Saturday, July 04, 2020


When I look at the weather forecast, all I see are days and days of high temperatures, over 90 for forever. Some of those days include a "chance of rain" which means none. I've had to drag out the hose in the evening to encourage the droopers. It is only July; what will August be like?

It's too hot and dry to try to transplant anything, but there is plenty of other work to do. I have a few plants that I regret, in this case trumpet vine and forsythia, that I am eliminating by cutting back, then applying herbicide. The stuff I am using, Ortho Poison Ivy and Tough Brush Killer, doesn't seem to work very fast, but it did eliminate the poison ivy growing under the gold mop (plus a few hyacinth that were inadvertently sacrificed). I may try applying it to mulberry samplings, too.

After cutting back the trumpet vine on the inside of my privacy fence, I ventured into "no man's land", the area between the fence and my (now new) neighbor's privet hedge, to see if there was trumpet vine growing on that side. I was never able to convince the previous owner of the hedge to do anything to it, so I pruned back my side to keep the branches off the utility lines (cable and phone, not electrical) and allow me room to cut the grass and weeds. Last summer, though, I let the privet go because of my hip.

I have yet to meet my new neighbors, let alone discuss the privet, but initially they seemed to be making an effort to keep that area mowed. Then they gave up, perhaps after someone (I'm guessing the underground utility guy) pruned some branches, then let them lay where they fell. When I stepped through the gate this week, I found what looked like a Canada thistle farm.

It took me several morning sessions, but I cleared out the fallen branches, whacked the weeds, and "mowed" (with my string trimmer). The hedge needs some attention, however, as there is honeysuckle (the bad kind) and mulberry samplings (also the bad kind) growing there. The branches need to be pruned to protect the lines. Then I will borrow a truck to haul all the detritus to the compost site. Maybe while I am doing all this, I will get to meet the neighbors and try once again to broach the subject of what to do with the privet.

The west side of the house is as finished as it is going to be for now. We're all set for the AC to be serviced. I want to move the lilies sometime and fill that last bit with pebbles too.

I keep changing my mind about where to move the lilies, but once I get rid of one of the forsythias, they can join their brethren in a small bed of mixed lilies, like this one.

I have seen squirrels and chipmunks around the yard (no rabbits as of late), but I have also been finding dead voles in the back lawn when I pick up dog poop. Initially I suspected my outdoor cat, but Finn usually eats what he catches. From observing the dogs, I think maybe they are the ones trying to eliminate these pests. Good dogs!

A perennial (heh, heh) mystery is why some yarrow in my yard blooms while some does not. I gave my SO some yarrow and he experiences the same thing. I thought yarrow liked full sun, but now I have my doubts as the flowering plants receive afternoon shade while the non-bloomers are in the sun all day long. Anyone share this experience?

'Betty Corning' is just about done, but the 'Avant-garde' clematis is still blooming. My SO and I have been discussing alternative methods of supporting these vines, as they overwhelm everything I have tried so far. Maybe part of an antenna tower? Milkweed and bee balm is starting - they each have their distinctive aromas.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Pomodoro'd out

I recently learned of a time management technique known as Pomodoro, which is Italian for tomato. (The inventer is Italian and originally used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.) Basically, one works for 25 minutes, rests for 5, then repeats three more times, rests for 30 minutes, then starts all over again. There are lots of apps to help with the timing, but I have found that for me, the work/rest ratio depends on what I'm doing, how much sleep I got the night before, how hot it is (for outside labors), etc. The most important lesson learned, though, is I need to sit less and do more. Once I sit, I tend to stay seated for much longer than necessary. I also need to pay attention to my energy level. On day one, I overdid it in the morning, then spent the afternoon in recovery mode.

The 'Autumn Joy' sedum looks stunted, as though I had pinched it back. This supports my theory that we had a badly timed late frost this past spring. Some plants were affected, like the sedum and the Japanese maple, others unfazed.

Last night a half inch of rain fell, not enough but better than nothing. I was able to do a significant amount of weeding along the south side of the house. I'm also halfway through converting the beds around the AC unit to stone mulch and container plants.

