Sunday, April 23, 2017

Still spring

The temperatures have cooled a bit, which is a plus for the spring bloomers. My SO and I and Watson (the dog) went for a wildflower walk at Bicentennial Woods a couple of weeks ago. No pics but we (the dog and/or I) did bring home a couple of ticks. Ugh. Last Thursday we stopped at Foster Park between rain showers, to view the tulips. Again, no pics, except for this redbud tree.

I wish I knew the history of this old thing. I've seen redbuds with thick trunks, but nothing like this convoluted writhing mass of limbs. I'm surprised the uniqueness was not pruned out of it a long time ago.

On the home front, my SO and I spent hours in the backyard yesterday, trying to get things under control. He does the heavy lifting, literally. I keep reconfiguring the raised beds - this time, doubling the height of the concrete block ones - which I would not be able to manage on my own. He also cut down the 'Wichita Blue' junipers, two of which turned incredibly ugly, two of which never grew larger. I joke that he makes my gardening dreams come true, which really is not a joke at all. His help keeps me from succumbing to gardener's despair.

We both tackled weeds, weeds, and more weeds, mostly this creeping crud that is able to leap raised beds in a single bound and spread across the top of mulch, rooting all the way. I don't like to use herbicides, but am wondering if spraying along the fence will send the poison spreading through this carpet of crap like a computer virus through a LAN. It would be an interesting experiment. (Oh, wait. I just looked up some info on ground ivy, a.k.a. creeping Charlie. It says it is not affected by broadleaf herbicides except dicamba. Hmmm.)

Inside, I have been starting seeds, better late than never. At least I'm late enough that many can spend time outside almost immediately. Less mess in the house.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April is busting out all over

This has been a great spring for early blooming shrubs and trees (with a few exceptions like forsythia and magnolias). I confess the redbuds are my favorite anyway. So pink!

And it is not just in my yard but it's everywhere, even along the edges of woodlands. Which brings up a question I have: ornamental pears have proven to be invasive, which is bad of course, but no one complains about volunteer redbuds, perhaps because they are native?

My fruit trees are not that old, but are making a great effort this year. Top photo is apple blossoms, bottom is cherry.

The serviceberry is already past its prime, but the sand cherry out front surprised me this morning. I hope the neighbor across the street comments on it so I can remind him that there used to be two in his yard. I missed them, so I planted my own.

My experiment of tulips in containers has not been very successful, or at least not what I envisioned. The bulbs were free, and maybe the species is not the best for container growing. Or maybe it was the weather or something about my technique. The colors are gorgeous, but the stems are short. It looks like many will not bloom at all. I can't even blame this failure on rabbits.

I have to admit I am not taken with the fact these particular tulips will not bloom again. For all the effort involved with fall bulbs, I would rather plant something that comes back year after year. I wonder how perennial tulips would perform in containers?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

More time for fun

For over 20 years, I've pooh-poohed the need for a riding lawn mower, primarily because mowing was part of my exercise protocol. The past couple of years, though, it seemed like too much effort for too little return. Last summer my son did all the mowing, but he is not available this year. So I bit the bullet and purchased a Toro 'Timecutter'.

Given all the stuff I need to mow around, I opted for a zero turn mower. It's a little tricky to learn to maneuver, but I anticipate it will suit my needs. I still use the Personal Pace Toro for narrow margins and the string trimmer for up-close-and-personal work, but this 32" beast will greatly reduce the time spent on lawn care, which means more time for actual gardening.

I have three redbud trees, all the same type, all from the same source, all planted in the backyard at the same time, yet they each perform a little differently. Two are close to the house, one near the back fence. This one at the southwest corner of the TV room has the densest and the most intense blooms this year. The other two are pretty but do not have the visual impact of this over-achiever. I don't think of my yard as having micro-climates; apparently I am wrong.

The serviceberry has never achieved its full potential, thanks to rabbits that girdled it its first winter here. It looks more shrubby than treelike. As long as there is not a heavy frost, it blooms nicely. The robins strip the berries before I even notice them, which is okay. The cherry and apple trees are blooming too, although scantily. If I pay attention, I may get to the cherries before the birds.

The weather this spring is predictably unpredictable, with an unusual number of rainbows accompanying the April showers. I have yet to spot a pot of gold.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

First customer of the year

I took a little drive to Spencerville a couple of weeks ago, to pick up some shrubs from Riverview Native Nursery. With the erratic weather, part of me wanted to GET GOING, while the saner part of my brain reminded me it was not even April yet. But by purchasing these shrubs early, I got the pick of the crop (so to speak).

It's impossible to tell from the photo that I have a smooth hydrangea, a chokeberry, and a spicebush.

Last summer I whacked away at the forsythia, cutting two to the ground, leaving one for early spring yellow. I assumed the scanty blossoming was due to the severe pruning, but as I drive around town, no one's forsythia looks good this year. I blame the weather.

