Sunday, December 15, 2013

A flower in December

Fair Amaryllis, wilt thou never peep/From forth the cave, and call me, and be mine?

Or, you know, peep forth somewhat earlier than expected. I guess this one was pre-chilled when I bought it, because I stuck it in the library to stay cool, and it sent up a flower stalk within days, and now look at it. The other two have just come out of their dark cave, and hopefully will break dormancy soon and bloom in January or February, but hey, I have a Christmas amaryllis, so I'm thrilled.

Everything outside is frozen. We haven't emptied out the deck railing boxes yet; we'd better get to that.

Monday, December 9, 2013


We had a snowfall yesterday, a few gentle and beautiful inches, and then ice on top of that. Ice is a force of nature that's aweful in the old sense, both destructive and terribly lovely. To which the modern response is pretty much, oh hell I hope the power's not going to go out and how will I drive in this, and - because we are not completely devoid of wonder - better get the camera out.

It's fascinating and transitory and worthy of capturing before the sun comes out and melts the fairytale glory, and also it's not quite enough that I have to worry about branches breaking everywhere, so, all good.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I wrote a book!

Announcing (for the few people who read me here and not other places) my novel!

This is the first book in a series of time travel adventure novels that I've been writing since 2002, finally available - in ebook form only for now, though in print in a few weeks, I hope.

You can find sample chapters and purchasing information at my website. It's chock-full of smuggling and literary quotations and romance and sailing ships and fistfights and the past and the future, and I hope you will check it out to see if it's… your cup of tea. Ha.

And no, this has nothing to do with gardening, aside from Camellia sinensis being a plant (which I tried to grow, once. Dismal failure). But it has everything to do with me, so.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Where-Have-All-The-Flowers-Gone Day

This is all I got.

I think there are still some calendulas blooming at my community garden plot, but it was too much effort to go over there especially since we've been alerted to a huge soccer tournament with buses parked in our usual spots. (Perils of gardening in the largest youth soccerplex on the East Coast.) We've had a few days of really serious well-below-freezing weather here in Maryland, and that does it for most of the flowers, though the yellow chrysanthemum that accompanies this one (I don't have names for either. I get all my mums handed down from other people. I guess they're stepmums) still has some blooms in serious need of deadheading (if I ever got around to that). And probably there are a few roses hanging on too.

But mostly, we're done. (I have three amaryllis chilling in the library. With the lead pipe and the candlestick.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I've been posting over on Grow It Eat It about how I managed to make a green cake using purple sweet potatoes, and today I made the first attempt at overcoming the problem: sweet potato muffins with yogurt and lemon juice to counteract the alkaline baking powder and baking soda. Except… the recipe involved molasses, which when combined with the deep purple turned a nice dark brown that totally failed to reveal any other color, whether purple or green or anything in between, and also created the expectation of a chocolate taste which is entirely not present. Though they taste pretty good anyway.

I guess I'll have to try again, with a sweetener in a lighter hue. Meanwhile, I think I'll make a sweet potato pie, which (from the photos I've seen) will be reliably and extraordinarily dark purple.

Speaking of anthocyanins, have some red oak leaves:

I'll get out and take some more leaf photos when the wind calms down a bit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plot twist

First, my mom's cosmos:

photo by Lucy Edwards

since she nicely sent the photo to me, and they are awesome.

Next, we are probably having a frost tonight! First frost is kind of like the anticipated plot twist in a novel; it can turn out just like you expected and still be exciting, or it can take you by surprise by not being what's predicted. In other words, it may get down to the 30s tonight but not actually freeze, and still we'll find some dead bodies in the morning, or it may hit the freezing mark but not actually kill anything. In any case, it's signaling that yes, this is autumn now, and inevitably the air will be cold and plants that don't like that will have some trouble.

