Sunday, May 31, 2009

Observing gardens

When I'm away (from our garden), I always enjoy looking at other people's gardens (front yard, back yard, vegetable gardens, raised beds, fruit trees, etc.) Fortunately, where we stay in the mountains, there are lots of observations to be had. This house is nearby, one of the lovely historic homes in the Montford Historic District of Asheville.

Some of the large historic houses have lovely gardens. This rose arbor caught my attention. The roses were small, but very striking on the arbor!

In a growing time of the year, I'm (VERY) easily encouraged into thinking and musing about plants and growing things, if something catches my attention.

I admired plants in a local community garden (Pearson Community Garden), said hello to the first person that I've seen tending things so far, but we didn't strike up a conversation, as that didn't seem like what he was interested in.

But I hope to find out what the scheme is there, eventually!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waiting for summer vegetables

I know they're coming. The summer vegetables, that is.

I'm waiting for squash, tomatoes, and beans, in particular, having just about eaten my fill of greens and lettuce. My gardening companion (a good vegetable eater) commented this evening that he needs to eat lettuce at every meal, after putting away yet more freshly-washed and spun leaves. (These were actually harvested as one of the props for a couple of 1st grade plant classes, illustrating plant diversity -- they were impressed by the deer tongue, purple-tingled, and speckled lettuces, I think!)

My gardening friends (hrrmph, they know who they are) that were early planters are already seeing zucchini flowers, at the same time mine barely have 4 or 5 leaves (I was late in planting). This may be a challenging squash vine borer year; the C. moschata squash (winter squash and tromboncino) will sail through probably, but I guess I can hope that the colder than usual winter had a detrimental effect on overwintering larvae, for the Ronde de Nice and pattypan squash.

I've started to harvest heads of garlic to use fresh. The larger harvest to dry and keep will come a bit later. But in the meantime, we'll enjoy fresh -- yum. We have more than enough (see photo -- think about the patches here in the main vegetable garden multiplied by 4). I should be able to plant some later sowings of squash and beans in these patches!

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another lovely evening

The light was wonderful this evening, and a hint of coolness was welcome, as we move towards summer.

The 'side yard' was lovely,

as was the view down the driveway.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

A late May evening

It's Memorial Day in the US, a time for remembrance, thankfulness, and gratitude. I always wish for peace in the world, but that's not the reality, unfortunately.

But I am grateful, always, for what we have, and part of that is certainly being able to live in a place that's been a good place for us to contribute and be compensated for those efforts. We've also been fortunate to be able to create a natural garden that we love, and explore the mountains nearby, and eat vegetables from the kitchen garden, too.

Tidying up this evening (we have an upcoming 'garden' gathering -- most unusual since we're not really inclined to it), I was struck again at how nice our garden feels to me. It's not for everyone -- there's not a lot of 'color', or gobs of flowers, but rather a lot of native plants looking natural (we love that), with my vegetable garden serving as an ornamental border, too.

The sunset was lovely.

And a recently refurbished garden shed window box looks nice. I had to add lots of well-soaked sphagnum moss to a bolstered frame.

And I always love the view of the Adirondack chairs, especially with a freshly-mown lawn.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Spanish lavender

Among so many things in flower right now, this Spanish Lavender is lovely.

Even in a pot, it was great in winter.

Now in flower, it's graceful and attractive.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The benefits of rain

After several years of drought (quite severe), it's been a relief (a joy, really) to be able to be away for a few days without coming home to drought-stressed plants (vegetables and containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets).

It's early in the growing season, to be sure, and we've got LOTS of hot weather ahead, so I'm still working with an array of drought tolerant species in my containers.

But I do hope that we'll have a respite from the unrelenting drought of the last decade or so, minus a year or two!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Venus fly-trap, well-fed

Our young mountain bog is looking good, especially with the addition of some Selaginella late this afternoon. What caught our attention, however, was our young Venus fly trap leaf with a still-living prey item, probably a spider or maybe a Daddy-Long-Legs (look for the legs protruding from the large leaf to the left).

Previous leaves have nabbed insects and closed, but this one was quite obvious. The light wasn't good, but I think you'll get the idea.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Natural gardens

Some time in the mountains this weekend, and a hike near Craggy Gardens, along the Blue Ridge Parkway today reminded me of the grounding of natural places and natural gardens. A lovely beech gap forest, just unfurling leaves, and sporting understory woodland wildflowers (Trillium erectum, Mainthemum, Twisted leaf, with many more to come) was a delightful place to be on a sunny cool day after a long day of rain yesterday. It's a joy to walk in a place with its native vegetation intact, without the transgressions of many weedy and invasive species that dot our developed landscapes.

