Saturday, December 19, 2020

Wrong again

I've been referring to a certain bird at the feeders as a flicker, but my SO (who is generally not bird savvy) commented on a red-bellied woodpecker in his backyard and all of a sudden I realized that my identification was wrong. Or maybe I've seen both? I will have to pay more attention.

Last week, while walking the dog, I saw some bluebirds. I told them to come visit the mealworm feeder in my yard and apparently they listened. I see them once in a while, but unfortunately the stupid starlings chase them off. I keep telling the starlings to head south but they are less open to suggestion than the bluebirds.

I ordered seeds from Pinetree Garden: French thyme, flat leaf parsley, Compatto dill, Fernleaf dill, dwarf Greek basil, bush basil, and jet black hollyhock. Before ordering, I checked what seeds I already had, most of which had been entered into a spreadsheet. I did not need zinnia, sunflower, or Mexican sunflower. I also refrained from purchasing any vegetable seeds. Seriously, there is a weekly farmers market just down the road all summer long; I don't need to grow beans or zucchini.

After checking out a few how-to videos on YT, I pruned off one bit of my Dracena marginata and potted it in vermiculite. It will be several weeks before roots appear. I'll keep you posted on its progress.

My self-imposed quarantine ends Tuesday. It hasn't been too bad, other than not seeing my SO in person. Xmas will be a repeat of Thanksgiving, just the two of us, this time with a pot roast. Indiana has the second highest number of new cases of Covid per capita in the nation, so we continue to hunker down. Happy holidays to you and stay safe!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Bees count

I'm sure you have heard of the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society. Now there is a native bee count, as described in this NYTimes article. Over the past several years (ever since spraying backyards for mosquitos became a thing) I've noticed a general dearth of pollinators in my garden. The privet used to positively hum when in bloom, but now, nothing. It's very concerning.

A BIG THANK YOU to ErinFromIowa for her suggestion to search on "How to propagate" plant name! It turns out my dracaena marginata is very propagatable. Or I can just whack it down to size and it will recover (theoretically). My plan is to cut off some of the new growth at the top and propagate that first. While I am not the best houseplant caretaker, I do like having some greenery around the house. Now I may have even more.

Indiana is no longer the worst hot spot in the country for Covid (as of today), but it is still bad. My son-in-law dropped by my house last Tuesday for a few minutes, then started showing symptoms Thursday and tested positive Friday. So, per CDC recommendations, I am quarantining, just in case and to keep others safe. After 9/11, the country united against what was viewed as a common enemy. Regarding the number of deaths, Covid is like 9/11 everyday, and yet for some reason the nation cannot unite to fight this new common enemy. It's very disappointing.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Low means low

A while back, my ancient hand mixer started to go kaput. I bought a new one, and then another new one, neither of which were satisfactory. My complaint? Neither had any speed that could be considered "low", so no matter what one was mixing - mashed potatoes, cookie batter, etc. - the kitchen ended up a mess from flung food. I guess it was my own fault, for trying to save pennies. After consulting with a friend, I purchased a KitchenAid 9-speed hand mixer (directly from KitchenAid, to make sure I got the real thing). I *love* it! From what I read online, the dough hooks won't knead bread dough, though, so don't purchase one expecting to do that.

My house is very standard, with standard eight-foot ceilings. This is a problem for this houseplant, which I believe is a dracaena marginata. Both my SO and my daughter have houses with high ceilings, but I haven't been able to convince either of them to adopt this poor plant. I'm wondering if I can cut it back. Opinions?

There isn't much to do outside right now, besides pick up dog poop and fill the bird feeders and bird bath. Reaching for the peanut split feeder the other day, I almost grabbed a nuthatch. He didn't see me and I didn't see him until we came near to a close encounter of the third kind. My neighbor's ornamental pear tree is loaded with tiny orange fruit, which a flock of robins was enjoying a few days ago. Today a HUGE flock of starlings passed by overhead, heading... northwest? What's up with that?

The dogs aren't inclined to spend much time in the backyard these days, so we've been walking more. Without gardening, I need the exercise as much as they do. The trees and shrubs look naked without their foliage, giving me a good look at their "bones" so I can plan future pruning.

According to the NYTimes "hot spot" map, which shows the country's Covid hot spots, based on average number of new cases in the past week, per capita, Indiana is the hottest hot spot in the nation. It's crazy, almost as crazy as the people who keep flying their Trump flags. Beam me up, Scotty!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Late to the dance

Even though everybody else tried their hand at sourdough started months ago, I finally decided to give it a go. After running through a 5-pound bag of flour with no significant results, I abandoned the project. Feeding it twice a day was like having another pet. Also, I was a bit ambivalent about using it on a regular basis. I need another hobby like a hole in the head.

The grass is still green, but just about everything else has turned brown or brownish. The one exception in my yard is the coralberry bush. It is holding its yellow fall foliage for quite a while. The red fruit adds to its vibrance.

Something odd I have noticed lately around town is some ornamental grasses are sending up new growth. Even my pampas grass is doing this. I blame the weather - unusually warm, a few frosty days, more warmth, etc. I just hope the plants are not weakened by yo-yo temperatures.