I prepared over the weekend by: a) picking all the remaining tomatoes (not many) and peppers (quite a few, most of which I roasted yesterday), and pulling out the plants, along with the spent okra and the basil; b) repotting as necessary and bringing in the potted plants that I wanted to save (lime tree, baby fig tree which surprised me by putting out some new leaves at its base recently, stevia which I am babysitting for a friend, scented geranium); c) putting the other geraniums, which I really do not have room for inside this year, into the shed, pots wrapped in bubble wrap. I am aware this is not the best solution and they will probably die, but I don't have an unheated garage and our basement is a dirt cellar which we may end up having major work done on this year (there's already a bucket full of yacon crowns down there and I'll probably add dahlia tubers to that next week; dunno where they'll go if we have the "sealing" done). I still need to put something over the oca planter on the deck, and over the salad table, and we'll see.

And the bulbs are coming today! So I'll need to get those in the ground soon. Also garlic, at the community garden. Lots of fall prep work to get done there; the greens I planted a while back are doing well, and we've already eaten some collards, pak choi, Chinese broccoli, and rapini. I may go by today and throw the row cover back over the plants I took it away from because there were aphids somehow and I thought the ladybugs needed all the access they could get, but the plants are hardy enough to take a frost, even in the cold valley pocket where my plot resides.

And that is the news of the moment. (I think I prefer posting when I have something to report, rather than trying to do it every day.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Well, somehow I forgot...

... when I decided to post every day for a month, that I was traveling at the end of that. And I suppose I could have managed to keep going, but driving through all that rain in MD and PA discouraged me (I missed most of our somewhere-between-5-and-8-inches-depending-on-who-you-believe at home, though).

I missed GBBD on the 15th, with the reasonable excuse that I was on the road between 9 and 4:30 and rather tired after that, though I did sort of mean to photograph my mom's amazing cosmos and post that, but I forgot. They were similar to this one:

but far more lush and enormous than the ones (somebody else's) I snapped in the community garden today.

I'd forgotten, also, how enjoyable cosmos are to grow. I grew orange ones this year, which I have apparently failed to take any photos of, but they're hard to capture anyway.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Also, have a dahlia

This is Bishop's Children at the demo garden, and yes, it really does glow that much against the dark leaves. We also have some in magenta, but the orange ones get more attention because they're with the ornamental millet:

and there used to be some dark red sunflowers in back, but the timing wasn't right to keep them around. But hey, I did a design thing on purpose and it worked!

Must remember to dig up the dahlia tubers and store them. Although the ones not dug up have been surviving winters of late.


Well, clearly not so good with the updating again, but I just wanted to say: it's raining. This is excellent news. (A couple of months ago I would have said: oh no, not raining again.)

Now maybe I'll be able to harvest the rest of those sweet potatoes without breaking my back.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Things I'm going to say many times tomorrow

"Have a mouse melon!"

"Peanuts are cool [Eleventh Doctor voice]. Let me show you how they grow."

"Mr. McGregor's Garden is down the other end. You can crawl through a caterpillar!"

"Potatoes and sweet potatoes are totally unrelated and grow in opposite ways."

"Yeah, it was a really bad year for tomatoes. But better than last year!"

"No, I don't understand how stink bugs think either."

"Sorry, no hot peppers to give away this time; we had kind of a pepper crisis. Have a mouse melon."

"It's called yacon and it comes from the Andes."

"It's called roselle or Jamaican sorrel, but it comes from Asia. You make tea out of it."

"That's the Jerusalem artichoke blooming. Yeah, it's pretty. Don't plant it, okay?"

"And it isn't an artichoke and isn't from Jerusalem."

"Oh, what a pretty tussy-mussy!"

"Oh, what a pretty butterfly!"

"Oh, what a nice pot you painted!"

"No, the bees won't sting you. They're just hungry."

"We give most of it to Manna Food. Over 500 pounds so far this year!"

"The garden's open whenever the park's open. Come back and visit!"

I will have a terrific time and I can rest my smiling muscles when I get home.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Well, I would say that postings had been discontinued due to the government shutdown, but that would be silly. I am just clearly not meant to post every day.

It isn't because of lack of gardening stuff happening; it's probably because too much gardening stuff is happening, but nothing I'm willing to organize. So - have two photos. First, the Jerusalem artichokes in bloom at the demo garden:

where I'm going to be all freaking day Saturday, pretty much constantly talking to people, which is always great fun but exhausting even to contemplate. Looks like it'll be on the warm side, too, after all this lovely cool weather.

