Saturday, October 29, 2011

Frozen white stuff, falling from the sky!

We live in Maryland; we really should NOT be having more than the briefest of snow flurries in October.  It's been coming down all afternoon, after a rainy sleety morning, and though accumulation is only about an inch that's significant for this time of year.  I guess it's what we get for having a relatively warm and frost-delayed fall.

Facing snow, gardeners have something of an equivalent to running out to the store for the holy trinity of milk, bread, and toilet paper (in sufficient quantities to survive the apocalypse).  Watching the blogs and listservs before an autumn storm, you see a panicked "but I didn't get my tomatoes in!" response and a lot of last-minute instructions about how to cover artichokes.  I did in fact get my tomatoes in, last week *preens* and I am telling myself firmly that the ground isn't freezing and I don't have to worry about the dahlias or the pomegranate (or the artichokes at the demo garden).  I do hope we get a little more warm weather before winter sets in, to give the roots of the new trees time to connect with the soil (and, um, the roots of the viburnums that I appear to have ordered on sale from Park's and plan to winter over in pots on the deck) and to get some of the remaining outdoor tasks done.  Really I would prefer not to have frozen trashbags of manure spending the winter on the driveway again.

Oh, and this lettuce in the clementine box must shift for itself, but I did cover the salad table with a sheet last night.  That was my total horticultural preparation (I happen to have bought milk, bread, and toilet paper earlier in the week).

The cat has barely moved from the couch all day.  He is disgusted that we have let this happen again.  Nasty white stuff; we will not have it on our paws.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update on the planting project

I looked down the back hill this morning and... gasp... couldn't see the little deodar cedar.  Went down to check: it had been pulled completely out of its planting hole (the root ball, alas, is still pretty solidly in pot shape).  I would say it had blown over, but it was several feet away from the hole.  Since I don't like to suspect human intervention, my best guess is that a deer tried browsing on it, and pulled too hard - probably was very surprised, too.  I replanted it, put in some stakes and tied it on, and gave it a very deep drink of water (it's raining on and off now, so that will help).  We will build a fence around it this weekend, I guess.

Most of the daffodils are in now - not one of my stellar planting jobs, but you try achieving proper depth and attractive spacing while standing on slithery mulch on a slope digging into soil full of roots and stones.  I expect they'll do fine.  Not sure about me.  Ow.

First 2012 seed catalog!

Before Halloween, yet: now, that's scary.

Thompson & Morgan just has to get in there first.  As far as I'm concerned, it gives me ample time to forget about them before I really get down to seed-buying decisions in January, though they will probably send me another catalog by then.  I did look through it, of course, and if I decide I have room this year to grow perennials from seed (I miss doing that, but the demo garden has kind of stolen away that seed-starting space, and I'll have less room than I did last year due to bathroom renovations), I might be tempted by the mixed heucheras.

image from T&M website
I've grown heucheras (coral bells) from seed before, but that was just old reliable Palace Purple; they've been self-seeding happily and I have quite a few of them now.  These would be something different (without having to actually buy plants; being able to say each plant cost me well under a dollar is part of the attraction).  I'd have to plant them somewhere where the groundhogs don't browse, as they seem to adore the leaves.  Well, something to consider (and I'll want to see what Park's has to offer too).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweetgum scrunchies and the cat as architecture

Sometime back I read this Garden Rant post by Amy Stewart (which was inspired by another post linked therein) about using Google's search-by-image feature for horticultural images, and had fun playing with it for a while (okay, for a few hours).  I think Google may have made a few improvements since July, but not enough yet to use image search to ID plants, i.e., drag your photo into the search box and have it come up with an identical flower or whatever.  In fact, you are lucky if you get a flower at all; matching colors seems to be the point, which is probably nice for artists but not for gardeners.  Well, except that it's funny.

The more artistic or unusual a photo you use, the more interesting the results.  I popped in this photo of sweetgum leaves I took yesterday:

(That delicate green background is rampant ground ivy.  Please to ignore.)  And got back... hair scrunchies:

You can sorta kinda see the resemblance, right?  It did, about six images down, come up with one of leaves... maple leaves, but whatever.

Put in an interesting carrot I grew, get back... the goddess Flora and a cocker spaniel.

Last time around I tried a photo of my cat when he was a kitten:

And got back:

which was very amusing.  This time, the search did return some actual cats, although for some reason the top image is architectural:

And I also got this:
I think we are in the early stages of something that could eventually be useful but for now is just entertaining, like translation programs used to be before they improved enough to be occasionally reliable.  Something to play with next time it rains, though.

