Monday, July 31, 2006

Having trouble with uploading pictures

Oh to be a digital camera junkie and not be able to upload pics to share. Woe is unto my growing addiction.

For some technical reason beyond me - blogger isn't taking any of my pictures from the weekend. Go figure.

I have tried to upload some great shots of light on light - orange light on orange plants - yellow light on yellow plants - light that enhances the look of the plant. Blogger wouldn't let me.

So you can't see my shots. You might want to make your own. ?????

But you gotta be there to see it.

It's that old seat in the garden thing again.

And yes, I'm going to keep coming back there time and time again. Every garden writer has their thing. I like seats in the garden. I like compost. So if you read my stuff - you get to read about seats and compost.

This is going to be an unusually crazy busy week with way too many deadlines to meet in a single week. So, while I hope to do some gardening and take a ton of pictures, I'm going to have to focus on the things that put the bread on my table. My blog (unfortunately) isn't one of them.

Sit in your garden while I'm not here. Relax a little. I'll get back to you in a week with a lot of pictures and a ton new web page ideas (Oh! Do I have ideas for my websites)

Sunday, July 30, 2006


I spent an hour or more this morning following the light across the garden as the sun rose. I was up early anyway and playing with the camera and the different light settings. One thing I took a lot of pictures of were the developing buds on my perennials-yet-to-bloom.

There's an anticipation with flower buds. A delicious anticipation of something magnificent and full of portent for the garden view.

The buds on my two hibiscus have been sitting there for some time, just slowly - ever so slowly - getting larger and larger. And I'm waiting and working on developing the patience needed to be a real gardener.
Real gardeners have patience. They've learned to harvest this year but plant for next. They think in terms of planting perennials for a few years down the line and trees for their children.

Gardens teach us a lot when we're not looking.

And we have to have patience to learn those lessons. That was one of my lessons this morning while I watched the sun come up.

I'm workin' on it but I fear I have a long way to go.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The garden is all about light - thought du jour

Variegated daylily flower
I think the garden and how we see it is all about light and how light works with shapes and colours. What looks good in one light will be a dog in others.

This daylily (my variegated) is an orange colour and in the morning light, I'd have a garden full. In the hot sun of the afternoon, I'll have to get back to you on it.

But I do like the transparency of the spider webs blowing off and whispering away to nothingness in the garden's first light.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

This morning's lesson

You know there's something to be learned from the garden, even when we don't want to learn it.

Take this morning (I wish you had).

Ed (Norton) my virus checker told me with some alarm that my system had been penetrated by a bad guy but he had taken care of it (almost). He recommended I take a bunch more steps though to ensure my system was really clean. So I did all those steps, learning more about Win XP than I ever wanted to know. 2.5 hours later I got back to work - thanks Ed.

But in the meantime, knowing the last step - a full system scan - would take some time, I wandered out to the garden to move some gravel, some mulch and do a little weeding.

The gravel went well. One or two more loads and the pathway to the water will be mowable and easy to walk on.

The mulching went well. A few more square feet of perennial gardens will never see a weed infestation again.

The weeding was an education. Somewhere in a rather large clump of straggly weeds at the back of the garden - underneath a lilac branch - lay a bandit. When I grabbed hold of a great clump of wood sorrel, it bit me.

And this stinging nettle bit me really hard. My hand lit up - I said a few rather ungardener type of words that are not fit for a family blog and jumped to my feet.

Damn! That stuff really stings!

I remembered though there was some jewelweed (Impatiens capensis is the variety I think I have) down by the waterfront and as I knew it was recommended for poison ivy, I thought I'd give it a try on the nettle. It was either that or suffer this burning for a good hour or more.

I wadded up a goodly ball of the topmost leaves from one of the clumps and started squeezing out the juice while rubbing it on my hand. The hand turned green (I can honestly say this morning I had a green thumb) but within a few seconds the lesser stinging parts had stopped and within 30 seconds, the entire burning sensation was gone.

After both my hand and my sense of calm established themselves again, I went to the office bookshelf. 'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs. Greive, my shelf reference book on herbal medicine, says it has a calming effect on skin problems but not to eat the stuff. Well, that was fine, I wasn't in the mood for a cup of tea - I just wanted my hand to stop stinging.

A further check on the Net did turn up one reference to jewelweed and stinging nettle and they recommended it. So do I now.