And then:

That's what the purple sweet potatoes are trending toward for length, and I hadn't even dug that one up completely yet. For once, I have given you an object for context, too! Go me.

I'll try to post tomorrow, but if I do so on Saturday it'll be a surprise. Pleasant, I hope.

Monday, September 30, 2013

In which I don't really say much about oca

(which autocorrect wants me to agree is "ova." No. Really no.)

Oca is one in the great list of Andean tubers, and you can read all about it here (it's William Woys Weaver! You know you want to). I ordered some tubers this spring, got them when it was too cold to plant them outside, forgot about them until well after the summer-vacation-that-happened-right-after-a-frost, and finally planted them (well-sprouted) in a planter. Where they are doing fine:

As you can see, they are an oxalis, related to common wood sorrel and also that gorgeous redwood sorrel we became acquainted with in California (and I nibbled on, mostly to show off).

Anyway, they are daylength-sensitive, and don't start forming their tubers until probably late October-early November (I checked today, and nope, no tubers), so this is going to be interesting. I guess I will cover the planter with some plastic braced up on... something, and hope I can keep them from getting frost-bitten until it's time for harvest.

I was thinking of taking the planter along to the Harvest Festival this weekend, but I don't think I want to explain all of that to anyone who asks. So maybe next year, if I manage to grow them out successfully this year. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Defiance and information

Before I go off to do some actual gardening, here's today's little bit of philosophy.

I had another one of those conversations the other day, the one in which it comes up that I'm a gardener, and the other person says, "That takes special skill. I can't grow anything; I kill every plant I touch. I don't have a green thumb."

Which of course first off makes me think of this bit from my favorite Henry Mitchell essay:

There are no green thumbs or black thumbs. There are only gardeners and non-gardeners. Gardeners are the ones who ruin after ruin get on with the high defiance of nature herself, creating, in the very face of her chaos and tornado, the bower of roses and the pride of irises.
Defiance is what makes gardeners, he says, and to a large extent, and especially on a large scale, I think that's true. But the other thing that makes gardeners is information. Of course you kill plants if you have no idea what their needs are, where to put them, how to take care of them. No one would, for example, adopt a dog without finding out how much it needs to be fed each day, that access to water is required, that it needs to be taken out to poop. (Or if they would, I don't want to know them.) This isn't even getting into issues of training or veterinary care, or geeky stuff like clipping poodles or teaching frisbee catching.

You don't get cited for cruelty if you mistreat plants, and their deaths are usually less painful than those of pets, but the need for information is just as critical, and people don't realize that. Nor do most retail outlets emphasize it, though good garden centers have staff members who can answer questions - if customers know to ask them, which they often don't. Just... take a plant home and stick it in the ground, right? Or, sometimes, try to grow it in the same tiny pot you bought it in.

I like to think I've saved quite a few lives in my time as a Master Gardener. (Lives of plants only, I assume.) But anyone who bothers to learn something about gardening can pass on what they've learned, and often it's the really basic stuff that people need to hear. "You need to water this," is likely number one. ("You need to water this less" is certainly in the top ten, too.)

Also: "It's okay to make mistakes." And with that, I'm going to go off and make a few. :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Snake in lieu of content

Missed another day. Clearly I just don't have something to say about gardening every day, or more likely just don't think of blogging.

I already posted this on GIEI, but have a snake I dug up in my community garden plot:

I believe it's an Eastern worm snake.

It startled me slightly, but I did not scream; I think I said "Hey, you're a snake."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The photo that should have accompanied yesterday's post

Because this is how you get sweet potato greens home from the garden.

I was thinking of posting a photo of the sweet potato latkes and titling it "Things Fall Apart" because they did kinda, but I guess I'll save that for Grow It Eat It. I actually bothered to look up curing sweet potatoes today (I always want to eat them right away, but I do recognize that in general they are better if cured) and frankly there is no way I'm putting a space heater on in the bathroom for ten days without stopping, and it's just not warm enough outside, so they are sitting on the hot water heater now and taking their chances. I'm not sure whether purple sweet potatoes want to develop their sugars, or, not to be anthropomorphic, whether I want them to, but I suppose it won't hurt to sample them at different stages. The latkes were certainly not lacking flavor, but as I've noted before, the flavor isn't what you expect from a sweet potato. But I'm not going to let lack of proper curing stop me from eating them.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eat your greens

We've been in the habit of cooking up greens to always have in the fridge for lunches and dinners (and, for my husband, breakfast; I'm not quite ready to go there) - because they're nutritious and, if not boiled to death, delicious.