Speaking of container plants, my experient growing perennnials in containers has been a big FAIL... except for the penstemon. It hasn't been very happy, until this year, when I shifted the pot to the end of the deck so that the plants get more sun. Otherwise, I have been sticking to annuals in pots: basil, thyme, straw flowers, zinnias, morning glory. The latter has climbed almost to the top of the pergola on the deck, but I'm wondering if it is getting enough sun to bloom. The redbud tree that provides some delightful afternoon shade is also shading the morning glories.

The wrens have babies, babies that send up a chirp chorus whenever mom or dad shows up with some food. That attracts the attention of the dogs; when Clio stands on her hind legs, she can almost reach the birdhouse. Besides discouraging their curiosity there, I have to keep an eye on their chipmunk hunting. The south and north sides of the house are blocked off, but they stomped around under the 'Limelight' hydrangea where bishops weed (aka goutweed) grows. Fortunately, that stuff seems to be rather hearty.

A few butterfly weed plants are starting to bloom, along with a couple of coneflowers. I admit I have trouble telling some of the prairie plants from what I consider weeds. I am looking forward to more blooms so I can target the weeds without accidently removing the desirables.

My back is sore from my labors, but I am so, so, SO happy to be back in the garden post hip replacement!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

All is not lost

Sometimes it is difficult to focus on the positive. I water the spray-on grass the construction crews left behind, but no grass grows. I reduce my calorie intake, but I lose no weight. I put out the oriole feeder, but no birds come. One ray of hope is the Japanese maple: while walking the dogs, I noticed another Japanese maple in the neighborhood that looks similar in species to mine also struggling. So maybe it is not a serious problem, just the weather.

Japanese maple samaras

We have not had rain for quite a while, to the point I may have to water more than the spray-on grass. The city says they will come back in the fall and redo the spray-on grass, but I found some seven-year-old grass seed in the garage, which I cast on top of the spray-on grass. Even though I doubt it will germinate, I'll water twice a day for a while. The rest of the lawn is on its own. The white clover patches look green, as does the grass that gets the most shade; the rest is turning a toasty brown. The outside faucet out front has a drip, so I let it drip under the Japanese maple.

Spurge (?) grows in my lawn

I edged around the 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab and transplanted some 'Zagreb' coreopsis there, to add to the yellow under this purple tree; 'Stella d'Oro' is blooming there right now. Using an edging tool, I put my weight on my "bad" leg and dug with the "good"; ditto with the shovel. This made sense to me, but not to my hip. The concrete-like clay soil was not helpful, either. I had to take it easy for a couple of days after that episode.

Ladybug, ladybug, welcome to my garden

Weeding anything deep-rooted is impossible right now, so I've been concentrating on some sticky things growing under the gold mop. I haven't been able to identify them. They are surprisingly shallow rooted, and grow in sun and in the shady recesses that I can't reach without putting undo strain in my hip. I may have to call in reinforcements to help me out.

Found my garden scooter

I feed the birds peanut splits, unshelled peanuts, oil sunflower seeds, and nectar. I've wondered from time to time just how dependent birds are on these feeders, and which they prefer, the free handouts or the smorgasbord available elsewhere in the yard. The other day, I watched a female hummingbird sample the nectar at the feeder, then buzz over to the nearby 'Red Husker' penstemon, where she aggressivly poked her beak into a half dozen blossoms before zipping away. I guess the nectar in the feeder may be easy pickings, but not a match for the real thing. To learn how hummingbirds see color, visit this article in the NYTimes.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Doesn't feel like June

Some coldish temps have struck our area. Tonight it is supposed to get into the high 40's. Very unusual, but I am not complaining about sunny days in the high 60's and low 70's. What do the plants and animals think of this?