I think the sparrows are showing a preference for cracked corn over peanuts and sunflower seeds. However, the feeder I bought for this purpose tends to get plugged up. It's not just the feeder design, but the clumping characteristic of the corn. I recall having this problem before, which is one reason I stopped feeding cracked corn. (From where I am sitting, I can see a junco under the arborvitae and a downy woodpecker on the suet. Yesterday a hawk landed in the redbud right outside the window, but flew off before I could grab a camera.)

I'm experimenting with wintering over hardy chrysanthemum in the garage. One source says that this is doable; also, mums planted in the spring have a better chance of surviving winter outside, as their root system gets more firmly established over the summer. However, I doubt they will live very long; in the past, I've had mums live for a few years, then one by one, peter out. I still like the idea of growing yellow strawflowers instead; an annual, they need to be planted each year and periodically deadheaded.

I hope you all had a safe Thanksgiving. It was just me and my SO here. My kids stayed home, by brothers stayed home, my neighbors went camping to avoid maskless relatives. Indiana is not faring well regarding number of new cases per capita, schools in this area have been going totally remote because there is not enough healthy staff, especially bus drivers, to keep going. We'll see what the rest of the holiday season brings. Stay safe!

Saturday, November 21, 2020


When I look out the bedroom window on the south side of the house and see the now dormant perennials along the fence, I get a little excited, anticipating what that area will look like next summer.

The first seed catalog of the year is always from Pinetree Garden Seeds. The past several years I have not cracked the spine of a single seed catalog, but this year took a look, as I want some herb and annual seeds. In no time at all, I dog eared a dozen pages. Nevermind that I no longer have any place to grow all those plants, now that I am downsizing the garden. I will have to winnow that list a bit before sending in my order.

One of the families in my neighborhood decorated for Halloween by propping up three partying skeletons on bales of straw in their front yard. Post trick or treating, those bales were then set by the street, presumably for pickup on trash day. I'm not sure our local trash hauler would take them, but I was willing. After clearing it with the woman of the house, I hauled those very heavy bales home in the back of my car. I use the straw to cover the muddy portions of the backyard (thanks, dogs!) in what seems like a fruitless attempt to keep more dirt outside than inside. At least this year I did not have to buy the straw.

I managed to get the hoses detached from the spigots (with a little help from WD40). I also checked out the gutters. Next year I will have to prune the areas around the downspouts more aggressively, as I could barely reach the leaf jams.

My SO and I are "double bubbling" for Thanksgiving. My daughter and granddaughter have been sick the past week (not Covid), so it is not just the pandemic virus we are avoiding. Besides, shouldn't everyday be a day of thanksgiving? Have a safe holiday.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Wet and wild

Today is one of those days we usually encounter in March - warm, wet, and windy. The springlike temps are falling, though. This weather is just full of surprises.

I have done a little pottery, enough to chat up "real" potters at local shows about their techniques, and even buy a piece or three. Instead of someday making myself some herb pots, I purchased some at the annual Just a Bunch of Potters show. Now I just need some seeds.

Otherwise, not much is happening in the yard. This past week, it seemed everytime I planned to do something - like disconnect the hoses and lay them in the sun so I could coil them up for storage - the weather crapped out on me. I did manage to get the outside of the windows washed. I also discovered that the window washing solution is good at removing green alga from the siding. This wind is good for stripping the last of the leaves from the trees, so I will need to inspect the gutters one of these days.

BTW, sparrows and starlings eat mealworms.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Everlasting strawflowers, birds, etc.

This is the first year I have grown strawflowers, also known as everlastings. One of its everlasting character traits is the ability to withstand a hard frost. So now I am thinking they might be a good substitute for the ubiquitous hardy mums that spontaneously generate each autumn. Just something to keep in mind for next year.

Try as I might, I just can't capture the reds in my yard. That doesn't stop me from trying. This pic has been edited to warm the colors and deepen the shadows and it still does not come close to the real thing. Of course, the skill (or lack thereof) the the photographer has a lot to do with this failure.

Silver grass

I read somewhere that sparrows really love cracked corn, so providing it may limit their ravaging the more expensive birdseed. Toward that end, I bought some cracked corn, which required another feeder, which lead me to also purchasing meal worms and a feeder for those. (I know that the meal worms are dead, but because they are also dehydrated, they shift around easily inside the bag, which makes them look all squirmy - ugh.) So now I am feeding black sunflower seeds, striped sunflower seeds, peanut splits, peanuts in the shell, thistle seed, cracked corn, suet (which always seems to contain corn, probably as a binder), and meal worms.

While I continue to try to outfox the sparrows, I think I have won the squirrel wars. I have not seen a rodent in the feeders since the last adjustment of the baffles. I do see them in the yard, though, or running along the fence or the telephone wire or laying on the shed roof. It looks like they are trying to figure out how to leap from one perch or another to the feeders. If the dogs spot them, much chasing and barking ensues.

The coneflower and rudbeckia look dead, dead, dead, but the goldfinch still find something to eat in their dried seed heads. There are titmice and nuthatches and at least one flicker who are regulars, but so far no cardinals this year. And occasionally a Cooper's hawk makes an appearance, not for birdseed but for birds.

