Monday, August 30, 2010

An excellent vegetable garden

We've been admiring a fabulous vegetable garden carved out in 'vacant' space under a bridge in our neighborhood in the mountains.

Montford is a designated historic neighborhood and one that's undergone up and down changes, with the fortunes of Asheville. It's a vibrant neighborhood, now, with an active community association and a recently refreshed website, probably thanks to a new tech-savvy volunteer.

We were delighted to discover an article about the hidden vegetable garden and accompanying chicken coop in the online posting this evening.

It's the vegetable garden under the bridge.

I wish I had some good photos to post; my gardening companion took some on our small camera, but hasn't shared them, as yet.  And my 'big' camera is too heavy to drag along on my morning walks so I haven't taken any myself.

But it's an inspirational place -- empty sunny land that's been converted to a productive vegetable garden.  How cool is that!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Succession plantings and paying attention to plants

I attended a most interesting symposium 'Speaking of Plants' this weekend at the NC Arboretum.  The draws for me were Fergus Garrett (Head Gardener and CEO at Great Dixter, an amazing garden in the south of England developed by Christopher Lloyd) and Carol Reese, an Extension Agent from Tennessee, who has an excellent reputation as a speaker. Neither disappointed.

Fergus Garrett was remarkable. An excellent plantsman and gardener, to be sure, he articulated a continuing vision for Great Dixter in a way that brought it to life, and his second talk about plant combinations and succession planting was excellent -- I wanted to sign up immediately for a week-long course at Great Dixter, and I'm not really a practitioner of intensive gardening.   But I loved his focus on plants and their characters;  pay attention to their foliage, not just their flowers, he said, and how they look throughout the season.

It was an great symposium (even if way too heavy on the lectures; as an adult learner (and consumer of such programs), and a program organizer for adult programs myself, I think a MAXIMUM of presentations is 3 per day, and that's stretching it, even if they're 45 minute presentation.

We had 4 the first day, and 3 the second -- all for an hour and 15 minutes, with time for questions only with the final speaker!  Yikes!

You've got to provide some balance: interaction with other participants, garden walks with the speakers, garden study tours --- anything to get your audience of keen gardeners outside and refreshed a bit, before diving back into presentations.

entrance to the upper parking lot at the NC Arboretum
The NC Arboretum is looking great.  I particularly admired this planting at the entrance to one of the parking lots.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A front meadow

The perennials that we've planted as a beginning to the small front meadow in the mountains are looking good. There are only a few grasses so far, so I guess it's more of a 'border' than a meadow, but it's largely native perennials, which I've planted in more of a meadow than border way.   I've been enjoying its seasonal change as new plants begin flowering.

Joe-Pye in meadow
Started last fall, I guess it isn't surprising that I was thinking about fall-flowering plants at the time, although I tried to think spring and summer on the spring additions.  A Joe-Pye Weed is a standout, and a current butterfly magnet. 

This one is a shorter-in-stature cultivar, with a nicely-branched habit) -- I just went out to see if it still had a tag (nope). Hmm.  No record of having posted about it using the cultivar name, either.  Hmm.  I think it might have been 'Little Joe' or a hybrid between the two common species, becoming Eupatorium dubium, and then selected for stature.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Creating gardens

We've had a lot of fun creating garden space in our "low-maintenance" landscape in the mountains.

sedum beds, perennial meadow, and raised beds for vegetables
Hmm. We couldn't help but plant natives below the slope, establish raised beds for my vegetables, and work on a meadow/perennial bed in front (not to mention the sedum bed, hemlocks, rhododendrons, and others).  It's becoming a landscape that's fun and rewarding.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A full moon and a new beginning

It's a full moon tonight.  I can't see it currently, because of low cloud cover.  But I saw it last night, bright and luminous, dusted by clouds.

Full moons are special; they're times to play (Wait until the Moon is Full).

They're also full of promise; they give way to new moons.  I'm not the least bit astrologically inclined, but I enjoy following the phases of the moon.  They provide a rhythm that's a pleasing addition to my awareness of nature and its changes.

