mind. Why did I never act on these most excellent plans? Because I didn’t feel I could pull it off.

Meeting the so-called ‘requirements’ of a true garden such as creating focal points, balancing ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ colors, creating a pleasing symmetry, and timing blooming factors for all-season color in order to be worthy of the distinction of being a garden and not just a plot of soil with plants on it was downright daunting.

I wanted something that would stop people in their tracks and exclaim their admiration. If they came to my door with a desire to learn the secrets of my masterful talent, even better.

But alas, I was fearful of taking the second step. What was the second step? What was required to take my plan from paper to full blooming reality? Should I overwhelm the soil with all things organic in an attempt to call forth those masters of soil tillage, the earthworm?

Should I hire a designer to get the all important sign-off on what I was certain was ‘the’ plan that would draw every garden periodical in the western hemisphere to my doorstep to learn my secrets?

What if I started my plants at the wrong time of year and they all died? What if, just after planting my precious beauties, our city became the scene of the most epic swarm of the most voraciously hungry insect population to ever darken our skies? What if, no matter what I planted, bees shunned my yard like the plague? In other words, gulp, what if I failed?

After all this planning, I still had cold feet. Nay, I had become so paralyzed with fear of failure of not living up to expectations of gardening experts everywhere who repeatedly recited the mantra of ‘plan, plan, plan that garden until you’ve got it right’ that I had finally reached the point where I would allow a garden nursery, Bluestone Perennials, choose the plants for me.

Yes friends, realizing that time will not stand still while I try to decide when to force my ‘frozen-to-the-chair’ butt to get up and actually plant something besides vegetables, the only decision I could make was to let someone else decide for me. I had reached a vulnerably weak moment in the career I had made of garden planning and came to the realization that I would probably never be able to reach any higher zenith in pursuit of the perfect garden than I already have without a good swift kick in the pants.

That kick in the pants came in the form of 59 plants that were guaranteed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Guaranteed to meet the all important requirements of a perfectly planned garden i.e., ‘long season of bloom, different foliage textures and colors, and their ease of care’. I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. If the landscape did not look beautiful, hey it isn’t my fault. Blame it on Bluestone Perennials. See, it says so right there in the catalog. Guaranteed satisfaction.

After planting their planned garden, I must admit, I felt that I had somehow cheated, and yet been cheated. I felt that, having not adhered to the unwritten law of a true gardener, ‘Thou must plan and plant your own garden’, that I cannot wear the badge of a true gardener.

Perhaps my guilt stems from the lingering effects of the poison I have been fed by gardening ‘experts’ attempting to indoctrinate me into the belief that I have to plan in order to become a real gardener.

Maybe if I told you that I bought this ready made garden for only one plot, then maybe I could be forgiven my transgression of trying to become a gardener overnight. I do have several other plots that remain a work in progress and are slowly being filled with ‘whim’ plants. For those plots, I confess to planning, although, not one of those plots actually matches my plans. Except for the shape of the beds.

Looking back on it now, I think that, maybe, buying that ready made garden helped propel me towards become a true gardener or, at least, it put me on the right path. Some of those plants died. Most survived. I have now gone through the trauma of loosing plants, just like a real gardener. I have managed to nurse some plants back from the brink of death, just like a real gardener. I did actually buy perennial plants without any real idea of where they might end up, all the while knowing they might not survive wherever they went. If nothing else, this alone shows a willingness for independence from expert gardeners and shows that I am gaining enough confidence to go my own way, just like a real gardener.

I still have yet to go through at least one winter to make one complete cycle of being a practicing perennial gardener. Maybe then I can feel better about calling myself a real gardener. Oh, and about planning, I don’t think I will fret too much about it anymore. I have built up an immunity to their poison because I have come to realize that plants are going to make it or not whether I plan or not.


Happy Thanksgiving!

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I am grateful to be healthy enough to pursue my love of gardening. I am thankful for the mistakes I make and the opportunity it affords me to learn. I am thankful for this electronic miracle called the internet and blogging that allows me to show off any good things that come from my garden and hopefully inspire someone else to get theirs started.

I am thankful for the many other gardeners who have freely given their inspiration for me to overcome my fear of failure and to just do it.

Most of all I am thankful for family and friends for their support in all that I do.