My Japanese maple apparently is not happy with the climate, or something. It is barely leafing out. I don't know if a late frost interrupted its usual progression or if it needs more water or less or what. The gardening column in today's paper discussed problems with Japanese maples, one being that the root flare ("the portion of the trunk that flares out just before the roots begin") is covered by soil or mulch. I'll check this, but also, in my experience, the area within the drip zone needs to be free of mulch, too. I killed a previous Japanese maple in this location by covering the root zone with lava rock. The next one, a lacy leaf variety, I killed by underwatering. This one has been there since 2009 and has reached its full size, so I hope it revives and continues for many more years.

The petroleum jelly helped reduce the number of ants in the hummingbird feeder, but did not completely eliminate them. The oriole feeder has a built-in ant trap, but not the hummingbird feeder. My handy SO constructed one from these instructions.

My arms hurt today because yesterday I trimmed the boxwood out front. If it gets too tall, it blocks the electric light on that side of the garage. Even though I exercise my arms and shoulders, holding the hedge trimmers at that height put extra strain on my muscles. That, or I am getting old.

I'm new to strawflowers, and so far am impressed with them. Each blossom goes through an interesting progression until it reaches full bloom.

'Betty Corning' is putting out a good display this year. The 'Blue Muffin' viburnum is done blooming, so now it is time for 'Chicago Lustre'. I had forgotten all about 'Niobe', a clematis by the front porch. It has had a rough life but it hasn't given up and is blooming well. And today I saw a cedar waxwing in the Japanese maple.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Can we have a new normal?

Since the pandemic started, many (NOT ALL) of us have been wishing and waiting until we can "get back to normal". Well, that old normal was not all that great, especially for some people and some places. I try to keep politics and social issues out of my blogs - that's not why I write - but some things just cry out to be mentioned. I hope the protests lead (peacefully) to significant change, and the only way to change things for the better is to get involved however we can (money, time, letter writing, running for office, etc.) and to VOTE. If you don't vote, it looks like you don't care, and I can't believe anyone doesn't care about how we move forward from this point. (End of sermon.)

I was beginning to think that the only critters I was going to see at the hummingbird feeder were ants. I fixed that problem by applying Vaseline petroleum jelly to the metal pole holding the feeder. Soon after, I spotted a female hummer. But only one. I didn't know if that was normal (it is), so I looked up some info about hummingbirds at this site. Some friends of mine have been able to spot hummingbird nests in their trees, but my ranch house does not offer the same vantage point their 2-story home does. Caring for a hummingbird feeder is almost like having another pet - the nectar needs to be replaced every 3-4 days. It's for only a few months (she said optimistically).

Speaking of critters, my dog Clio managed to mangle her muzzle and ear, presumably in the torn hardware cloth skirting the shed. That lead to a bacterial infection AND a fungal infection. She was a mess, had to visit the vet, and now wears the cone of shame.

My SO helped me update the skirting around the shed with some plastic trellis. Since I didn't want to lie awake at night, worrying about whether we trapped a nest of baby bunnies under the shed and they were slowly starving to death, we left a gap for critters to come and go. Only later did it occur to me that Finn, my inside/outside cat, could also come and go. Finn was a stray who developed a taste for baby bunnies - he eats them, doesn't torture them - so I decided that was okay. Maybe someday there will be NO critters under the shed.

In my effort to downsize the garden, I moved some of the raised bed frames so that they surround the clumps of big bluestem and rattlesnake master plants near the back of the yard. The idea is to offer the dogs a visual clue so that they don't trample the plants - they like to run along the fence. I, the Toro jockey, will also have a visual clue and will be able to mow that area without damaging said plants. I plan to move some coneflower and rudbekia to those beds as well.

So now I have four islands of weeds in the middle of the garden. The weeds look rather grasslike - I'm guessing it's mostly quack grass. Ugh. I am not looking forward to dealing with that.

Meanwhile, up on the deck, the strawflowers are blooming. The plants aren't very tall, so maybe I will add something to the pot... some zinnias. The seedlings are popping up. Zinnias and sunflowers are some of my favorite annuals. And marigolds, but I skipped them this year.