Over the weekend I discovered that sweet potato greens and the leaves of Hibiscus sabdariffa go really well together (if you don't happen to have either of these around, spinach and sorrel (real French sorrel, not the aforementioned hibiscus which is also called Jamaican sorrel) would be a similar combination. Today's batch was Tuscan kale that had been in the fridge too long and needed to be eaten NOW, more sweet potato greens (I have rather a lot of them available), and kohlrabi (roots and whatever leaves looked decent).

The basic recipe (it's one of those I Don't Have To Think About It recipes) goes something like this:

Clean and chop up your greens. If they're on the tough side, steam them for 5-10 minutes (I do this with collards and kale and anything similar). You can also add other vegetables; things like kohlrabi root do need to be steamed, and things like peppers don't.

Chop up or slice some onions. Add some olive oil to a pan and cook the onions about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the greens; stir occasionally so things don't stick. Add any seasonings you want: garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, spices, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are not crunchy.

At the last minute, add some chopped nuts and/or dried fruit (I'm fond of pecans and cranberries). You can also fry up some bacon and crumble that in, or use bits of cooked ham (especially country ham, mm) or sausage. (I'm out of the habit of doing that since Vegetarian Son was home for the summer, but I'll try to remember next time.)

We did this mostly with frozen greens last winter (fresh are usually available, but frozen are convenient) and I'm hoping we'll have enough of our own home-grown in the freezer to not have to buy for a while. I can start harvesting collards next week.

And now I'm going to try sweet potato latkes...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The cycle, not the instant

Crap, I missed posting yesterday. The day got away from me, what can I say: but I'm sure there was something I could have noted.

What I've got for today is another Henry Mitchell quote, which I think illustrates my failure to find an appropriate subject quite nicely. There is always something in Henry Mitchell that fits. He's like Shakespeare, with complaints about too many marigolds.


It is the spectrum, not the color, that makes color worth having, and it is the cycle, not the instant, that makes the day worth living. Sometimes the big thing in the gardener's day is irises and roses and peonies all together in a gorgeousness suitable for keeling over at. Other days it is a squirrel loading a dry oak leaf in his mouth--God only knows why he picks one and not another, but he shops around--and you would think from his nervousness with the leaf that he was carrying a bushel of lightbulbs across the Beltway.

There will be a post tomorrow. About something.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yes, We Have Purple Sweet Potatoes

And you can't tell from that photo, but they are really purple, both inside and out. They are sitting in the sun curing right now, which improves the flavor and makes the storage time longer.

I grew some of these last year, but they weren't very prolific. This year I gave them more space (under the tomatoes, but still) and left them in the ground longer, and got a lot more. This (plus about 30 percent extra you can't see in the shot) is one plant's worth, and I have six, so we are going to be eating a lot of purple sweet potatoes.

I have described the taste before by saying that orange sweet potatoes are to orange juice as purple sweet potatoes are to burgundy; it's a rich, complicated flavor and not nearly as sweet as the orange or white types. I'll have plenty of experimental volume, but it's good to have recipes to start with, and a blog makes a good bookmarking device, so:

What the Heck is a Purple Sweet Potato and How Do You Cook It?

Purple Sweet Potato Latkes

Mashed Purple Sweet Potatoes

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Recipes

Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Pinterest page

Note: these are not Stokes purple sweet potatoes - the variety is called All Purple - but I figure the taste is much the same. I'll report back either here or on Grow It Eat It or both.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Musical interlude

I'm in a very musical mood today, so here is a nice little track superficially about gardening: Hem's Things Are Not Perfect in Our Yard. Which is, you know, an accurate description of my life.