I am thankful that this day comes along when I am forced to stop everything and be reminded of all I have to be thankful for.

I want to send my prayers to family members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and assure them that although they cannot be here with us as they have in so many years past we will miss them all the more for their love and duty to their country.

I am thankful that I can watch my Ohio State Buckeyes and Indianapolis Colts march down field to victory over their rivals. Yeah, Go Buckeyes! Go Colts!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!


Expanding plot

>> Monday, November 19, 2007

I decided to expand the plot where my raspberries are growing. Earlier this year I put a birth bath here and it just looked naked in a grassy plot. Besides this will be easier to tend to than running a lawn mower and getting on my hands and knees to trim grass around the bath.

I saw a picture of snapdragons and marigolds surrounding a bird bath and thought this would look good here.

After placing 8-10 layers of newspaper on the ground they were covered with 6 cu ft of shredded bark and small bark chips.

Hopefully by the spring the ground will be ready to dig into.


Appalachian Trail wildlife

>> Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution set up 50 motion-triggered cameras along 600 miles of the 2,175 mile long Appalachian Trail this year for the purpose of capturing wildlife in their natural habitat.

They were able to photograph black bears, bobcats, deer, coyote, even a wild horse.

The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and serves as an important remaining piece of wildlife habitat for these disappearing animals. The cameras captured 1,900 photographs from over 250 locations throughout Shenandoah National Park in Virginia as well as in Maryland and West Virginia.

The Smithsonian Institute partnered with Appalachian Trail Conservancy to form an inventory of mammals along the trail. The survey also helps land managers and scientists to understand and illustrate the impacts of the environment surrounding at trail on wildlife populations.


Morning on the Homestead

>> Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good day fellow gardeners! Today I awoke to a brisk fall day (25F), just the kind we all know and cherish for its refreshing coolness. Yeah, Right! It was downright cold!

The plants do look beautiful though, in their frosty garb. The Dianthus especially looks like it was made for winter. Sedum turns yellowish-brown as if trying to compete with tree and shrub leaves.

Fall colors aside, the frost adds so much more to the overall beauty of a garden.

I grew up in Indiana ans always looked forward to the fall colors. We lived near a large corn field, who doesn’t in Indiana, and it was always bittersweet to see the skeletons of corn stalks standing as reminders of the wonderful ears of corn they always gave us. And fall always brought out the most gorgeous reds and yellows, especially southern Indiana around Morgan-Monroe State Park. Here in Utah, we don’t get much of that spectrum of color. We have the golden shimmering leaves of Aspen as our color guard. But their large swaths looked like gold veins running through mountain sides.

Every morning the Mourning Doves look so peaceful sitting in their high perches atop the trees gathering up the suns warming rays. I always feel so bad when I walk out to the backyard and they all leave their warm, sunny perches as I approach to fill the two birdbaths with fresh water. I have to do this to break up the ice from the previous evening thus allowing them to drink. They soon come back as though to forgive me for disturbing them.

Every morning, at 8:45, the elementary school, which sits the other side of a row of houses from me, plays a song to get the children’s day started. They play a wide variety of songs, from ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys to ‘Good Morning Starshine’ by Oliver. And then one of the students recites the pledge of allegiance. It’s a very pleasant way to start a school day.

The birds are constantly singing and vying for a perch to sit and eat. They can never sit for very long as there is always another bird waiting its turn, and they are not afraid to push each other off so they can eat. All in all I guess it is a system that keeps them all fed.

I noticed the Dark-eyed Junco has returned. They don’t sit on perches as the other birds do so they eat off of the ground with the Doves.

I have been suffering a head cold and sore throat for the last couple of days so I don’t feel real cheery but the these morning sounds and rituals are comforting.

I have been reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver about one families attempt to escape our dependence on industrial-food to the rural life where they vow to buy only locally grown produce, grow it themselves or learn to do without. The book serves to enlighten us to how corporations are replacing America’s once thriving, diversified family farms with mono-cultured acres of corn and soybeans to feed ‘food animals’ who spend their entire lives stuffed in pens and loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones to fatten them up for market.