I was looking through some of my photos out on flickr the other day and marveling over how much better they look than the ones I take now. Back then, I was making more of an effort to take good pics, now I am barely documenting what is going on in the yard, and then only as a reminder because I suffer from CRS (Can't Remember Sh*t). Maybe I'll do better once things get under control (HAHAHAHA).

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Share and share alike

My neighbor across the street, the one who blows my driveway and lends me his truck, asked for a rhubarb plant since he knew I was downsizing the garden. I was happy to oblige and threw in a dozen half-pint canning jars to boot. He responded by giving me a jar of tomato powder. He has made good use of the dehydrator I gave him several years ago (I used it maybe twice), and that includes the reduction of tomatoes to dust. It's a good way to add some tomato flavor and a thickening agent to sauces, or so he says. I'll have to try it out.

As promised last time, I hung out the hummingbird feeder, but only after spotting a hummer in the front yard. Deciding on a location was tough - sun vs. shade, less than 5' from a window vs. more than 15', viewable or not, etc. Initially, I hung it near the compost bin, just outside a window I can view while on the computer. That might have been too hidden, plus sometimes my indoor/outdoor cat perches on the bin. (Sorry for the reflection in the window in the pic below.)

I moved it away from the house but that was too far away, plus the view was blocked from just about everywhere. Now it is under the elm tree. I can watch it from the deck or the "exercise room" (spare bedroom where I do my physical therapy exercises), far enough from windows to discourage collisions, in an area more open but not too open. I don't usually see many hummingbirds until June - that one last week may have been an outlier - and it has been cool lately. Hopefully, they will come soon.

Several (20+) years ago, I laid a clear plastic tarp on the lawn, ostensibly to dry it out. Within a few hours, it had nearly killed the grass. So when I edged a bed along the fence on the south side of the house, I figured clear plastic tarp would be helpful in eliminating the grass and weeds growing there. NOT. Instead, the plastic is acting like a greenhouse. I'm guessing the sunlight is not intense enough to overheat the contents. I will have to switch to black plastic. Or dig out the grass and roots by hand, something I was trying to avoid.

I am amazed at how fast morning glories grow and provided them with a little help by placing trellises nearby for them to climb. Besides the 'Scarlet O'Hara', I planted seeds from my SO's morning glories, which are the traditional blue. I hope they climb all the way up to the top of the pergola.

I have never grown strawflowers, so decided to see what they are like. These are Mohave Dark Rose Bracteantha, or something like that. 'Mohave' is trademarked.

I also planted some sweet basil and English thyme. My cooking has become rather basic for the most part, but I still like some fresh herbs now and then. Also in this pic is a volunteer silver maple seedling. I have been toying with planting it in the backyard but for all the negative aspects of this native tree. Even though it is a fast grower, I will probably be long gone before it becomes a real problem, but STILL. I hate to create a problem but I also hate to throw away a perfectly good plant.

Today I started some zinnias and sunflowers in a tray of peat pots. The zinnias are Cut and Come Again Mixed Colors and Big Red, the sunflowers Mammoth, all from Burpee by way of Home Depot. We were properly masked while there and found the masks to be uncomfortably hot. Can't wait for July and August.

Oh, and I was wrong about being wrenless. The bird house is occupied.

Sunday, May 24, 2020


We have received a LOT of rain recently, not enough to be a problem, at least for me, at least not NOW. The new storm drains appear to be working as planned. In other words, no more lake front property after each downpour. Yay!

The hawthorn tree is blooming, as is the 'Wentworth' highbush cranberry, both in snowy white. The pink cotoneaster is popping now that the creeping phlox is done. There are a few volunteer columbine and what I now know is dame's rocket, an alien invasive that we are supposed to irradicate... but it's so pretty!

One annual I managed to plant so far is some red morning glory, 'Scarlet O'Hara'. While waiting for that to actually produce some flowers, I will *finally* put out a hummingbird feeder, as those pugnacious creatures should be showing up any day now.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do in the yard, then stymie myself with "But first..." when the but-firsts never get done. This year I am just going to do something, anything, as the mood hits. As long as the front yard looks tidy enough....