Also here they are in a live performance of "The Seed." They do quite a few botanical songs, actually, that fit nicely into a playlist I have called "Soil." The most shocking of which is The Sparrows' cover of "The Gardener" (it's about murder. I own a surprising number of songs about murder).

Tomorrow you get purple sweet potatoes, but that's all for today.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Monticello experience

If I'm trying to post every day, it's probably cheating to link to a post I made on another blog, but that's what you get today:

Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival: my experience, on Grow It Eat It

Here, you can have the photo here too:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Spoonbread and cornfields

Today's post will be mostly incoherent flailing because I drove a lot today and I have a headache, but I just want to say how much I really love my fellow Master Gardeners and the Extension staff who support them, and how fun it's been to go to Grow It Eat It statewide meeting for the last 5 years. I was in on the program from the beginning, November 2008, when some ridiculously huge number of us stuffed ourselves into a meeting room at the 4H center in College Park, and the enthusiasm for the goal of educating people about growing their own food was... well, good enough to taste.

Today was our second annual potluck meeting (somehow it took us a while to think of doing that) and since our Eastern Shore friends in Queen Anne County volunteered to host, that's where we went, at least those of us willing to drive that far. It was a bit short of two hours for me, in rush hour traffic (just in the first half, since hardly anyone commutes Washington to Annapolis let alone over the Bay Bridge. The same on the way back, of course, but not quite as slow). There was a whole nice spread for breakfast, and then after we did reports and took a hay ride around the Wye Education Center's research fields (there was a lot of corn), we had what everyone had brought for lunch.  Which was all great, though there were far more desserts than I could eat.  I brought leek and corn spoonbread.

Also I brought pickled mouse melons, and yacon roots for everyone to slice up and munch on, and roselle hibiscus stems with edible leaves and flowers to make tea out of. I am resigned to being the weird one, okay? Though I guess spoonbread is pretty normal, at least if you're vaguely Southern. I'd never made it before last week; now I think I'm really into it.

But yeah. All those people are so nice. And you can have meaningful conversations about fig trees and harlequin bugs and the things people say when they visit your demo gardens, and everyone goes home infectiously ready to take on new projects, and hopefully a few of them actually come to fruition, which is the kind of horticultural metaphor I could make work if I weren't so tired.

I promise I'll have photos again someday. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I really think it is time to get one of these:

I'm amused by the perfect lawn sprouting random apples in the photo, but what we need it for is Oh My God So Many Freaking Black Walnuts Month every fall. I was tired of bending over and picking them up when I was thirty, and now that I am considerably older it's just asking for back injury. Last fall I amused myself sufficiently during collections by having a brand new iPhone with actual 21st century music-playing capacity, but I'm accustomed enough to that luxury now that it would take a whole lot more to keep me entertained during the Walnut Torture, and I've already listened to all of both "Cabin Pressure" and "Welcome to Night Vale."

Actually I think this is a relatively light year as far as walnuts go (it does vary according to atmospheric conditions or whim of the Walnut Gods), but still. Last year it was like a carpet.

(By the way, in my can't-help-noticing-typos way: the list of things you can pick up includes "liquid amber seed balls," which I think is autocorrect for "liquidambar" or sweetgum. We have those too, but they're out in the Way Back where we don't step on them all the time. Having the walnuts around is just asking for sprained ankles.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Ah, I forgot what today was: the day I really needed to order bulbs before it got ridiculously too late. So I did.

When you create a new bed, as I did in the spring (curving between the mock orange and the pagoda tree, along the edge of the driveway), you're supposed to put in shrubs and trees first (three viburnums went in, check) and then (because they have to be dug in deep) bulbs, and then perennials after that. Because I'm getting organized so late, that's the only place I plan to plant bulbs this fall ("plan" being the operative word; I may find other spaces that require bulbs, but I'll likely be shopping locally for those).

I'd thought I'd be searching through the John Scheepers website and settling for what was left, but actually a lot is left, so I had to make choices. I got 50 Valerie Finnis muscari (the pale blue ones) for the inner edge, where I won't be able to dig deep because there's so much gravel, and 60 assorted narcissi for the rest. And that was as far as I got; I guess I'll fill in the summer bloom with low-growing perennials.