Daffodils rarely fail, although they may flop a bit. The blooming rate is random, too, instead of the usual steady march through the varieties.

Gardening rarely lacks surprises, but I feel like I can't count on anything anymore.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bed by bed

Anne Lamott wrote a book called Bird by Bird. It's mostly about writing, but maxims for writers can apply to gardeners as well. The title reflects how to attack a large project: bit by bit.

Native sampler

My yard is rather large, which I consider a good thing, but sometimes the sheer amount of work to keep it up overwhelms me. Despite my attempts to make things easier, they seem to get more complicated. But if I can take things one bed at a time, I shall prevail.

Native sampler getting fenced in

For several years I've contemplated adding another structure to the yard, leaning toward a screened-in gazebo. The new fence provides so much privacy now, that idea has evaporated. But my g'daughter has been trying to build a clubhouse of sorts in the bushes. This inexpensive resin shed should serve that purpose, plus give me some place to store lawn furniture in the winter.

Resin shed

The brand/model is Keter Manor (purchased at Menards), size 4'x6'. And it is a BEAR to assemble. It takes two people, and it is especially helpful if one of them is tallish with a certain amount of upper body strength. And power tools. My SO did most of the actual labor while I supervised/assisted. Be prepared to argue over discuss the instructions.

The garden proper evolves, and will continue to do so in the near and distant future. We removed the movable fence, then reduced the footprint by doubling the height of the raised beds and shoving them closer together. I have a reminder on my calendar to take photos from these five perspectives throughout the growing season, so we can track further changes.

Looking SW

Looking NW

Looking NE

Looking SE

Orchard - looking SW

Today it is rainy, so I'm glad I soldiered on yesterday. Not much is blooming - a few daffodils, even fewer crocus, the forsythia. Many buds look ready to burst on the early-blooming shrubs. Hope a frost does not ruin the show.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wait! Wait!

This is the first time I have tried planting tulips in containers. I kept them in the garage, watered them sporadically, and all seemed well. BUT with the mild weather we have had UNTIL NOW, the tulips made an unreasonably early appearance. So I dragged the pots outside, in hopes that the wildly fluctuating temps would cool the tulips' enthusiasm. And I think it's working.

New growth seems to have halted... for now.

Now that my interest in big pots has been stoked, I'm contemplating removing the boxwood in front of the picture window and placing one of the pots there in its stead. Once the tulips start to fade, I can replace them with some summery annuals and let the creeping phlox have its way with that area. The mugu pine that is crowded behind the boxwood would probably appreciate more room, too.

I think one of the hardest gardening lessons for me to learn has been that it's okay to remove something that no longer works, no matter its size or health. The first thing to go were the silver maples in the backyard. I was sad to lose the shade but relieved to be rid of red buds and whirlybirds in the air conditioner, leaves in the gutters, and branches scraping the roof of the Florida room (which is also gone). Change is good, or can be. If I wanted a static yard, I would just grow grass.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spending my children's inheritance

Oh, my goodness, where do I begin? I've started ordering plants and seeds for the coming season. In at least one case, the shipping charges exceed the amount of the order. After a lifetime of scrimping and saving for retirement, I want what I want and I'm going to get what I want.

The vegetable garden is basically all planned out, and it's not going to have many vegetables. Instead, I am going to cross over to growing plants for dyeing fiber. There will still be asparagus, strawberries, and raspberries, plus pole beans, zukes and cukes, and broccoli (which I've discovered is rather long-seasoned as one can enjoy side shoots for many weeks after the main head is harvested). I expect to have some tomatoes and peppers and herbs in pots. But otherwise, it will be dye plants.

Most dye plants that will grow around here yield primarily greens and yellows, not my favorite colors for fiber. But with certain mordants and after dye baths, one can obtain a variety of other colors from the following plants: dahlia ('Black Satin'), hibiscus (Hibiscus Moscheutos 'Luna Red'), hollyhock (Alcea rosea), madder (Rubia tinctorum), yellow cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), dyer's coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), dyer's knotweed (Polygonum tinctorium). Of all of these, I have grown only hollyhocks and hibiscus; the rest will be new to me.

Other dyes may be obtained from plants and trees I already grow: marigolds, apple trees (bark), cherry trees (bark), elm (bark), goldenrod, rhubarb (also a mordant), daffodils, Queen Anne's lace (I don't grow this on purpose), yarrow, even dead tomato plants. Once I exhaust myself sampling all these, I may just go back to vegetables!

In the non-vegetable, non-fruit, non-dyeing realm, I'm going to concentrate on adding more trees and shrubs to the rest of the landscape, Specific shrubs are black chokeberry (to replace the one that died from rabbit girdling), smooth hydrangea, coralberry, and spicebush. I can purchase all these from a local grower, Riverview Native Plant Nursery. For trees, I want a Prairie Fire crabapple for the backyard and a 'Perfect Purple' crabapple for the front.

And to make everything look pretty, I'm considering a power edger of some sort.

What are your plans for the coming season?