Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Marie Kondo-ing the yard and garden

Marie Kondo's bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is hot right now. (I hate to be trendy, so let it be known I was one of the FIRST to check a copy out of the local library.) The primary Kondo rule of tidying up is, If it does not give you joy, say thank you for your service and good-bye. I've applied its techniques inside my home (more or less) and now I am turning my konmarie eye to the yard and garden. That's not quite so easy.

The seed stash is the first area to undergo scrutiny. I have a habit, good or bad (you decide), of using the seeds on hand when starting transplants for the garden, simply because I have those seeds, they are still viable, and I don't want them to go to waste. Now that I have decided the vegetable garden has reached its optimal size, I am giving closer consideration to just what to grow going forward. For example, tomatoes for fresh eating are certainly tasty, but the plants take up a lot of space and produce more fruit than I can eat or share; maybe I would rather get my tomatoes from farmers markets where there is a plethora of heirlooms. Rethinking the vegetable garden will be a pleasant winter pastime as a prelude to ordering seeds in February.

I have a similar problem with perennials - if they already exist in my yard, I feel obligated to make use of them even if they don't fit in and/or I no longer like them. Over the years, I have eliminated a clematis of the wrong color and almost all the iris and Stella d'Oro daylilies. No worries - they went to good homes. That may be the key - if I can find someone to take them, I don't feel so bad about giving them the boot. But sometimes a plant is simply in the wrong place, so I spend a certain amount of time moving things around. Since my general goal is to make my yard look less haphazard, I see a LOT of plant moving in my future, but some are already earmarked for removal.

And then there are the shrubs. I have several Viburnum that, while perfectly healthy, have been a disappointment. The blossoms of one smell like carrion, and, even though they are supposed to, most of the bushes do not produce berries for the birds, which was one of my goals in planting them. Of similar disappointment are two shrubby trees that were girdled by rabbits their first winter (mea culpa) and never really recovered; they bloom and produce fruit, but never grew much. There are also some 'Wichita Blue' junipers that I was very happy with initially but are now looking rather ratty. Apparently, this is a common problem. Sadly, I planted more during that honeymoon phase.

The bigger the change, the more important it is to have a plan. With the vegetable garden, every summer is a new beginning. Perennials are not furniture - you don't see the results right away - but mistakes can usually be easily rectified. Until I have a plan for the shrubs, though, they will stay right where they are.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The impatient yardener

After touring gardens with the North Park Village chapter of the Wild Ones, I became inspired to introduce more natives to my yard. I consequently spent a lot of time perusing the Prairie Nursery offerings. Their online catalog is very helpful in choosing plants by various characteristics, including soil type. Since my yard is mostly heavy clay, this is important to me.

But what to choose? The options seemed overwhelming. And what area of the yard to target? I do not have much of an eye for design, in anything. Most of my plantings are haphazard and not very "together". How can I improve this, and where to start?

Ironically, I decided to begin where the soil is not clay - the south side of the house. The builder backfilled the foundation with a sandy mix, and the deep eaves block much of the weather, so this bed is rather dry most of the time. It also gets full sun except at the height of summer. I started a list of possible plants, then realized Prairie Nursery offered a collection for just such a group of traits - full to partial sun, dry sandy soil - complete with a planting plan. The burden of design was lifted from my shoulders.

Of course, the planting plan is not for a bed that is 36 feet long and 3-4 feet deep. This is the side of the house with the eight-foot wide gate through which I drive the car when delivering things like mulch or horse manure to the backyard, so I need to preserve what I refer to as "the lane". But I think I can stretch the planting plan out so the general design is somewhat preserved.

Here is the impatient part: I felt so excited by this improvement that I could hardly wait for spring. And then I realized, I don't have to! I ordered the collection for fall planting. It is sitting in the garage right now, rehydrating while I figure out exactly what will go where. Yee-ha!

Gotta go get started.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Chicago Botanical Garden was on the way

My SO and I scheduled a road trip to Milwaukee last weekend, and since the Chicago Botanical Garden was on the way, we decided to stop for a visit. Wowsers! We've been to other botanical gardens, but this one is my favorite (so far).

We are at (ahem) a certain age where we forget things. Consequently, even though we arrived too early for the Grand Tram Tour, by the time we made a trip back to the car (what kind of photographer forgets his camera?), ate some lunch (hint - eat before you come unless you don't mind spending a small fortune for a not very exciting meal), made an aborted trip to the gardens proper, returned to the car AGAIN for sweaters, and visited the facilities, it was time for the tour!