Jonquilla narcissus 'Curlew' from John Scheepers
Also I quickly solved the "so many daffodils how can I ever decide" problem by (some people who know why will laugh here) choosing the ones named after birds, so I have ten each of Quail, Curlew, Jack Snipe, Dickcissel, Falconet, and Pheasant's Eye. I hope they go well together, because that's it and I am moving on to the next thing.

*dusts hands*

Monday, September 16, 2013

Unnecessary things

So today, true to form, what you get is a Henry Mitchell quote:

In brief, I am no stranger to the anxieties or disappointments of a garden. A fine gardener once said his garden had a certain origin: "This garden is the result of doing unnecessary things which we could not afford at the wrong time of the year," he used to say, and the garden was quite beautiful. Of my own garden I might add, in addition to all that, "and furthermore nothing is doing all that well and it looks utterly hopeless."

He does give the essay an optimistic turn after that, and so do I hope to, with regard mostly to the dreadful jungle mentioned here yesterday. But I do have a lovely and growing pile of weeds of which something may be made: compost, I hope.

More tomorrow, probably about the demo garden, or possibly leek spoonbread.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A celebration of stonecrop sedums

Well, so much for posting regularly, but I'm going to amend that: I'm setting a goal of posting something every day for the next month, even if it's just a bit of whimsy or a photograph or a quote. (Warning: I am rereading Henry Mitchell.)

Anyway, it's the 15th again and that means Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I was going to post a selection of what's blooming in my yard, but what I ended up doing was taking a zillion photos of my tall sedums (stonecrop) which Carol at May Dreams informs me is now known as Hylotelephium telephium, which sounds like someone stuttering on the phone, but never mind. It's certainly the most impressive thing I have right now, aside from the incredibly gaudy magenta aster right on the street edge which people are probably judging me for though I don't care. Okay, I'll throw in a picture of that at the end.

But, the sedums. I don't have the variety names (half of them are probably Autumn Joy and the other half... not) because I've lost the tags and/or I got them as hand-me-downs.


And here is the aster, in all its eye-popping glory:

And there we are: September. See you tomorrow; I swear I'm going to make this happen.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August blooms

I have been terrible about posting here.  I plan to remedy that soon.   And you know what they say about plans.

Anyway, it is the 15th and hence Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and since I've failed to participate in this event in recent months it seemed like a good time to jump back in.  It's been a rainy, relatively cool summer full of rampant growth (mostly where I don't want it, but so it goes), and a lot of my flowering plants are blooming earlier and more vigorously than usual, and surprisingly few of them are dying of fungal diseases, so all in all, not bad.

Let's start out with a closeup of a nice bright blue platycodon (balloon flower). I have tons of these; I started the first ones from seed ages ago, and they have proliferated, and nearly all of them open facing my neighbor's yard like everything else in that bed.  Oh well.

Autumn Joy sedum is starting to flush pink for the fall.

 Oh, look, it's a buddleia, not where I planted it.  Huh.

The hardy begonias are HUGE this year, and (I think?) blooming somewhat early.

 Cardinal flower, looking dramatic.

 This is a gladiolus, blooming rather later than its fellows, flopping onto the lawn like a drunk at a party and bellowing for a stake.

 Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, in the controlled wilderness under the maple tree.  (As opposed to the totally uncontrolled wilderness elsewhere, oh dear.)

And a closeup of one of the Limelight hydrangeas.  Which were planted in the wrong place and have to be aggressively pruned every year to fit there, alas.  We must have done a number on them this winter, because for once they're not growing huge and floppy (I thought, with all the rain, they would), but the flowers still look way too big for the plants, like huge white mittens on a skinny four-year-old kid.  Someday I will chop these out and plant the dwarf version instead.

This isn't from my yard (though it's from the part of the MG demo garden that I planted), and it's not a good picture, but the combo worked out well: Moulin Rouge sunflowers, Jester and Purple Majesty millet, and Bishop's Children dahlias.  All semi-edible, but really just there to ornament the vegetable garden further.