Locally, we gardeners have been encouraged to not put dead annuals in the trash, but to either compost them or chop them up and leave the leavings on the soil. So that is what I have been doing, with the coleus and zinnias. The perennials will be left standing until spring. Instead of thinking of their desiccated presence as "weedy", I will view them through the lens of "winter interest".

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Easy to be confused

Let it be known that the shrub I indentified as a spicebush a couple of weeks ago is actually a witch hazel. For some reason, I cannot keep this straight. Its fall blossoms, though, are a dead give away.

I spotted a squirrel in the bird feeders the other day and wondered if I was also confused about what's been eating all the peanuts. Yesterday, I filled the peanut wreath, then ate my lunch by the patio door. Within minutes, a half dozen (or more?) blue jays descended on that feeder, chasing away the flickers and sometimes each other, in their zeal for peanuts in the shell. It took them about an hour and a half to empty the feeder.

Sparrows continue to be the bane of my backyard. I've watched them at the peanut splits feeder, but they mostly drop the peanuts on the ground and the dogs eat them. As a stopgap measure, I hung a coir-lined basket under that feeder, to catch the spill. The sparrows don't seem to like it, but it doesn't seem to bother the other birds (including the flicker).

In other bird news, I have noticed all summer that sparrows have been eating something in the Japanese maple in front of my dining room window. The poor tree has not leafed out very well this year, something I blamed on a late frost, but apparently I can now blame it on the sparrows - they eat the leaf buds. I gave up growing peas in my vegetable garden because they kept eating the pea blossoms. If my Japanese maple does not survive, I may give up on it, too.

After my SO cut down the fruit trees, I noticed this lovely vine growing in that area. Too bad it is POISON IVY. Yesterday I planned to spray it, but I could not get the ^%$#@! cap off the herbicide bottle.

Last week I promised a pic of my new drying rack in the garage. It's tall enough that the bikes fit underneath. The stacked cement blocks have 4x4 posts inside them to help provide support - or to make sure the whole stack topples if bumped hard enough. Right now the only thing drying on it is a bunch of daffodil bulbs I unearthed while moving asters.

It looks like we finally had a hard frost last night. If it stays clear, we may also get to enjoy a "blue moon". Since Trick or Treat is still on here, I will be outside (wearing a Covid mask) monitoring the card table of treats (from a safe distance). Hope your Halloween is full of treats and no tricks.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Feather of bird

I don't need binoculars to recognize most of the birds in my yard, but some of the feathers I come across are a mystery. Like this one. The red tips puzzled me, but now I am thinking it might be from a bluebird. What say ye? (The feather looked more pristine before Clio put her snout on it - dog snot.

The Allen County Department of Management posted a graphic to help dardeners to decide about yard cleanup. The point of the posting is to encourage gardeners to leave flower stems standing until spring, when one cuts off the flower heads. The dead stalks provide stem-nesting bees a place to hibernate and to make nests for their brood. To view the post, click HERE

Last Sunday my SO came over and cut down the fruit trees that I cut down previously - they keep coming back! - and we moved the cinder blocks surrounding their beds. The blocks are sitting in the driveway right now, waiting to be used to make a drying rack in the garage. If that makes no sense, it will once we execute our plan and I post some pics.

We have been having quite a bit of rain lately, probably because my neighbors across the street have gone camping. It's become a running joke. The feeding frenzy at the bird feeders is over, although the blue jays are doing an excellent job of emptying the whole peanut wreath. Are they eating the nuts or hiding them somewhere for later? And yesterday I saw a monarch butterfly in the backyard. Time to head south!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Despite the weather

There has been a feeding frenzy at the bird feeders recently, mostly sparrows. I began to wonder if we are in for a rough winter, but the forecast is for mild and dry instead of cold and wet. We shall see.

We had a light frost the other night, nothing that would finish off the zinnias. I've been throwing a sheet over the coleus on the front porch when warned, but I dug up a new mother plant for next year's cuttings, just in case.

Now that the fence work is complete, I transplanted the bee balm to the south side of the house, after moving some of the remaining asters from the house side to the fence side of the same area. I'm a little confused about the aster varieties I have. What I moved looks like New England asters but are shorter. A volunteer aster has popped up in the yard as well, something I thought at first was more fleabane (which is done), then classified as a low growing aster, but then changed my mind again when I realized the plants were not low growing but floppy. Some day I may get all the asters sorted out, but not today.

I repeatedly try to capture the reddish hue of the Big Blue Stem in fall, but my pix never do it justice. This is the one that is most upright; next year I will try to prop up the others, as they look great in front of the fence.

A shrub I pretty much ignore is the coralberry. This year I made a point of checking on it periodically, because I wanted to actually see the berries. My efforts have been rewarded. I thought this shrub would get a LOT bigger, like eight feet across. This is its third season, so maybe I am being impatient.

The spicebush witch hazel is another shrub I tend to ignore, even though it looks lovely in front of the viburnum. I've yet to notice any berries on it, or blossoms either. This is its third year as well, and like the coralberry, it seems puny compared to what it should become.