The book has really awakened, in me, the need to get back to celebrating local farmers by buying our produce at farmers markets instead of supermarkets and shunning the out-of-season produce, with its bland taste and questionable nutritional value. Growing our own is much more healthy and would help cut back on the vast amounts of petroleum required to transport produce from thousands of miles away.

With the cost of fuel rising so rapidly we may for forced to return to the local farmer for our produce out of financial necessity. Wouldn’t that be ironic? To have to buy locally because fuel prices are too high.

We have become spoiled by having out-of-season fruit and vegetables at our fingertips. The price of that luxury is far higher than we know. Read this book and you’ll be surprised at how much it really costs us.

Well, I have chores to get to and miles to go before I sleep. Good day!


Turning clay to workable soil, a progress report

>> Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I thought I would take this time to report on how well my clay soil is turning into workable garden soil. It is coming along quite nicely. When I first began planning these beds three years ago they were covered with grass and the occasional weed. Mainly bindweed and what I used to (until today) call buttonweed.

Just now I looked up buttonweed on the internet to provide a picture or a description link of it here and learned that what I thought was buttonweed is actually something else. I found Virginia Buttonweed and this clearly is not what I have. My education continues and now I have to figure out just what weed I do have. I swear it looks like a bunch of buttons on the end of each stem. So, what is it?

To date, I have converted 1,135 sq ft into eight perennial and four vegetable beds.

All four vegetable beds and two perennial beds are raised using untreated redwood and cedar lumber, to resist rot.

The remaining perennial beds are not raised but currently bordered with cherry wood logs partially buried. I plan on replacing them with stone or brick within the next few years.

Looking back on it, I can’t believe I have dug up this much soil. That is a lot of ground to cover with mulch and amend with compost every year.

I chose to experiment in preparing the beds by using three different methods, one, weed killer and then waiting until the soil was safe to use; two, digging the soil up with a shovel and pulling up grass for the next two years; and three, covering the area with newspaper over winter and then digging in the spring.

The weed killer is by far the easiest and quickest method but the prospect of poisoning the water table scared me. I read extensively about the product and decided it was safe. The product I chose to use was glyphosate. It is the main ingredient in RoundUp (produced by Monsanto), and since the patent ran out in 2000, there are now other products on the market that use it. I chose to use Hi-Yield Kill-Zall.

Glyphosate is non-toxic to humans and animals. Glyphosate moves through the weed to the root, and stops the function of an essential enzyme found in plants (but not in humans or other animals). Any Glyphosate not absorbed by plants breaks down into natural materials without moving in or on the soil to untreated plants. It is only effective on actively growing plants and breaks down over the course of ten days or so.

Weeds and grass will generally re-emerge with one to two months, so it doesn’t get rid of them completely but you now have a really good head start towards getting your garden in. If I want to start a bed quickly I will use this method again. But, I plan on having enough patience to let newspaper and mulch do the job.

Spreading newspaper over the ground and then laying mulch on top of that was pretty simple and effective but I had to wait over winter. Since I wasn’t going to plant anything for awhile this method worked pretty well.

Using a shovel was obviously the most labor intensive and after it was done the grass kept coming back for a couple of years until I had pulled up enough of it that I finally got all of the roots out.

The soil under the grass was fairly easy to work in and I added composted steer manure and shredded bark mulch over two years before finally planting anything. I used a rototiller in one bed but was told that it can create a hardpan beyond the reach of the tines so I won’t be doing that again.

Paul James, of Garden by the Yard, says it is okay to use a pitch fork to loosen the soil each year and I guess it will have to be an ongoing thing.

After all of this work on these beds I feel pretty confident that they are all life sustaining. I find fat worms and baby worms so that is a good indication that the soil is thriving.

Although I will never be free of weeds, don’t I wish and pray for that miracle, at least with enough good stuff growing in the beds most weeds will be crowded out and weeding should get better over time.

After all the work I have put into it, the soil is fairly easy to work in but I will need to add compost to it every fall.


Final fall cleanup?

>> Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I decided to try something different this year with my leaves. I have three fruit trees along the west side of the backyard and they drop a prodigious amount of leaves. The pile looks so nice and yellow and thick.

The rest of the yard doesn’t get any leaves on it unless there is a good wind. The last few years I have been raking the leaves onto the perennials beds, beds that I had not yet planted anything in waiting for the compost and mulch to breakdown in preparation for planting.