I've been distracted lately by work challenges and transformations, but the moon keeps moving through those cycles!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adding nutrients

My experience with the raised beds in the mountains was an eye-opener. 

Fresh commercial compost supported a remarkable lettuce, chard, bean, and tomato harvest (and it's still coming).

So at home in the Piedmont, I've refreshed all of my turned-over beds with compost (with big bags of Brown Kow, a commercial cow manure compost product). 

I wish I had enough homemade compost to do it, but obviously, keeping nutrient availability high requires a LOT more that what I've been doing.  And I'm happier using Brown Kow (a venerable product that I've used in the past) than the 'compost' offered up as a generic big box equivalent.

I've sowed seeds of mesclun mix, arugula, cilantro, etc. in flats and directly in the soil. We'll see.

Happily, the asparagus beds are flourishing, too.  Woodchucks DON'T like asparagus.  Hooray!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Turning over beds

In spite of a very rainy day, the evening respite (from the rain) allowed me to get out and seed flats with arugula, mesclun mix, spinach, and cilantro. 

I've got more seeds to sow tomorrow, but first I wanted to turn over my vegetable bed blocks in the main vegetable garden and the satellite garden. 

freshly turned beds in the main vegetable garden (with Mocha)
I managed almost all of them, and they await amendment with compost, before planting. 

Hand-turning beds is a satisfyingly physical activity;  it made up for not having time to walk this morning before our butterfly garden tour at the botanical garden!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fall vegetables

Such a lovely sense of renewal comes with new seeding; fall greens are the promise, hopefully, of seeds sown now.

This weekend, I'm definitely planting lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets, chard, kale and collards in all of the beds not allocated to garlic!

I'll plant garlic from my own harvested heads for the first time this year.  I've put aside the largest heads (and so the largest cloves) to separate and plant out in late September/early October. Yum....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fall kitchen gardening

I'm doing a program tomorrow on fall vegetable gardening.  It's so hot and humid, it's hard to think about sowing spinach, lettuce, chard, beet, kale, turnip, collard, mache, onion, and arugula seeds (not to mention transplants of broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.  But it's time.  It may not be too late to try a few baby carrots, too, and nurse them along in the heat.

But I was reminded, updating this program yet again, how much I've learned about gardening seasons in the South, and how even simple season extensions (cold frames, row covers, and the like) can extend our three seasons of growing to four.

I haven't yet decided whether to sow kale (Tuscan, Siberian, and Red Bor) in the main vegetable garden or the satellite garden (they're susceptible to both root-knot nematodes and woodchuck herbivory); nor have I figured out what I'll plant in my raised beds in the mountains, when the tomatoes and beans finally decide they're finished.  I may need to come up with a cover for the planted beds, to provide a bit of protection towards potentially earlier frosts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A establishing meadow

We transformed the mulched beds in front of our small mountain house into a new 'meadow' border last fall and this spring. It's probably best described as an informal perennial border, rather than a meadow, but we're working on it.

Rain and warmth this summer have nurtured these plants.  We lost a few over a very tough winter, but mostly they've thrived in the heavy clay soil (somewhat amended).

The Joe-Pye has been great;  in the Piedmont, it sulks without extra water.  In the mountains, this plant is a wonderful butterfly nectaring spot.

The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), always short-lived, looks great, and was a magnet for this swallowtail butterfly (I think a Giant Swallowtail, as it had two stripes on its wings and isn't something I see often, but they're not evident on this picture).



And I'm looking forward to seeing the Arkansas Ironweed in full flower, and the Solidago, and the asters, too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A lovely corner garden

We've been admiring this corner garden for a couple of years now.

Designed by a local (Asheville, NC) landscape designer, Mantis Gardens, this pocket landscape is obviously well-tended by the gardener-homeowner.

We've talked to her a couple of times, but she doesn't 'know' us.  We just walk by with our gardening assistant (Mocha, our golden retriever), so she recognizes us.