Project: Screening and Slope Beautification

The biggest of our overwhelming number of potential fall gardening/landscaping projects, and the one we've actually taken steps toward, is doing something about what we've always called The Way Back.  Our property is a long rectangle (slightly skewed and vague about its boundaries) and the part in back of our parking area was, when we moved in twenty-three years ago, a mess of weed trees and weedy underbrush and just weeds.  There have been improvements over the years; the vegetable garden is back there, and we've taken down undesirable trees and planted possibly more desirable ones (including one that conveniently shades the vegetable garden) but our attention tends to be on the parts of the half-acre closer to our house, especially after the unpleasant man known to threaten neighbors who stepped on his property, sometimes with a gun, bought the lot in back of us and built a house.  That house has changed owners twice since Mr. Unpleasant upped and moved to West Virginia.

The current inhabitants own a driving school, and park many and sometimes large vehicles on an excess of blacktop.  Last winter when we had snow, one of the little locust trees that had resurrected itself (as they tend to do) on the back slope fell over and landed on one of their small trucks.  No damage done, but it did lead to some thinking and some tree removal, and we decided to Do Something about the back slope, which was covered with locust and multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle and poison ivy and every goddamn thing we didn't want there, and now (after two Roundup treatments, a lot of mulch, and some initial planting), looks like this:

I did start out in early summer with five creeping junipers, as a trial.  First mistake: not planting until after the rainy spring was over (of course, it is hard to get around to spraying Roundup during a rainy spring).  Second mistake: not running a hose back there.  I did try to water, but it was a horrible summer, and three of the junipers died; I've transplanted the other two to a location where they may survive.

So, starting over, after the fall Roundupping to kill all the stuff that had grown back after the spring dose (by the way, I am not a crazy sprayer, but there are times that herbicide is the only solution, and this was one of them - that whole slope was covered with stuff that had to go), and after some digging out of pokeweed and such that resulted in a nasty swipe of poison ivy down my neck, I started planting again, this time with the strategy of 1) Free Or Very Cheap; and 2) Aggressively Self-Seeding.  I did buy 25 daylilies and 100 daffodils from Gilbert H. Wild, very cheap, and I'm also going to transplant a bunch of other daylilies from around the yard.  Also self-sown buddleias, eupatoriums, baptisias and orange butterfly weed.  Some of those are already in (I still have to get to the daffodils) and I'm also thinking lemon balm, fennel, that sort of thing, anything that spreads and takes over.  Ground that is not covered... will be.  And what's lurking in that green area to the left is not grass, mostly, or where it is it's often Japanese stilt grass.

The branches you see to the upper left are of our dawn redwood, which is magnificent:

but deciduous.  As is the ginkgo nearby, of which more another time.  In the winter we basically have no screening back there to relieve us from the sight of trucks and buses and whatever is parked on any given day, so we determined to plant some evergreens, and (surprisingly enough) actually did so.  (We also bought a new dining room table yesterday, twenty-five years after purchasing the sturdy but cheap Ikea pine one we could afford then and have lived with ever since because we couldn't settle on a new one, oh dear, such a big purchase, the last one we'll ever buy, etc.  I doubt this is a complete End To Dithering, but it's a good sign.)

So I went shopping for trees last week, and got a reasonable bargain on a Cryptomeria japonica 'Radicans' and then paid a bit more for a red holly 'Robin' - here they are upslope a bit from the dawn redwood.  The holly should get about 15 feet tall, the cryptomeria about 30-40; neither is very wide.

Then - ta da! - I got a deodar cedar for $12.50, yes, that's twelve dollars and 50 cents, or 48 cents to be precise.  Found in the 75% off area at Johnson's, and in fact I do know that if it survives (those roots were bundled pretty tight in that too-small pot, but not as badly as I'd been afraid of) it will grow fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide.  There is room for it.  More or less.  Right now it's about four and a half feet tall and rather narrow, and we will run a hose back there and water it lots, as well as the other two.

So - Someday Screening.  It will take a little while.  If only we'd done it years ago, etc. etc.  I am now suffering guilt over not buying natives, but hope to make that up with some understory shrubs in the spring.