Some might think walking the gardens and touring the grounds is redundant, but I disagree. For one thing, on the tour, you learn all kinds of things you might otherwise not. Also, the Prairie is rather large but somewhat repetitious, at least this time of year (hello golden rod!), so the eyeful we gained from the tram was enough. And the tour was the closest we got to the Japanese Garden, as caterers were setting up for a wedding there.

There are 31 different gardens, and we probably wandered through several of them without knowing which were which. Again, a tour, either the Bright Encounters Tram or one of the walking tours, would have been helpful. We had a map but were too busy looking, looking, looking at everything. I was most interested in the Fruit and Vegetable Garden, and we passed through the Crescent, the Esplanade, and the Native Plant Garden on the way. You know how landscaping books talk about mixing forms and textures, and show you photos as examples? Seeing real life displays of these principles is completely different.

The scale of the gardens is another aspect that cannot be appreciated from looking at books. When you have acres to work with, you can plant acres of landscaping. The trick is to adapt the ideas to the space available in the home gardener's own plot of ground. And add some whimsical art.

We spent most of our time among the fruits and vegetables. Having planted apple and cherry trees this year in my own yard, and trying to follow explicit directions spelled out in several books on orchards, I was particularly intrigued by the variety of methods used at CBG. (And thanks to the tram tour, I now know how to pronounce "espalier". At least, I assumed the guide was pronouncing it correctly; she was wrong about "artisanal", saying "artesian" instead.)

You can grow fruit trees on a wall.

You can grow them in a row.

You can grow them on a fence.

You can grow them on a trellis. The trees on the left side were recently replaced and still rather puny compared to their mature cousins across the archway.

With creative pruning, fruit trees can be shaped and restrained in their growth habit. The only way to tell their true age is by looking at the trunks.

In some ways, the Fruit and Vegetable Garden reflected a vision I entertain of my own yard. This berry cage would not keep out woodchucks, but is very effective at discouraging marauding birds. I don't have trouble with birds in my berries, but the sparrows do like the pea plants, to the point where I have contemplated a cage such as this. An alternative idea is to make use of mylar ribbon, which CBG also uses here and there.

I also hope to have bees some day.

And kiwi! I still have the metal pergola that used to grace the patio, and have contemplated setting it up in the yard as an arbor for hardy kiwi and grapes. CBG did both.

The fruit of the hardy kiwi is smaller than what one finds in the grocery story, but lacks fuzz, so is more palatable for eating without peeling. I'm just not sure what I would do with all that fruit.

I have never tasted hardy kiwi, but I assume it tastes like store-bought. The fruit at CBG was not yet ripe, plus there were signs posted to not pick the fruit. If everyone said, Just one taste won't hurt, there would be nothing left in no time.

The sparrows that hang around the outside dining area cannot read, though, and tried to get us to ignore the signs that said to not feed the wildlife. On the right side of this picture, there is a plaque on the railing that describes what one sees across the water. CBG is extremely good at labeling plants and trees, which we really appreciated.

Since the Japanese Garden was off limits, we wandered about the water lilies, which were more varied than I have seen elsewhere. A major water feature is another item on my wish list, but every time I research the idea, I get discouraged by the amount of work they require.

There were very few blossoms this time of year, and I mistook what I now think were seed pods for flowers.

Don't they look other worldly?

We also visited the Bonsai Garden. This was outside, which could have been problematic for photographing, but CBG erected frosted panels behind each one, which really enhanced the viewing pleasure.

This is one area where more information could have been provided, such as the age of the trees.

It was time to go, but I kept getting distracted by this, that, and another thing. Even exiting through the visitors center stopped me on the spot, as I had to check out the planters overhead. The pergola on my deck needs something like this, but with vining plants, to provide more shade.

These coir planters were backed by metal sheets, presumably to protect the wood.

Since my SO now has family in Milwaukee, we anticipate making this trip on a regular basis, and can make the Chicago Botanical Garden a standard stop. We may even join, as membership gains us access to many other botanical gardens around the country, including the one here in Fort Wayne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Must be September

The harvest from the vegetable garden is winding down. It was a good year for potatoes, not so much for onions (my fault, I fear, for mishandling the plants last spring), definitely not for tomatoes. There are always lessons learned: One plant provides plenty of zucchini, sweet corn needs to be harvested in a timely manner unless you like the flavor of starch over sugar, you can never have too much horse manure.