We've told her how much we enjoy her garden  (there's more in the back and side garden, equally small, but delightful).

She seems to have borrowed (with permission) the landscape of the rental house next door.

It's a nice mixture of vegetables next to the street, with fig trees planted below.  An 'Orchard' sign appeared in an adjoining tree in the last weeks.

I love this kind of energy.

It's what all of us CAN have, whether we have acres or 1/8 of an acre, or a balcony or front steps have to create a space with plants.  Even in an apartment with a bit of sunlight, it's worth nurturing plants.

Even if you're bad at it.  I'm not a houseplant person.  Mine are the sturdy sort (and my gardening companion waters 'our' plants in the house).  I'm not sure he's a 'houseplant' person, either, since we're both focused on the outdoors.

But, it's nice to have a decent-looking fern in the bathroom, and a healthy begonia on the bench in the dining room, and surely, a Boston fern (wherever they're actually from) that's healthy and well-watered is a wonderful addition to the porch..?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Preparing for fall

An (almost) entire summer away this year reminded me of our experiences many years ago, returning home to Southeast Georgia and our small college town after summers of research (at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland).

One memorable summer, we arrived home about 10 pm, to a grubby and mildew-edged house (it was too expensive to run the ancient, non-energy efficient AC even at a high temperature, and we didn't have the money to upgrade it then).

We set about scrubbing the walls in our bedroom, airing the house out, and cleaning the kitchen before finally falling into bed quite late.  I don't remember worrying about the landscape, however.  Since it was dark, I guess I wasn't worried, and I was a botanist and plant ecologist then, not having added 'gardener' yet to the hats I wear.

This year, we returned to a house slightly aromatic from low-VOC paint and plaster mudding on the ceiling.   Since the last time we were here (to do the final check with the painter), it's been HOT, and the temperature was set on 79° F  (not exactly high, but not low either).  The first order of business was trying to get the house back in order.  We'd barely managed to get the furniture back in place after the last quick trip, so all of the pictures, etc. that needed to go up on the wall awaited our attention.  And things need cleaning up, too.

Today, we finished getting most all of the paintings and prints back up, and it's nice to have them back in order.  We've changed things around a bit (a old lovely Oriental rug has moved from my study to my gardening companion's), and without the old bed (a veteran from the house in the story told above) has been recycled to a new home.

It was a joy to get out in the garden and finally start shaping things up this morning.  I started in the messy border outside the kitchen door (lots of drought-related mortality in the shallow soil), cutting things back, removing dead plants, weeding, and cleaning up.

There was a brief diversion cleaning up my garden shed (a mess following the last garlic harvest without a follow-up sweeping), and then a clean sweep of the main vegetable garden (largely fallow this summer), weeding and turning over the beds. 

Tidying up my potting bench area, rooting out the dead herbs from pots, pulling up dead bermuda grass dispatched on our last visit helped make things look more like mine, and less like an abandoned garden!

There's certainly lots more to do -- the perennial borders and meadow, not to mention the area nearest the porch, with the bird feeders and container plantings, are currently looking quite shabby.  My gardening companion was suggesting I do a planting design for the area nearest the porch.  Hmm.

We haven't 'edited' the rest of the garden yet!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heading home at summer's end

It's not really the end of summer (it's pretty darn hot and humid even here in the Southern Appalachians, actually).  This has been an exceptionally hot (and record-breaking) summer throughout the Eastern U.S.  Yuck.

On a teaching schedule, classes begin in mid-to late August, so it's time for us to go back down the 'hill' (the Blue Ridge Escarpment) to the Piedmont of South Carolina in a couple of days.

My first fall garden 'class' is about fall vegetable gardening;  I just hope the soil is moist and cool enough to get the greens and lettuce going after I distribute seeds to whomever is there! 

Unknown marauders have disturbed my flats of fall greens sown so far  (I need a potting bench to elevate my seedling flats).  Hhrmph. But maybe there are enough purple mustard and kale seedlings to transplant.