Virginia creeper is one of my fall favorites, although sometimes it grows where I don't want it to, like behind the vinyl siding on my house. I'm still thinking of trying it in a container on the pergola, though. Tell me if I am nuts.

Rhubarb always surprises me with its fall color. Although I don't grow food anymore (something I have been debating lately as I never made it to a farmers market this summer and the grocery store zucchini tastes horrible), I keep my rhubarb patch for pie and dye.

I should be finishing up a few things in the front yard, but instead have been fixing up the raised beds I plan to keep, moving dirt from the defunct beds and mulching with newspaper and shredded cypress. The bee/wasp nest is still active, but once they settle down, I'll complete the transplanting of coneflower.

While searching through my blog for references to this or that, I've come to realize that there are a LOT of plants that I loved but that disappeared and were consequently forgotten. I'm making a list of ones I'd like to re-introduce to the yard, plus some new ones. This, despite my vow to downsize the garden.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fenced off

The fence installers were here on Wednesday, to set the posts, then returned Friday to build the gates. I *thought* I was keeping a close eye on the dogs on Thursday, but not close enough - they dug a half dozen deep holes on the south side of the house. Fortunately, they did not disturb the plants. It also gave the fence installers a place to put the dirt from the post holes.

The city came by and renewed the spray-on grass. Some in the addition are diligent about watering it. I'm less so. My outside faucets are still on a well, but my neighbor across the street had his hooked up to the city water when that was installed. His water bill went through the roof when he tried keeping the spray-on grass wet last time; he's not watering it at all this time.

We had a couple of hot days (Indian summer?), but now it is cooling down again. Still no hard frost. Leaves are turning, some faster than others. I don't plant for fall colors but I certainly enjoy seeing them when I am out and about.

Don't forget to vote!

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Less is more

I have a tendency to cram a lot of plants into a small space, thinking the density will discourage weeds. It does somewhat, but I find it is also difficult to remove the weeds without disturbing something. So my new philosophy is to limit the varieties I plant in each bed.

Toward that end, I moved some sedum of an unknown variety and some catmint of a questionable variety to the bed under the hawthorn tree. I think the catmint is 'Six Hills Giant'. The mystery sedum is tallish, like 'Autumn Joy', but the scanty blossoms are white and pink. It always gets leggy in its current bed; I'm hoping it will thrive better in more sun.

(I searched my blog for mentions of sedum and came up with nothing that helps identify the mystery sedum. Now I'm wondering if it accidently snuck in with another sedum purchase. I also saw a lot of other sedums I have planted over the years that did not do well at all.)

So that is two types of plants under the hawthorn. The 'Golden Spirit' smokebush has just one, the 'Perfect Purple' crabapple just two. The bed by the front walk will probably end up with two or three, while the purple smokebush may have just one. (I'm not counting spring bulbs.)

The other day I tried to dig up some of the 'Hameln' dwarf fountain grass to transplant it, but the shovel would not penetrate the soil. It doesn't help that the bed used to be covered with lava rock. It is supposed to rain tomorrow, to maybe I will try again on Monday, maybe with other garden tools.

It's hard to believe that it is October already. Some leaves are turning, some are falling, but it hasn't really started here yet. Last night there was a frost warning, so I covered the coleus on the front porch with a sheet. I also purchased some hardy mums that I may try to winter over in the garage.

The underground utilties guys were here this past week, marking the yard so the fence work can begin. I'm anxious to get that taken care of so that I can finish transplanting to the south side of the house.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

On pause

Sorry for the lapse in blogging. The passing of RBG was quite a blow and I didn't feel like doing much of anything for several days (except eat comfort food). My son and his girl friend visited yesterday (we wore masks and social distanced), which really lifted my spirits. I hadn't seen them since last xmas.

Because of their impending visit, I spent more time housecleaning than I normally do, so less time gardening. And now the temps are a bit uncomfortable for outdoor work, again. I did relocate some coreopsis to the area under the 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab, and mulched there and under the 'Golden Spirit' smokebush.

After not seeing hardly any monarch butterflies this summer and deciding to cut down the common milkweed, I spotted this fellow. I haven't seen him since - probably eaten by a bird, yum! As much as we all love monarchs and want them to thrive, the fact is they are primarily food for other creatures.

I stopped moving transplants to the south side of the house. For one thing, there will be some work on the fence and I don't want new transplants to be trampled. Also, an area I want to move some asters to is not ready for them yet. There is still time.

The area doesn't look like much, but give it a year or two (or three).

Along the fence, ironweed, rudbeckia, coneflower, aster. Along the house, switch grass and northern sea oats, plus some aster to be moved.

I talked my SO into taking some of the extra rudbeckia I had. We positioned six of them along his neighbor's privacy fence. The soil is sandy there, so I told him to water, water, water. He likes Mexican sunflower and can plant those in between the rudbeckia next spring. I'll turn him into a gardener yet!