September harvest (and the last zucchini)

Another lesson: if there is a way, rabbits and woodchucks have the will. Despite the fortification of wood picket, hardware cloth, and poultry netting, there were occasional incursions by critters. Periodic inspections helped, but invariably damage occurred, even late in the season. I learned that woodchucks climb bean poles...

No beans for you!

... and favor broccoli over cabbage...

Yes to broccoli, no to cabbage

... but no one likes kale enough to justify eight plants.

Not even rabbits or woodchucks like kale

I tried pointing the finger of blame at rabbits, but they don't care for sweet potatoes, nor will they climb onto the cage supposedly protecting the plants, caving it in and nibbling the protruding leaves.

It wasn't me! (This time.)

Fortunately, the enjoyment of late summer flowers balances the frustrations of vegetable gardening. This 'Wild Romance' Aster is a long time survivor. Some years the only thing that saved it was a nearby metal plant marker.

Aster 'Wild Romance', with bee

I've become intrigued by a photo of 'Autumn Joy' Sedum grown as a low hedge that I noticed in Tracy DiSabato-Aust's book, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. My cluster gets a bit leggy from not enough sun, but if I move it and pinch it back, perhaps I too can have a sorta hedge of it along the front of the house.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' starting to blush

I mistakenly thought this Catmint was 'Walker's Low' and could not understand why each plant became so HUGE and spread so FAR. While fooling around in that bed, I found the plant tag. Now that I know its true growth habit, I have just the spot for it, around the garden shed.

Catmint 'Six Hills'

As usual, there are lots of plans for next year. I'm antsy to try them out, but FIRST. There is work to do, like weeding the area under the Hydrangea so next spring it can be populated with Bishop's Weed, aka Goutweed. Bishop's Weed can be a bit out of control, but this corner is somewhat isolated and I'm counting on Bishop's Weed's shade loving nature to help keep it in check.

Hydrangea 'Limelight', weeded

I don't quite know what to do about this problem, though. The deck builders did not follow directions to stay within the footprint of the patio slab and extended the deck over the bed with Joe Pye, Cardinal Flower, and Swamp Milkweed. I wrote those plants off, prematurely it seems. It doesn't bother me that they poke up between the boards, so maybe I will just leave them be.

Joe Pye and Cardinal Flower

My granddaughter's interest in photography is rather erratic, so I can't count on her providing me with regular pics of the yard, or much of anything else, for that matter. But then, she is not quite five and still exploring all there is to do and see in the world.

Photo op

Oh, to be young again. (NOT!)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This spud's for you

"Irish" potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow in the backyard garden. Basically, you stick a seed potato into the ground, cover it with dirt, cover it with more dirt as the plant emerges, and mulch. The few weeds that emerge are easily dispensed. Then when the plants die, you dig up the potatoes, cure them in a shed or garage for a few days, then store for winter use. Those you nick during harvest may be eaten right away.

Sometimes there are problems. You may need to pick off potato beetles. (When I lived in the country, these beetles were an annual problem; here in the city, I rarely see them.) Wire worms can damage the tubers. One year I tried planting potatoes in a conventional bed under straw; voles ate the seed potatoes. Another year, I used sheets of crumpled newspaper for mulch, and the crop tasted funny. But in general, they are a sure thing, year after year. And considering that the potato is on the "Dirty Dozen" list, growing your own makes even more sense.

Solanum tuberossum has gotten a bad rap in the past several decades. It's not the potatoes that are bad for you; it's the way they are processed. The French fries and hash browns you eat in restaurants most likely are treated with sulfites, frozen, breaded, and fried in questionable oils. Potatoes themselves are great sources of potassium and vitamin C, and are loaded with phytonutrients. They tend to have a high glycemic value, but according to Jo Robinson (in Eating on the Wild Side), cooking potatoes, then chilling them for 24 hours greatly reduces this problem, as does serving them with fat (hello, butter and sour cream!)

Contrary to the common nomenclature, potatoes are not from Ireland; they are native to South America, although they bear little resemblance to their ancestors. I have not been referring to these potatoes as "white" because, despite what is generally available in the grocery store, potatoes come in many colors. And like most vegetables, the more colorful the flesh, the more nutritious the potato. I've been growing Adirondack Red and Adirondack Blue, which are red/blue throughout and retain the color after cooking. This year I added a white, Carola (I also like Eva), so now I can make red, white, and blue potato salad. How patriotic!