And that's what I have to offer on this gorgeous, cool August morning.  Enjoy your blooms!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Scary purple things

We're traveling in northern California this week, and keep seeing these:

Which are, if the scale isn't evident, tall spikes of flowers about ten feet tall, which we dubbed "scary purple things" until I finally got decent internet today and (since I am the sort of person who Googles rather than, say, calling up the Master Gardeners or grabbing random people on the street and asking) found out that it's Echium pininana or giant viper's bugloss.  Those of us who are familiar with normal viper's bugloss are all going ooh, ah, while those who live in climates similar to the Canary Islands (where it hails from) are probably saying, "what, that old thing?" as you, annoyingly, do.  Though really I challenge anyone to dismiss this plant cavalierly, even when it's overplanted to the degree that northern Californians seem to do.  Because it's scary.  And just because something is common doesn't make it less terrifying.


I took this photo in Mendocino, which is a lovely New England-style town that stood in for Cabot Cove, Maine, in the Murder She Wrote series.  It would do that fine as long as you avoided shooting the giant viper's bugloss.  (And any number of other less obvious plant species that don't belong in Maine.)  In the foreground of the photo is some kind of wild radish which I ate the seedpods of, because cruciferous plants are one thing I do recognize in this wonderland of vegetation.

I'll post more wonders later, but just couldn't wait on this.  Ooh, ah.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Never was a story of more woe

I told the sad tale of the death of my Juliet tomato and Romeo pepper over on Grow It Eat It earlier today.  (Plus several of their friends, perhaps named Mercutio and Tybalt.)  Hello, my name is Erica, and I kill plants.  Although I suppose I can blame climate change or locally odd weather patterns for these particular late-frost-related deaths.  (Gardeners don't kill plants; weather kills plants.)  But if I hadn't decided to plant tender vegetables at... an entirely reasonable time, this wouldn't have happened.

I've also concluded that I've lost my Franklinia tree that spent the winter in a pot on the deck.  Probably too small a pot, and/or it didn't get watered enough.  I purposely killed off the Vigna caracalla by leaving its pot outside - three years and it hadn't flowered once, which is kind of the point of it, and two winters inside in which it climbed all over everything and got in the way.  Someday I will try again.  When I get my greenhouse.  (Which is a little like "next year in Jerusalem" but maybe will actually happen.)  I haven't checked on the pomegranate that was still alive last year though not producing, but I doubt it survived since the winter was much harder this year and it's in the way of rampaging black raspberry canes.  The chaste tree is dead (I don't know why), and so is the fig (rabbits).

This is not to mention the things that are dying in various places because they are being smothered by weeds that I'm not managing to keep under control.  You should see what is definitely my former vegetable garden (since I now have the Allotment), or again maybe you shouldn't.  I do have a plan to deal with the mess, but when that will happen is another matter.  Maybe I actually need an elderberry thicket and large quantities of dock, morning glories, cranesbill and mint.

There was a moment last week when, mowing the Way Back, I thought I saw the resurrection of the male winterberry, but when I went to look it turned out to be a baby locust tree.  The females are hanging on, but I really need to clear more space around them (and get them a new friend).

I did get the Winterthur viburnums in the ground, at least, and they look happy.  The rest will come.  I am oddly not depressed about all the plants dying, though I do not approve and I am not resigned and all that.  Much has been done and I'm getting my energy back to do more.

Totally missed GBBD this week; have the white-flowered shrubs that apparently bloom in May now:

Mock orange, oh heavenly smell
Maple-leaf viburnum

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Where are the headlines of yesteryear?

It's not every day you spend a couple of hours starting a new garden bed with newspapers from the Bush administration.

(Neighbors' cat is bonus cat.)  And yes, I am a packrat, but finally I am at the bottom of the pile!  There were athletes from the Beijing Olympics, there was "Lost" speculation, there was "Clinton wins Pennsylvania," there was trouble at Bear Sterns.  Lots of it was good to bury.

Here's another shot, from down below:

I wasn't quite finished there; the shape was originally supposed to be a gentle arc and ended up more like a triangle, because I decided to incorporate a patch of daffodils that's been there since at least the Clinton administration (when we used to have a fence; since the fence went away it's been sitting in the middle of the lawn making itself difficult).  The purpose of the bed (besides making room to put plants in) is to connect up the pagoda tree space with the mock orange space.  It will require stepping stones.