The backyard has been full of sparrows, at the feeders and in the birdbath and all over the weedy lawn. I've seen robins eating pokeweed berries, nuthatches fetching peanut splits, blue jays hogging the whole peanut "wreath", etc. While a squirrel occasionally creeps along the fence or the telephone wire, I have not seen any perched on the feeders, so either the dogs are being vigilent enough or else the rodents can't get to the feeders.

It's the time of year I get a little burned out on gardening, find myself wishing for snow. I have a list of what I want to finish up this year - it's not that long - so (in so many ways) I must soldier on.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Front yard, back yard

All summer long I have been staring at a bunch of perennials, mentally planning on where to move them. Now that autumn is (almost) here, the time seemed right to start in on that project. So that is what I have been doing this past week (once I got the go-ahead from my doctor).

In 2018 I purchased a bunch of coneflower, rudbeckia, monarda, ironweed, butterfly weed, etc. After scanning my blog, I find little mention of them. My (hazy) memory is that I stuck a lot of them in some empty raised beds with the intention of transplanting them in the future. That did not happen last year because of my hip. Now that I want to downsize the garden by eliminating most of the raised beds, they are on the move. The target area is the south side of the house, some along the privacy fence, some next to the house.

So far, I have transplanted the ironweed, the New England asters, rudbeckia, and a few coneflower. I noticed that the rudbeckia overwhelmed the coneflower in the raised beds they shared, so I limited how much of the former I moved. I will group the coneflower so they don't disappear.

Today I started digging up some of the coneflower but disturbed a bee nest which seems to be in the next bed where there is a pile of yard trimmings. They are not yellow jackets or wasps or bumble bees or ground bees. Honey bees maybe? I think one stung Clio several days ago - she yelped and ran around the yard for about five minutes, periodically stopping to examine her butt. Once it gets cold, I will have to investigate further. I don't want to destroy the nest BUT it is in an unwelcome location. Suggestions welcome.

Speaking of bees, I always find it funny to come across bees asleep on the job. Apparently, when the temps drop at night, sometimes the bees just stop what they are doing where they are doing it and sleep. There are two in this photo; one started to stir soon after.

One more interesting factoid: yellow jackets get literally hangry in the fall. Their agressive behavior is due to their food sources disappearing and they are starving. No wonder they are so crabby!

I was not sure the switch grass I transplanted from the front yard to the south side of the house had survived, but each clump is putting out seed heads, a good sign. The 'Autumn Joy' sedum, a popular yard plant in these parts, has turned pink. The sunflowers I planted are just now blooming; otherwise, there is not much to look at colorwise in the yard except for asters and zinnias.

Walking around the neighborhood, I see Rose of Sharon in several yards, late blooming hostas (which did better than the early blooming varieties), red hibiscus. My 'Luna Red' hibiscus did not survive, the Rose of Sharon bit the dust, and my hostas and hydrangea can't be seen from the deck. As I downsize the garden, I will have to make sure I can see color all season long from where I rest my weary gardener's bones.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Deja vu all over again

For long time readers of my blogs (at one time, I was trying to maintain four) may recall I took a fall about seven years ago, then again about five years ago. Third time's the charm? My falls are not balance related but dog related. I don't trip on the dogs themselves, but the tripping occurs in relationship to something to do with them. This time my feet got tangled up in the dog hammock and I flew into the dining room, clunking my head on the dining room table.

This mug shot looks worse than the original injury, which is on the right side of my forehead. The proverbial goose egg developed there; over the course of the next couple of days, the fluid and blood from that flowed downhill to the soft tissue around my (raccoon) eyes. I think this is the worst it will get; yellow and green will follow the purple and red. (BTW, my SO came and drove me to the ER for an exam and a CT scan, so no worries.)

SO. I have not been doing much in the yard since this happened (Wednesday afternoon). Which is too bad because I was on a roll. As I continued to clean out the bed by the front sidewalk, I debated on whether to move some of the 'Autumn Joy' sedum to the area under the 'Golden Spirit' smokebush. As I dug at the weeds, I disturbed the sedum so much that I decided I might as well move it. So now there are eight divisions around that shrub. I left some in the sidewalk bed, plus a grouping of them in the bed above, in front of the Japanese maple.

Today was the first day I felt like doing much of anything besides lay on the couch or piddle around the house. Still cautious, I limited myself to cutting down the common milkweed. I also tore down the morning glory vines because I am tired of the trellises blocking my view of the backyard. My SO had provided me with some seed from his morning glories, which I am guessing are Grandpa Ott's as they reseed themselves every year and they are a gorgeous blue purple.

Elsewhere around the yard, the smooth asters are blooming with other varieties right behind. My SO cut down the volunteer mulberry trees last weekend. And some stinkhorn fungus popped up in the new pea gravel mulch. I like mushrooms but these are kind of gross looking.

The birds have discovered the relocated bird feeders, but so far no squirrel sitings except on the telephone wire along the utility easement (much barking ensued).

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Is it fall yet?

It always happens by the end of August: I am DONE with summer. Last week was hot and humid, but finally it rained(!) and now it is cooler. And by "cooler" I mean mid 70's. Still shorts and T shirt weather, but definitely a harbinger of things to come.