Growing potatoes in raised beds has worked for me. I plant 2 pounds of seed potatoes in each 4'x 4' bed, one "seed" per square foot; harvests this year are running 20-30 pounds per bed. We added a tier to the beds this year, making them deeper, which I think has boosted the yields (but we have also had plenty of rain). The only downside to potatoes in raised beds, it is really awkward to dig them as it is impossible to get a garden fork underneath. Instead, I use my hands and a trowel, and am unsure if I got the deeper ones. (I engaged my granddaughter's help in harvesting one bed, but frankly, it is easier without her using the bed frame as a balance beam while leaning on me for support.)

The experts recommend purchasing fresh seed each year, to avoid disease in your crop. Recently, I have read about some intrepid gardeners who save tubers for replanting, which works for a while. So far, my crop is consumed before spring. Since I grew more this year, though, if some last the winter and/or start to sprout, I may give this option a test run. Or not - I would be sad if I faced the winter without my own homegrown potatoes.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I lied

Dropping all the privet trimmings off at the bio-solids site did not cost $3. In an effort to avoid making two trips today, SO really packed the pickup truck (plus some of the branches still had leaves, plus it rained last night, so some of what we transported was moisture). The result was being charged $2.38 instead of $1 today, so the total came to $4.38 (plus $30 to fill up the gas tank, plus about $24 in lunches). Also, weight lifting! Steps on the Fitbit! Fresh air! Being scolded by wrens! Listening to cicadas! Priceless! Still, we are exceedingly happy to be done with that project. It was blocking my creativity, plus those piles were just plain in the way.

Speaking of cicadas, they are so loud that I could hear them over the roar of my lawn mower the other day. And yet, their noise is so much more pleasant than that of mowers, trimmers, and leaf blowers. Do you agree?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dog Daze

One of the best things about August is it makes me pine for winter. Snow! Ice! Sweaters! Meanwhile, we sweat it out until September brings a bit of respite to the heat and humidity.

One onerous chore my SO and I have been having to do, despite the weather, is deal with the privet at the back of my lot. Ordinarily, I try to trim my side of the neighbor's hedge every two years or so, to keep it from draping over the telephone and cable wires during ice storms and to leave me some room for mowing behind the fence. I think it has been at least three years, though, and I let my SO have his way with the thing. He pruned it much more severely than I ever have, resulting in a HUGE pile to get rid of. A bit daunted by the mass, I called a tree service to see what they would charge to make that problem disappear. I was willing to pay as much as $50, but they wanted $250. Gah! Fortunately, the Best Neighbor Ever (not the hedge owner) lets me borrow his pickup truck. SO and I hauled two loads to the bio-solids site Friday, and plan to take one more Monday; total cost (besides filling up the gas tank) will be $3. Our time, effort, and sweat are worth something.

More sweat is going into eliminating the jungle-like appearance of my backyard. The front of the house sports a fair amount of castle block (which I installed all my myself in my younger days, swearing I would never do THAT again). There is some left over from that project, so I circled one of the Redbud trees with it. The idea is, next spring, to move the nearby 'Betty Corning' Clematis to the base of the tree, to let it climb. (The Clematis in question is growing across the lawn next to this tree, as its trellis broke.)

Photo by me
There are two more Redbud trees and two more Clematis vines, another 'Betty Corning' and one whose name I can't locate right now. I have enough castle block to do one more circle. Then I will have to buy more, despite the promise I made to myself.

Photo by Nora
An experiment in the vegetable garden this year is going vertical. This trellis is in a bed of squash and pumpkin, some of which is supposed to be bushlike, some of which is climbing the trellis. I got carried away and overcrowded the plants, so I doubt the yields will be anything special, and I have to gently encourage the vining ones to climb, but so far, I think this idea works well for those with limited garden space.

Photo by me
Plans for this structure may be found in the final issue of Organic Gardening magazine; OG is now Organic Life and I'm not finding a useful link for you. Sorry.

Photo by Nora
It is too bad this 'Limelight' Hydrangea is tucked into a corner where no one ever sees it, as it blooms spectacularly every year, despite my amateurish pruning. It is probably just as well it is hidden, as it is always surrounded by weeds.

Photo by me
The plan for next year is to replace the weeds with Bishop's Weed, which I will be content to let take over that area as not much of anything else thrives there.

Photo by Nora
My g'daughter, who is not quite five, now has the coordination to operate a digital camera, so I let her use an old one of mine. The photos in this post that she took are unedited.

Photo by Nora
Her short stature give her a different perspective on the world than a grownup's.

Photo by me
Maybe I'll let her be my blog photographer.

Photo by me