I'm looking forward to getting my beds in shape in the main vegetable garden and the satellite garden, as well as continuing to harvest tomatoes and beans, when we're back up in the mountains. 

I've got a couple of ice chest loads of roasted tomatoes, peaches, beans, and other harvested veggies to take down the hill, too.  They'll go in the chest freezer in the basement. Uh, maybe this fall, I will get decent lights installed down there finally.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Morning glories

We're borrowing our neighbors' landscapes in the mountains.

The apartment building on one side of our house has nice young new tenants, but currently no one that appreciates the previous owner's front plantings, which were/are lovely. I've been weeding over there a bit.

Previous tenants liked to grow vegetables in containers next to the parking lot in back, but none of the current tenants are interested, so we've replaced the weedy grasses with rhododendrons and liatris.

But the standout today, are the lovely morning glory flowers, only open in the morning.

The very visible power/telephone lines in front and in back, we thought, were perfect spots for vining annuals: morning glories and moon flowers.  And so it's turned out. 
I planted seeds late, but the morning glories are flowering now, and looking quite nice.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata) and Spigelia marilandica

The Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata) that we planted in one of the lower raised beds is flowering now. 

Used by the Cherokee as a potherb, it's been a favored native perennial in gardens (and one of those that went to Europe, and has come back as named cultivars). 

'Herbstsonne' (= fall sun) is a popular one, and there's apparently a double-flowered version called 'Hortensia.' 

Ours is robust in spite of being planted in a shallow bed.

And delightfully, one of the Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) plants that we thought didn't overwinter has surprised us by late emergence and flowering, followed by a second late emerger.

Usually it flowers in June, although sporadic flowering later isn't unusual.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis, growing along greenway
I'm thinking about the nature of the gardens that we create.  And choosing plants that thrive where they're planted. 

In the mountains, Lobelia cardinalis, although adapted to moist environments, thrives even in full sun in streetside environments.  This clump, admittedly in a rain garden setting, was about as robust as Lobelia gets.  And I've noticed that the small blue 'bedding plant' version does well even in this summer's excessive heat.  Maybe the cooler night-time temperatures are the key to their success.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Gardening as a creative activity

I guess I've always thought that gardening was creative, but it wasn't the first thing I thought about in a 12-week class focused on the book, The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron). 

I thought I wanted (and needed) to draw, paint, and do watercolors and pastels to be an 'artist.'  Well, I know those activities are wonderful, and I'm trying to find the time to 'play' with some of those media, but... in the meantime, I've also realized that writing, photography, blogging, and gardening are equally compelling creative pursuits.

Collage as inspiration for garden studio
As part of each book chapter, there are LOTS of 'tasks' - which our facilitators encourage us to do. 

Yikes.  It's a lot of work (and soul-searching) in the process, but it's concentrated my attention on how much my surroundings (garden) and creative space (whether called a study or studio) are important.

I love the view from my study at home in the Piedmont (the header view), and I've missed that sense of place a bit this summer in the mountains (although there are many other wonderful aspects, and I'm totally grateful for being able to have the space and time!)

Potential site for garden studio
I'm hoping to build a small garden studio below the cottage in the mountains.  It would look out into the  forest and be surrounded by native woodland wildflowers.

I've certainly been reminded of how creative gardening is as an activity and how important it is to have a sense of place and being supported in your surroundings.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Meadow gardens and perennial borders

The difference between meadows and perennial borders is, perhaps, a matter of scale, with the mix of plants a key to their look and feel.  Perennial borders can look quite meadow-like, at least in our vision of them,  while our 'front meadows' are probably more like exuberant perennial beds than true meadows, which include many grasses.

But I think the key is the mix of flowering perennials, whether they have large showy flowers or the reduced flowers of grasses;  this mix determines how the border/meadow feels and looks (in the garden).  A cottage garden is largely flowering perennials without grasses; a meadow includes a majority of grasses as the matrix.

Front 'meadow' in Asheville
But a sparser front planting bed, in the process of becoming more complex, feels like a meadow in progress, too.
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