This year, I decided that since those beds have been planted and will get lots of mulch dumped on them after the ground freezes, I will share the wealth of those fruit tree leaves with the entire yard.

I raked all of the leaves over the entire yard and let them sit for a few days. No special reason for leaving them sit, I just didn’t feel like dragging the mower out until today. The weather gave Utah another beautiful, clear, 55F day and I, in my usual capricious manner, decided that today was the day for mowing. I find that as I get older I do things whenever I feel like it more so than when they have to be done. I am more or less within acceptable bounds as far as the proper timetable, but don’t count on me to do anything by a strict schedule, is all I am saying.

Now that the leaves had rested there a few days and it looked like they weren’t going to be blown away by the wind, I thought today would be a perfect day to follow through with my brilliant plan and put those leaves to work. The grass wasn’t really in need of mowing but that wasn’t why my intention. Besides this way I could run the gas out of the mower to get it ready for winter storage. I love it when I can do two or more things at once, thereby saving time. Ah, if only it would work out that way. If I timed it right the gas would run out at the exact moment when the last leaf was mulched. And if the mower just happened to be at the storage shed door when it happened, all the better. That kind of luck doesn’t usually come about easily so I wasn’t really counting on it.

The lawn looks nice now, all cleaned of leaf clutter. Of course, the next frost or gust of wind that comes along will sever the remaining leaves tenuous hold and another pile will be created. That pile I think will go to my pseudo-compost pile. There is still the apple tree, which hasn’t dropped any leaves yet. I guess it’s because it still has quite a few apples on it. But, I am sure that after all of the leaves have fallen and they are all sitting in their final resting place, only then will all of my fall chores finally be done.

Let’s see, I better double check my to do list...


Coopers Hawk is back

>> Friday, November 2, 2007

A couple of days ago I wrote about the puzzle of why there weren’t as many birds at the feeders as usual. Today I discovered why. the Coopers Hawk is back.

I saw him sitting high up in the cherry tree and all of the Finches and Doves immediately took off.

The hawk eventually left as well.

He wouldn’t turn around so this is the best shot I could get of him.


Gurney’s Seed & Nursery order

>> Thursday, November 1, 2007

Received my order from Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co.

Some plants were in plastic ‘coffins’ and all of the others were in plastic bags as bare-roots. Packing peanuts were placed on top and sides but this delivery didn’t use as many.

UPS delivered the package and as you can see it is once again damaged. The order I received last week from Michigan Bulb Co was also delivered by UPS and it too was damaged. Although no plants were hurt in either incident.

The plants all look healthy and unblemished. The instructions that came with them said they are to go into the ground immediately.

The bed I just built for them next to the deck is where they will all go.

Delphinium Blue Butterfly
Listed as dwarf Chinese delphinium, Chinese larkspur and Siberian Larkspur. It is a member of the buttercup family. It can grow to 12”-18” tall and wide as opposed to the standard Delphinium which grows up to 36” tall. It can take full sun to part shade and blooms early summer to early fall. It attracts bees, butterflies, birds. All of my favorite wildlife.

Two things I wasn’t aware of when I ordered it was that contact with foliage may irritate skin and it is short lived so reseeding is encouraged but cultivars don’t prove true to the parent. If I had known this before hand I probably would have not ordered it. So, I am going to look at this plant as one of those serendipitous things that nature throws at you, and sometimes works out knowing full well that I may have to replace the plant with something more desirable.

The flowers are good for cutting and in cutting I may be able to get another bloom. I definitely want to keep some seed heads on it so it will reseed itself just to see what comes up next.

Geranium Birch’s Double
This is one of the perennial Geraniums, a true Geranium, the Cranesbill. The ‘other’ Geranium is not really a Geranium at all but a Pelargonium, although it is a relative. As the name suggests this one has double flowers.

My wife loves Geraniums but my experience with them is that they can get leggy and straggly and therefore not very attractive. Now at this point I must confess that I probably have, in my pre-gardener awakening, confused Pelargonium with true Geraniums. Now that I have discovered the difference, I am willing to give these ground-hugging true Geraniums a chance.