An athletic and industrious squirrel has been cleaning out the bird feeders in the front yard, despite the rodent baffle on the pole. It is presumably preparing for winter. I moved the feeders to the backyard, in hopes that the dogs would do their duty and keep the feeders relatively squirrel-free. I also adjusted the baffle. So far, there have been no squirrel sightings, but not too many birds yet, either. They will come eventually.

My SO came over last weekend and helped me prune the purple leaf smoke bush. If you click here, you can see how it infringes on the rhododendron's personal space. The poor rhododendron is a shadow of its former self. I hope it recovers.

PJM rhododendron in center. Note lopsided growth habit.

According to my "records" (previous blog posts), I purchased four big blue stem plants in 2016. The funny thing is, three of them look alike and the fourth is not like the others. Three of them flop, one is much more upright. The floppers form seed heads before the upright one, but both types have that telltale turkey foot look to their seed heads. If any of you have an explanation for this anomaly, please leave a comment.

Flopper on left, upright on right

I've been debating about what to do with the back corner which currently is a MESS. The fruit trees I chopped down defiantly keep coming back. Other plants include common milkweed, pokeweed, bindweed, Indian hemp, creeping Charlie, Canada thistle, Virginia creeper, plus various weeds I don't know the names of. In the spring, there are daffodils that don't bloom much anymore. Then there is the rather ugly madder plant I need to dig up; the roots produce a red dye. That corner has had many incarnations over the years, but I think I am going to give up on it and turn it into lawn. Toward that end, I have started the long and difficult task of clearing it out.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Please fence me in

The fence guy finally called, promised to come take a look at my problem, but hasn't shown up yet. I'm a little anxious about the gate not latching properly - it's currently held closed with a bungee cord - but since I have that area blocked off from the dogs, there should be no excape artists in the making.

It is still dry, and now it is going to get hot again. I try to work in the shade as much as possible. A bed next to the deck that once held some rudbekia and coneflower (in its latest incarnation) is now pea gravel except for a bit at the end that holds a daylily that needs to be relocated. I'm not really a gravel mulch person, but sometimes it makes sense. The natural gas line runs under part of this bed, so I prefer to not be digging around in it anyway.

I've also been working on clearing the bed next to the front walk. It holds a conglomeration of sedum (both tall and creeping), coreopsis (that spreads! who knew?), spring bulbs, as well as volunteer wild strawberry, violet, columbine, sea oats, yucca, plus weeds of various kinds. I was hoping the wild strawberry and violet would act as dense ground cover and choke out undesirables, but that was folly. While my usual MO is to try to save all the plants, in this bed I am yanking out almost everything. The bulbs and 'Autumn Joy' sedum will be spared, perhaps some of the coreopsis, but not the rest.

All of a sudden, the cupplant is DONE. Oddly, some of the butterflyweed is blooming again. The morning glory is doing well but its growth habit is not what I hoped for. 'Limelight' hydrangea is absolutely LOADED. The goutweed beneath it has been trampled badly by the dogs, but I don't think you can kill that stuff, as it is making a comeback. Sunflowers should be blooming soon. Occasionally, I spot a lone swallowtail or monarch or paper white, but otherwise butterflies are sadly lacking.

The 'Golden Spirit' smokebush in the front yard looks great, but it has never really "smoked". A friend who owns a nursery gave it to me. I expected it to get as big and wide as the purple leaf smokebush by the house, but apparently that is not the case. It's growth habit is much denser, it most likely will not get as big and wide as its cousin, plus the jury is out regarding whether it will ever smoke. I saw one on the Garden Bloggers Tour I attended and thought it would be a fine addition to the yard - and it is - but I probably should have researched it more carefully beforehand, so I would have known what to expect.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Hummers are back

I confess that when the hummingbirds stopped frequenting the feeder in my yard, I stopped refreshing the nectar and it fermented. Hummers are smart birds and memorize where their food sources are. My feeder was probably imprinted in their brains as one to avoid once the nectar was no longer palatable. So not only did I refresh the nectar, I moved the feeder about 30 feet away. The hummingbirds are back, plus I sometimes see one perch on the feeder and take long sips.

The 'Limelight' hydrangea is full of blooms but they are about half their usual size. I saw a Limelight at Home Depot that had been trained into a tree form and I almost bought it for the newly freed area by the front porch. Fortunately, I looked up their growth habit online and decided it was not a good candidate for that location. I would like something tallish and narrow but yellow or gold, to contrast with all the purple leaf stuff in the front yard. Alternatively, I may put a cluster of pots there.

The morning glory is putting out more blossoms but still not exactly going to town. What I mostly see from the deck is yellow - rudbekia and cupplant and lemony daylily, with some coneflower and zinnia here and there. I try to focus on the "good" areas, ignoring the sections that still require a lot of attention. A local nursery is letting a corner of their country property go wild; they have the beginnings of a nice meadow. My wild area is mostly common milkweed, Canada thistle, and creeping Charlie. Ugh.