The pomegranate saga, so far

This is my dwarf pomegranate 'Nana' (which is a cultivar name meaning "dwarf," or sometimes "dwarf, supposedly" though mine has barely topped two feet, so that's okay).  I bought it three years ago, grew it in increasingly larger pots, and brought it indoors for two winters so it could shed leaves all over a corner of my older son's room while he was away at college.  It is quite deciduous.  Flowers were produced rather randomly in spring and/or fall, but never fruits.

This year I decided I'd had enough; people do grow pomegranates in the DC area (though closer to DC than I am, in warmer microclimates) and the plant might be marginally hardy with winter protection.  So I planted it in a corner of the vegetable garden.  And what do you know: it bore fruit.  Six little pomegranates started to grow.

Yesterday I harvested four fruits (I suspect squirrels, for the others) which were not completely red but seemed worth trying.  I've eaten the biggest (lacrosse ball-sized) so far.  Seemed ripe enough.  Nice tart crunchy seeds - or, properly, arils (the aril is the thickened outgrowth of a seed that's usually there to tempt animals into eating it.  Mission accomplished).

Side note:  is it just me, or does anyone else wonder, on reading the Persephone myth, where the Lord of the Underworld came up with a pomegranate?  Does he have a greenhouse?  Can we please have a myth about the keeper of Hades' greenhouse?  Perhaps something about capturing a piece of the sun, and longing, and temptation, and skin cancer.  It's either that, or a delivery service (Styx Produce).

Anyway, if I were in the habit of praying to Persephone, I would do so this winter, since I'm going to try to winter over the Nana in the ground (little fence, row cover, leaves or straw stuffed in there) and am hoping to see new green leaves appear in spring.

Meanwhile, I will need to buy California pomegranates to make chocolate-covered arils, my favorite dessert*, which I'm expected to bring each year to a particular Christmas party.  The recipe no longer appears to be on the PomWonderful website (which, by the way, has the usual distribution of commercial site recipes, some of them very good and some An Excuse To Use Our Product, but it's worth checking out if you have just bought some pomegranates and aren't sure why).  But it's basically 2 cups of arils to 8 ounces of chocolate (dark preferred), or however the proportions work out for your pomegranates.  Separating the arils from the flesh is best done underwater to prevent spraying; get them nice and clean even though this is tedious.  Melt the chocolate, put it in a bowl with the arils, and mix.  Then take it up by forkfuls and plop onto a cookie sheet covered with wax paper, so you have little bite-size mounds.  Stick that in the fridge for a while, and then put on a plate and serve.  Advise people to put them whole into their mouths, since they tend to explode slightly.

*Fellow Lois M. Bujold fans may insert appropriate (or inappropriate) joke here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Introductory post

October may seem like an odd time to start a gardening blog.  Non-gardeners may think that nothing is happening out in the garden, and will continue to not-happen for months yet, so what could there possibly be to write about?  Gardeners know that aside from spring this is the busiest time of year (I have a daunting list of tasks I'd like to accomplish before it gets too cold out there) and may wonder how I'll find the time.  I assure you that I am starting it now because... this is when I got to it.

By the time anyone reads this there will be at least a few more posts in the blog to provide a little context.  Whether that will say anything about its purpose and function is another matter.  I've been blogging for a while over at Grow It Eat It (a University of Maryland Extension multi-author blog which I run as a volunteer Master Gardener), but Rogue Eggplant is my chance to write about matters beyond food gardening (though there will no doubt be some of that).  In this blog I can also take off the UME MG hat for a while (I don't actually have one.  I do have a Grow It Eat It hat) and write stuff that's less... I would say less official, if I hadn't already managed, in a serious university-sponsored blog, to inform everyone of my undying love for William Woys Weaver and to write parodic poetry.  But here I can really let my hair down.  If that doesn't make my neck sweat too much.

So what will you see here?  Possibly more poetry, and other literary efforts.  Not so much in the way of how-to, but quite likely a lot of why-to.  Updates on what's growing in my garden.  Opinions, nuanced and otherwise.  Musings on things and people I feel fannish about.  Photographs, occasionally good.  Book reviews.  Complaints and triumphs.  Other stuff.  Let's see what happens.

Why Rogue Eggplant?  I've used the title before, on a now-defunct journal; it comes from a comment my friend Natasha made once while editing a chapter of one of my novels (yes, okay, novels, four of them, not published; we'll get back to that).  I'd written "charging in like a rogue elephant," and she said she read that first as "rogue eggplant," and before we knew it we were joking about the Aubergine Foreign Legion... so perhaps this blog is my chance to run off and join that organization.  Honor, Fidelity, and Baba Ghanoush.  Salut!