There are three commonly grown Geranium species: clarkei (most common), endressii (Wargrave Pink, which is a quick spreader), and sanguineum (Bloody Cranesbill, bright crimson foliage). The newest Geraniums are hybrids, and there are many, that have been bred to bring out desirable traits such as a true blue flowers (Johnson’s Blue), a neater growth habit (Rozanne), height (2’ tall Patricia), and early blooming (Ann Folkard).

Double Geraniums are the newest hybrids, such as Birch’s Double, Double Jewel (upright habit great for pots), and Southcombe Double (also good for containers).

Birch’s Double foliage turns red in the fall but is not listed as a sanguineum (Bloody Cranesbill). It is actually a himalayense which will grow to 14”-16” tall and blooms from early summer to autumn.

The plant will spread out among other taller plants and I have planted them between Monarda Jacob Cline and Stella de Oro Daylily. It sounds like it could be a good groundcover. The daylily might be a little too small for it but I’ll have to wait and see. After all, part of gardening is the fun of experimentation.

The planting instructions says to plant 1” below the soil so along with a good layer of mulch they should come through Utah’s winter just fine.

Monarda Jacob Cline
Aka Bee Balm, Bergamot, Oswego Tea, Horsemint. The many different names attests to how popular the plant has been throughout American history. It is native to eastern North America and its leaves were used by Oswego Indians of western New York to make tea. They shared its use with early American settlers who gave it the name Oswego Tea. It was used as a substitute for imported tea after the Boston Tea Party. The Shakers thought the tea effective in treating colds and sore throats and many have steamed the aromatic plant and inhaled the fumes to clear sinuses.

The genus was later named for the 16th century Spanish botanist Nicolas Monardes.

The name Bergamot was given because the scent closely resembles that of the bergamot orange.

Horsemint is similar to this Monarda, didyma, but is actually another Monarda, punctata, which is very similar in growth but its flowers are a lighter purplish color.

Herbalist have used this plant to treat nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, antiseptic, flatulence and insomnia. Its flowers can be used in salads, its leaves can be used in tomato dishes and as a substitute for sage in stuffing. No mater what the name, its herbal qualities and ability to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, along with its beautiful deep red flowers make it a very useful addition to any garden.

Monarda can grow to 5’ tall and, since it is a member of the mint family, it can spread rapidly, especially in shady damp areas.

Jacob Cline is the most mildew resistant and rust resistant cultivar on the market.

Daylily Stella de Oro
This daylily has once been named Perennial of the Year. It has outstanding color and is a definite rebloomer, more than any other in its family. As is typical of daylilies, the blooms last one day but there are many on strong stems. They can be used for cut flowers, edging, borders or in mixed containers.

Stella de Oro is a compact daylily reaching only 12” tall in May-July. The flowers are fragrant and the plant forms a dense clump that can functions as a groundcover. It is also drought-tolerant, a real bonus. I am really looking forward to seeing this plant bloom. This is my first daylily.

Lavender Hardy
What more can be said about Lavender. It is a very popular herb mainly for its fragrance. Running your hand over the tops of the plants fills the air with a sweet aroma that makes you think of English gardens and a sweet, unpolluted countryside. It has been used for over 2,500 years as a stewing herb, a mood tonic, an insect repellant, and a food flavoring. Ancient Egyptians used it in the mummification process. Medieval and Renaissance laundresses were called "lavenders" because they used lavender in the storage of clean laundry. The Pilgrims brought the plant to North America in the early 1600s; at that time, lavender flowers sewn in a cap were thought to "comfort the brain very well."

Some lavenders are ‘hardy’ and some are ‘tender’. The tender lavenders are best grown in pots while the hardy lavenders can be grown outdoors as perennials. The best way to determine which is which is by checking the botanical name. The most widely grown hardy lavender is English lavender which comes in two varieties, ‘Munstead’ (18” tall with lilac-colored flowers) and ‘Hidcote’ (16” tall with deep purple-blue flowers). This plant, from Gurney’s, was not labeled as Munstead or Hidcote. The height listed for this plant is 15”-20” with purple flowers. My guess is that maybe they plant one or both varieties together and since they are so similar it doesn’t really matter which one is sold. My rookie eyes cannot tell the difference and I’ll wager the fragrance is just as sweet with either one.


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