I started widening the area around the 'Golden Spirit' smokebush and used the grassy clods I removed to fill in some of the holes the dogs have dug in the backyard. I've observed them just randomly digging here and there, although sometimes it is a cicada they are after. One place they dug a cavern was next to a fence post, and now the nearby gate will not latch. I called my fence guy, but a week later am still waiting for a call back. Maybe he went on an extended vacation because he can no longer purchase fencing material - it's all gone. Pea-sized pebbles are also in short supply, but I managed to snap up a half dozen bags the other day.

We still need rain here - I'm getting tired of watering and wrestling with kinky hoses - but at least the temperatures have moderated a bit. With the recent heat wave, I broke off dog walking, but when I took Clio in for her annual shots, she had gained five pounds. Now Clio and Watson and I are getting back into the groove of early morning jaunts around the nabe.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

What's in a name?

There is a clump of some kind of grass next to the big blue stem that I don't recognize. While perusing garden pics in an effort to identify it, I came across one of what I referred to last time as little blue stem. Well, I think that is wrong. I think it is prairie drop seed. Oops!

This isn't the first time I have misidentified a plant or shrub in my garden. For example, I kept calling the silver grass 'big blue stem' even though it looks nothing like that native. Since I rely on my blog to keep track of what's what, this bad habit is very unfortunate. I hope you will forgive my errors.

I've been digging this past week, literally. I moved some of the northern sea oats and switch grass (at least I *hope* that is switch grass!) to the south side of the house. Today I capped that effort by hacking at the remaining plants in front of the house; tomorrow I will mulch that area.

The house faces east; the bed I am working on is at the south end, by my bedroom. Currently, the bed contains an overgrown purple leaf smoke bush, several 'PJM' rododendron, and a clump of pampas grass. The PJM has not done well lately, and now that I have cleared out the forest of northern sea oats, I can see why: the smoke bush is infringing on its territory. If I want the rododendron to recoup itself, something will have to change.

Here is a pic of the 'Scarlet O'Hara' morning glory. So far, there have not been many blooms on the vines. Since this is my first time growing them, I don't know if this is normal and I just need to be patient, or if the plants are not getting enough sun. The zinnias that share the morning glory pots are spindly, a sign of insufficient sun. The vines have reached the top of the pergola, which gets lots of sun, so we'll see if that makes a difference.

(Blogger has updated its user interface. Ugh. I like to compose in HTML, but apparently the HTML view does not recognize touch screen input. It's back to using the arrow keys because I don't have a mouse and I hate the touch pad. Some editing options are no longer available in the HtML view (or I can't find them), so I have to bop back and forth between views, then remove the extraneous HTML that the 'compose' view inserts. The photos may not fit into my template, either. Wah, wah, wah.)

Saturday, August 01, 2020

All day rain

As far as I am concerned, today's all day rain can be an all weekend rain. No matter how much one waters or how one waters, it doesn't beat actual rain. Also, this rain fits right into my plans to shift some plants around.

Actually, the shifting has begun. I moved some rudbekia, coneflower, and "ditch" day lily to the silver grass circle, from a bed next to the deck. There already was coneflower behind the silver grass, but it couldn't be seen from the deck. I didn't intend to move the day lily there, but after blindly digging it up, discovered my mistake only after placing it in its new hole. Oh, well. The more the merrier, which is why there is also some aster there now.

The little blue stem that remained from the prairie sample is now next to the chokeberry, near its big cousins, along with more aster and coneflower, also from the so-called prairie. The little blue doesn't seem very happy about the move, but hopefully this rain will perk it up.

Yesterday I wanted to work outside, especially since the temps were moderate, but I just could not face any more digging or weeding. So I pruned the viburnum. The 'Chicago Lustre' and 'Blue Muffin' are forms known as arrowwood for their straight, vertical branches. But sometimes those branches go horizontal, threatening the mower's eyesight. I'm not sure how the 'Wentworth' highbush cranberry is supposed to grow but mine tends to spread, a lot. The blackhaw is mostly vase-shaped but it too has some literally eye catching branches. I sawed, snipped, and cut out a fair amount from all these specimens. I also pruned up the other redbuds in the yard, so I can walk under them.

The 'Scarlet O'Hara' morning glory is starting to bloom, although I would describe the color as fuchsia or even pink, not scarlet. I planned to take a photo today - yesterday was too breezy - but the blessed rain interfered with my plans. Maybe next time.

A male hummingbird has made an appearance in my yard, preferring the penstemon to the nectar feeder. Male goldfinches are also present, feeding on the bee balm seed heads and hanging around the cupplant. I hear more birds than I see, especially a hawk, but am not very adept at identifying bird song. A few more butterflies have passed through - both yellow and black swallowtails, a sulphur - but despite all my native flowers, they don't hang around. The cicadas do, though. Some people don't like their song but I do - much better (and sometimes louder) than lawn mowers.

Grasses are starting to put out seed heads. From where I sit at the computer, I can see the turkey feet of the big blue stem. In the front yard, the northern sea oats and dwarf fountain grass are doing their thing. The plan is to move the former to the south side of the house because, OMG, do those seeds spread! The latter spreads, too, so it is destined to be transferred to a more contained bed. I'm sure if I were more proactive about cutting down grass seed heads, I would not have the spreading problem, but one of the reasons I plant them is to enjoy the beauty of those pesky seed heads, especially as "winter interest".