The theory here (which I have successfully applied before) is that you mow the grass short, then layer newspaper or cardboard in the desired shape, then put down compost and/or materials that will compost, and eventually get something you can plant in.  For now I've plopped down some fresh wood chips (more than in these photos) from another neighbor's tree removal, mostly just to weigh down the paper so it doesn't all blow away.  I'll add materials as I acquire them, and edge the bed so we can mow around it.  For right now all I'm going to plant are three Winterthur viburnums that have been in pots for a year and a half (big pots; they actually look great) and that I have been flailing about because I couldn't remember where I meant to put them, really, but this is as good a place as any.  I'll move the newspapers and chips out of the way to dig those holes.  In the fall, some bulbs, and then small shrubs or perennials as I acquire them.

It will be fun, but right now my back hurts and my knee hurts and I wish the chip pile wasn't way at the bottom of the hill, but so it goes.  At least I have free chips.

I had a Brandywine viburnum too, which has gone into the bed by the driveway:

Said bed is (like most of mine, unfortunately) solidly in the Evolving stage.  I need another evergreen shrub to form a screen, since the viburnum is deciduous.

Bonus photo of Japanese painted fern in the middle of sweet woodruff, an accidentally stunning combination:

We have a hell of a lot of sweet woodruff now.  I suppose we had better make May wine.

Friday, April 19, 2013

More blooms, more spring catch-up

Some blooms that didn't arrive for GBBD:

Viburnum 'Mohawk' in full flower now, smelling like cloves gone to heaven.  It blooms for about a week, and I go outside every night to smell it.  At the other end of the front porch, the Pieris japonica keeps going for about a month, pumping out the honey scent, and I love it too, but the viburnum, like everything we have only a short while, steals my heart.

When I said that one little tulip was the last of the 'Surprise' era, and none of the others were going to bloom this year?  I lied.  I think they'll be there forever.

I just liked this magnolia with magnolia snow under it.  It's been a little hot (and drizzly) for some of the spring flowers this week, but it'll get cold again tonight.

Speaking of which (seedlings in photo, hardening off outside for reasons explained here, but will have to come in again tonight) I have been terrible about keeping track of seed-starting, but um, obviously I started some tomatoes (and other things) back in mid-March, and they are doing well despite [see link above].  Over the past weekend I put in seeds for squash, cucumbers, peanuts, Malabar spinach, maybe something else... the cukes are coming up.  Need to start melons and sunflowers.

In other news for which I neglected to get a photo, we've had a pair of what we're pretty sure are vultures hanging out on occasion in our enormous black walnut tree (they are high up, and I haven't looked through binoculars yet).  I sort of hope they come back, although on the other hand they are creepy and I am telling the cat not to take a nap in the yard.

Tomorrow I am teaching Intensive Vegetable Gardening at Montgomery College, and am rushing about printing things and doing a last-minute run to the Rockville library to check out Square Foot Gardening which, why do I not have a copy of it, I don't know.  So this is all for now.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bloom Day April

I'm not doing a great job keeping up with recording things here, but I had to chime in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, because so much is in bloom so suddenly; it's been quite a week for awakenings, as the cold not-quite-spring gave way to the hot not-quite-summer.  None of these flowers will last as long as they did last spring, which went on for months, so it's as well we celebrate them now.

Here's a quick tour of some of what I've got, unlabeled because I don't want to take the time figuring out for sure which daffodil is which.

The tulip at the end is apparently the last surviving of the supposedly-not-perennial 'Surprise' which has been surprising me for at least ten years now in eight inches of clay by the mailbox, timing itself perfectly to clash violently with the above purple-pink magnolia.  I can't help admiring them as I chant "die, already" each spring.

I didn't walk back to photograph the daffodils on the far back slope, but I'm glad to see they are growing and blooming.  I pretty much had to ignore that project last year, and I know I've got to go down and cut back multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle, but at least some of what I put in has survived, and I've just added a few nandina plants that my neighbor wanted to get rid of because they had too much of a suckering habit for her purposes.  In my situation, the more suckering the better.

Hope everyone's enjoying their spring blooms!