So while I wasn't looking to learn something that dramatic this morning, I certainly did. Stinging nettle is a weedy snake-in-the-grass while Jewelweed is indeed a jewel.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This could be my most important post this season

This really could be my most important post this season and the accompanying picture really says it all. These are my feet in front of the first year garden. I have just obtained a garden patio set with table, chairs and even an umbrella so I can sit out and see what changes I've wrought in my gardening empire.

The point here is that if your feet don't go up regularly in the garden - if you don't take the time to sit in your garden then what's the point of gardening?

If you garden for the exercise, then I can understand if you don't spend time smelling the flowers.

If you garden for the status, then I can understand it if you're never even seen in the garden.

If you garden for the neighbours, why then I'm sure you'll do fine.

But if you garden for yourself, then you need a place to sit and enjoy the fruits of your labours. If you garden for yourself, then you need a place for morning coffees and afternoon drinks.

If you don't have a place to sit in your garden, then the only time you'll go there is if you want to work on it.

This morning I took my coffee, my notes for the day, my camera and simply sat munching on an apple, swilling coffee and making notes for myself and my to-do list.

I took breaks from this work of the day to take a few decent pictures and really watched my garden grow for minutes on end. It wasn't a long contemplative silence but it was therapeutic. I watched the spider webs dissolve on the daylily flower. I watched a hummingbird buzz by - saw the Canada geese in flight-formation-training go by 30 feet overhead - got walked over by spiders searching for their morning's meal - and saw the light move into my garden saluting the day.

It was a magical period of time and I'm the better for it I think.

But it all starts with having a place to put up your feet.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cool Bug Identification Site

Here's an interesting site on bug identification. You gotta love folks who love bugs.

Weed Wrench

I get asked regularly how to remove large shrubs or bigger problem plants. The normal response is with a chainsaw or 4X4. Here's another alternative that looks like it would work well. Particularly if you don't have a 4 x 4 SUV handy.

The 15-foot garden

alcea nigra
In the boating world, some of us with less-than-perfect old wooden boats refer to them as 30-foot boats. That is, from 30 feet away the varnish and paint looks perfect but we aren't sailing showboat coffee tables, we're sailing boats. We walk over the decks and scratch things and oh well, we aren't perfect.

Let me introduce you to the concept of the 15-foot garden.

This first year hollyhock looks pretty good from 10-15 feet away. It is lush and full, growing strongly. Next year it will form an excellent backdrop to the garden against the pale yellow siding. As it is an Alcea nigra (black hollyhock) it should be a good colour contrast.

And it looks pretty good from 10 feet away.

But when I get close up to it, I see something a little less perfect. I see insect damage. And some of that damage is extensive.

But what's the problem here? The overall health of the plant is good except for a leaf or two. Do I spray to control a problem that isn't a problem for the plant (remember the plant is healthy) but is only a problem for me if I get too close to the plant?

The plant is healthy.

There is a thriving community of pests in my garden.

This means there is or will shortly be a thriving community of predators to eat the pests in my garden.

If I spray, I'll likely kill off the predators as well as the pests. If I refrain from spraying, I'll allow Mother Nature's workers to handle the problem.

The plant will be healthy.

And more importantly, so will I.

I won't bore you with the numbers of studies showing the adverse effects of chemical exposure.

I'll simply encourage you to take a step back to the 15 foot garden view.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Now *THIS!* is what you call container gardening

How'd you like to get this email?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I need a small favor....if it's not too much trouble.
I am going away on vacation and I need someone
to water my plants while I am gone.
In this hot weather they'll probably need water twice a day.

Thanks a lot.
I'll send you a postcard.

I've attached a photo for your reference.

p.s. the ladder is in the shed

This picture is making the rounds of the gardening Internet at the moment

Way too cute.

Oh - you mean stairs are for something else?

container garden
I have always liked crowding my entranceway with plants. Some wags say it is because I'm so lazy I don't want to carry the heavy pots too far out into the garden. (true)

Some say that it is because that's the only way I'll remember to water them when I see them wilting (true)

Some folks say it is because I can't see far enough away so I need plants beside my door to remind me that I'm a gardener. (true)

I however say that these are my guard plants.

These are the guardians of the sense of greenery of the place. They live year round with me and don't like to leave home for too far or too long. They remind me year round of summer and when the citrus go into bloom in the middle of a snowy January, I'm transported to a place of fragrance and magic.

The rest are old friends and you always like to keep old friends close.

There are some other fragrant plants there (night jessamine) and some herb pets that will go back into the house in the fall (rosemary, lemon verbena) along with the odd flowering or fragrant-leaf plant that is destined to raise my gardening soul in the dregs of January.