BTW, if you want to know how I really occupy myself in retirement, it's as the doorkeeper for pets. They are always on the wrong side of the egress. Time to let two wet dogs in.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

New neighbor

Earlier this week (Monday?), I heard the new neighbor behind the privet mowing, so I went over to introduce myself. I hope 'Tyler' did not think I was too nosy, but I did eyeball all the work he and his partner have done so far in their backyard: new shed, dead tree removal, drainage moat, fencing, etc. We discussed the privet: Tyler has plans to cut it all down to about hip height, removing the undesirables along the way. Huzzah! He sounds plant savvy. Later in the week, when I went to "mow" no man's land with the string trimmer, I discovered he had mowed that area for me; all I had to do was trim along the fence. I may now be the crazy lady in back, but I am happy to have Tyler and his partner as my new neighbors.

One area I have focused on this week is the south side of the house. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that the latest incarnation of this bed was as a prairie sampler. That did not work out very well, but there are still a few remnants of that effort, mostly aster. The dogs dug some massive holes along the foundation, so besides weeding, I am filling in those caverns.

The plan is to transplant the Northern Sea Oats and bee balm in the bed along the house; the two of them can spread to their hearts content. Opposite the house, along the fence will go the aster and the remaining prairie plants, plus iron weed, rudbekia, and coneflower, to be transplanted from raised beds. But first, bed preparation.

More recently, readers may remember that I tried to kill off the weeds along the fence by covering the area with semi-clear plastic. That did not work, so now I am using newspaper weighted down with cedar boards that fell off the raised bed frames when I moved them. This idea should work better.

Several years ago, I impulsively purchased a pagoda dogwood with no clear idea of where it would go or what I would do with it. Only after installation did I read somewhere that to achieve the pagoda shape, the tree must be properly pruned. My usual MO is to wait-and-see, which looks like may be a good strategy in this case, as the little tree appears to be layering just fine, with no assistance from me.

(The rainbow colored shed in the background is proof that spray paint that claims to adhere to ALL surfaces is lying.)

A few more pics from around the yard:

I may have to wait to remove the morning glory trellises, but I did something else to improve the view. After finding myself slouching in order to see anything, I trimmed up the nearby redbud tree. Much better.

My daughter came by this morning to get more plants for her yard: coneflower, rudbekia, yucca, butterflyweed, silver grass, more aster. Her car looked FULL when she left. Her soil is sandier than mine, her yard smaller and more shaded. She has a good eye for design and color, so I expect the results to look spectacular.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


It is not unusual for storm systems to slip past Fort Wayne, either to the north or the south. Very frustrating to watch on Weather Bug. This past week we caught a break, though: a solid inch one day, 3/4 of an inch several days later. It's not enough but better than nothing.

The temps have been more moderate (except for today when we are under a heat advisory), so I've continued working on the garden downsizing plan. All the raised bed frames that I am going to move right now have been moved. I like how they look scattered here and there around shrubs and other plantings. It changes the view.

It will take a while (and a LOT more rain) before I clear away the contents of the raised beds. Because of last summer's neglect, they are full of weeds and quack grass. I want to make sure as much as possible of that detritus goes into the trash can. Also, I am toying with the idea of using the soil as modeling clay, as described here.

Speaking of views, I did not foresee how much time I would spend on the deck, contemplating the yard, and how much the morning glory trellises would block my ability to see what I am contemplating. My goal with the morning glory was to add more shade to the deck, but I'm not sure that will happen, at least not to the extent I had hoped. The jury is still out, but I'm now contemplating Virginia creeper instead, as it will climb the posts and not need any trellis. Has any of you deliberately grown Virginia creeper on a pergola?

While wandering the yard, I snapped a few pics just for fun; the purple coneflower continues to come on strong. This bed was formerly known as the asparagus bed and its walls are of concrete blocks. Over the years, I have tried growing a variety of flowers in the holes of the blocks. This year I chose zinnias and sunflowers.

The only reason this bee is in focus is it was still asleep on the bee balm.

I blocked the north and south sides of the house from the dogs because of their digging and trampling. While watering the above mentioned bed, I discovered this hole in the middle.

And while eyeballing the milkweed field (an area that continues to be neglected), I found this hole. I can't wall off all the garden beds but I am sorely tempted.

The cup plant is blooming. The smoke bushes are not, or just barely. Next up is the rudbeckia, which is taller than the coneflower, something I had not anticipated.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not so hot

We are having a reprieve from the 90-degree temps, for a while at least. It still feels ridiculously hot, especially in the sun. Once in a while, a popup storm sprinkles the yard, but otherwise it is bone dry.

The purple coneflower is starting to come on. The smooth hydrangea is full of white blossoms; 'Limelight' looks great but no blooms yet. The bee balm is loaded with bees, but other than a few paper whites and a small brown thing, I have not seen any butterflies this year.

The hummingbirds have been scarce as well, which apparently is not unusual when the females are feeding their young. The babies get a regurgitated mixture of nectar and insects, and momma does one-stop-shopping at blossoms for the raw ingredients. I guess no males have staked out my yard as their turf, either.

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.