So for now, they get to live on the steps. They get their rightful place in my winter and summer life. And this is it for the summer.

I think I'm going to need bigger steps next year.

Monday, July 17, 2006

From a spring sowing

bachelor buttons
I got these flowers on my bachelor buttons (Centaurea montana) from a late January sowing this past year. Grew them in the cold sunroom and they were good stocky plants for a mid-May planting. They've just flowered and done as well as any other plant in this garden.

The only thing I have to make sure I do now is deadhead the darn things or they'll start taking over the garden next year. Great flowers, great colours but a bit of a weed. And I have enough existing weedy Campanula persificolia that I don't need to add to the problem myself.

That Campanula is on my hit-list this week.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's a fight to the death

Who ever said that flower gardening was a gentle sport? Who can pretend that all is light and best wishes out in the flower garden?

This is a blood sport.

To the victor goeth the spoils and in this case, survival.

There's only going to be one winner in this epic struggle and it's anybody's guess. The bindweed (Convolvus arvensis) has a chokehold on the daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and it is anybody's guess who's going to slap the mat first.

I saw these two going at it the other day at the marina where I keep my boat and couldn't help but be amazed at how Mother Nature really does let the fit survive and the weak perish. Both of these guys were growing in gravel and rock and full hot sun but ready to fight for their turf. The bindweed had completely pulled the flower stalk sideways (this is not trick photography) and was pulling it down with its weight.

But the winner will be determined next year when we see who survives the winter.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

This is what I miss in my garden

water lily
Even though I live on an island surrounded by water - I don't have these plants within easy driving distance. These are plants of calm water - not the big water of my life. So I'm going to have to dig ponds if I want to look at and smell these great plants. I was reminded of what I was missing today when I was on a small photoshoot for a magazine article I'm writing.

I like water gardening way too much which is why I'm in the process of writing an entire website about them.

And contrary to what most folks think, if you set up your water garden properly - it is the easiest form of gardening. If you don't do it properly - this kind of gardening is hell.

The trick is to remember that this is an ecosystem and if you balance it - you win. If you try to garden like you do in the ground in an unbalanced ecology - you lose and the green water and algae win. In the soil-garden, there's a middle ground between success and failure. There is no middle ground in the water garden.

But do it right (mostly in construction and plant balancing) and you have a garden of great beauty.

And about that promise not to build more gardens a few blogs back...

I'll get back to you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One is the loneliest number

But this is what I get for not dividing this potted calla last year (or the year before that).

Oh well. Maybe next year.

Don't Mess With This Gardener!

pruning geranium
Here's what happens when you finish blooming in my garden! You get whacked.

And indeed that's what I did the other day to this Geranium macrorrhizum. Whacked it right back because the silly damn thing had decided it was finished blooming.

So now - it will start regrowing and bloom again in September.

That pile of leaves to the left used to be on top of the plant - and now they're in the compost pile.

Don't mess with me when I've got a pair of pruning shears in my hand.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beautybush Repels Mosquitoes? For real?

Scientists at Univ. of Miss. have isolated compounds in American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) that may keep insects away. The plant's bug-repelling properties made it a traditional folk remedy. "Traditional folklore remedies many times are found to lead nowhere following scientific research," said Charles Cantrell, an ARS chemist. "The beautyberry plant and its ability to repel mosquitoes is an exception. We actually identified naturally occurring chemicals in the plant responsible for this activity." Don't expect to see beautyberry-derived repellents on the market anytime soon. Scientists still need to scrutinize toxicity levels and evaporation rates.

Taken from The Weekly Dirt Newsletter.

Monday, July 10, 2006

As if green worms weren't enough

If you like the sound of spring peepers and the basso profundo of the giant bullfrogs mating - you'll be as distressed as I was to read this article about the new threat to amphibians that's set to wipe out a ton of them.

Here's a perfect example

green worm on rose
Here's a perfect example of something that would send many gardeners screaming for the pesticides. These critters are simply devouring a containerized rose.


I picked up the watering hose and with the strongest jet I could conjur up - blew 'em all off the rose. I have no idea where they wound up but they haven't climbed back onto the rose. And nearby plants don't seem to be suffering any at this point.

It's 5 days after the hosing and the point is well made.

No chemicals. No fuss. No muss. Just blow the pests off the plants with a strong jet of water.

What could possibly be easier?

And why would you ever decide to take the time to mix noxious crap - and then spread it around the garden when all it takes is a jet of water?

It's beyond me.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Always something around a corner

garden design
While the planting isn't fantabulous - the idea is classic. I'm told that all gardens should have multiple views. I designed this into my main walkway (three separate views on the way into the house). Here's a view from another part of the driveway (not connected to the main pathway but an implied -and lesser - alternative). I simply mowed a pathway between the daylilies and the lilac bush to create another "where's that go?" kind of question in the viewer's mind.

In this case, it will be a pathway around to the front of yet-another perennial border.

But I made an important decision this past week. I've decided to hold off on creating any more gardens for the moment until the existing plantings mature a bit. I want to move them all around next fall to show off the plants a bit better and get a few wandering minstrels into their proper sunlight exposures. And this fall, I want to plant a ton of daffodils to give me a yellow wake-me-up in the spring (deer don't eat daffodils) So this pathway simply goes to the lawn for now.

This will give me some time to work on the boat, the car and the house and make sure the maintenance is right before moving onto the next few beds. Mind you, it will also give the cuttings I slipped this year time to mature and grow into real plants rather than a tiny slip/twig. I'll be able to populate those beds rather than just mulch them.

And next summer when I make the beds, I'll have something to plant in there right away from this summer's propagation.

At least that's the plan right now. But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Some well known gardeners wouldn't like this

Some well known gardeners wouldn't like this.

But I do. There's something quite comforting about a stand of these Hemerocallis fulva daylilies.

Oh I know they're "common". And I know they're a bit of a spreader (but not rapacious about it) And I know that many gardeners look over their noses at them.

But I don't care.

This clump is at my mailbox and I've mowed around them to create a bit of an island (and contain their expansion a bit). And I rather like the look it creates as you drive down the road.

It isn't any work - it isn't any fuss or muss. And when they're in bloom - they're quite fun providing a great country look for my mailbox.

And that's what gardening is all about folks (in my .02) Gardening is about fun from your own perspective. I don't care what the gardening mavens say about my oh-too-common daylily - I don't care what the fashionista's say either. I like the darn thing.

And if you like what you grow. Good for you.

It doesn't matter whether the plant is common or the landscaping is not professionally designed or executed. If you like it - if it's *your* garden - then this is all to the good.

Take ownership of the things that are important to you. And to heck with the "experts".

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hydrangea 'Forever & Ever' - Reliable Bloomer

Hydrangea 'Forever & Ever'
One of the problems that we in the frozen north have is finding a great Hydrangea that will bloom reliably. We want, no we lust after those big mop heads of blue we see in magazines.

The answer to a gardener's prayers has arrived.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Forever & Ever' is a new plant that blooms on new wood. This means the buds (normally produced on old wood and winterkilled) are produced in the year they flower (no winter killing!)

It also flowers repeatedly through the summer. Oh yeah!

Can you say "I really like this plant?" I can because it's sitting in my garden growing quite nicely thank you very much.

Run - don't walk - to your nearest garden shop and find one. And oh yeah, there's a pink one and a bright pink one and a red one.

And finally, yes they all turn various shades of blue if you grow them in acidic soils.

Take THAT you southerly gardeners!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Coffee Grounds and Gardening with Slugs

coffee grounds and slugs
I had a new gardener tell me of her slug controlling exploits in the garden using coffee grounds and pouring coffee around and while I didn't exactly tell her she was wasting her time spraying yesterday's coffee on them to "kill them", I didn't exactly tell her she wasn't.

I took the road of least resistance and gave her this url to read. This is hard data from experiments on slugs and coffee grounds. And even if this used material doesn't kill slugs (it might deter them a little) it can and should be used in the garden.

Which is good news because I surely like my morning coffee.

And the rock beside the pot is a long-ago Father's Day present from some kid I know. :-) Where else does one put a rock ?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Japanese Iris

Japanese iris
I really like Japanese Iris and I understand some folks have trouble growing it. Maybe I hold my mouth right or think enough positive thoughts about this plant (or maybe I even grow it properly) but I have not had much trouble with it. Here are the instructions for growing this delightful plant.

As with many specialized plants, I note the care instructions are really clear. Full sun, adequate moisture (constant moisture), the right soil pH (acid) and good feeding will produce plants. Mess up one of these things and your plant will respond with a gradual decline and small flowers.

Given this is one of the largest flowering iris in our garden with spectacular colours, having it decline is a shame.

In any case, it is blooming away happily in my own garden right now. And I have to divide it this spring and figure out where to plant a bunch of offsets (no problem - as I have a lot of wet spots for it to conquer)

Oh and the leaf behind the flower is a potted Philodendron that I put out in the garden for the summer.