A gift, to be sure.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Advent of summer evenings

It's not summer yet, but it's sounding like it; the warm evenings are bringing sounds of crickets and tree frogs.

There's a bullfrog calling from the small pond in the Terrace Garden near my office as I leave work, and other frogs in another pond near the parking lot.

The evenings have been delightful; maybe a little humid, but yesterday was downright cool for mid-May. Our garden is lush with green; it's a wonderful respite from the droughty springs of most of the last decade, especially last year, and the year before.

In the Satellite Garden, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and squash of all sorts are growing rapidly. The planted hay bales are an experiment -- they'll definitely need more watering than I'm used too, and more additional nutrients from slow-release organic fertilizer.

In the main vegetable garden (where the nematode experiment is still underway), a huge butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has defied my rooting-out efforts, and is about to start flowering.

I had heeled it in there, just providing a (temporary) home for a young plant. Little did I know that it would become gigantic, thanks to abundant water and nutrients, crowding out whatever else I'd like to plant in that block.

Oh well, it's quite striking, and a great source of pollen and nectar for a wide range of flower visitors. In flower, it's remarkable.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A pair of American Goldfinches

By the time the thistle seed ran out in the last 'thistle sock,' the goldfinches had figured they'd better forage elsewhere. So a full 'thistle sock' -- pretty ugly, but effective, has been quiet for the last week or so.

But early this morning, a pair of American Goldfinches were avidly snagging seeds, and I managed to snap a halfway decent photo through my study window.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

A baby woodchuck

We've had our eyes on the brush pile in the way back of the yard this spring (home of a large woodchuck), but so far the garden has been spared from woodchuck foraging, probably because of the tender young grass shoots everywhere.

Returning home after a weekend away, my first inclination is to make the rounds to check on plants (does anything need watering, how are the transplants I shoved in the hay bales just before leaving doing, etc.). All looked good, and I was harvesting snow peas in the satellite garden, when I looked behind me.

On the bed closest to the shrub border, hunkered down among the eggplants was an small baby woodchuck being perfectly still. Surprised by its stillness and small size (it was about a third as large as an adult), it took me a moment or two to move towards it. Then, of course, it scuttled off towards Mom (I suppose) and their burrow in the brush pile. The youngster's tail was nothing like an adult's, being a spiky sparse brush-like thing.

Checking more closely, I realized that preferential woodchuck foraging over the weekend had resulted in the consumption of all of the carrot and kohlrabi tops in one satellite garden bed, and all of the cilantro in another. It's a good thing I have lots to spare, and the onions, garlic, potatoes, and tomatoes aren't particularly attractive. All of my young bean and squash plants are about 4 inches high now, and I do hope that fresh grasses and clovers are tastier!

Needless to say, the Havahart trap will be set again tomorrow morning, although I'm beginning to think some sort of garden fencing may be in my future plans.... or maybe I just keep sowing cilantro in succession all summer as a border -- clearly they love it!

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A spring explosion

Plants here in the SE (US) are growing at rapid rates-- that is, 'exploding.' After a couple of really severe drought years, previewed by a decade-long drought, we've had a lovely long cool spring, with lots of rain. Of course, summer is lurking around the corner (the dark aka 'hot spot') in our otherwise quite nice climate.

It's a joy to walk around the garden, checking on what's flowering (the mountain laurels are glorious as are the Salvias), what's producing (yikes, more lettuce and greens), and what needs to be changed out (my flats of lettuces and salad mix are destined for the compost pile next week, for sure). But it's been a fabulous spring for lettuces, mesclun mixes, spinach, arugula, etc. as well as an excellent time for our natural landscape of trees, shrubs, and perennials.

I still have transplants, perennials to move, and a couple of hay bales to plant, as well as a long list of other gardening activities. But that's all part of the process.

Regardless, I'm a happy gardener (wildlife, habitat, vegetable, and otherwise) this spring.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Straw bale gardening

I'm venturing into experimenting with vegetables in straw bales partially because I can pretend that I'm not expanding my garden (ha!)

I now have 5 bales for planting, one older bale that was pulled from compost pile protection duty (now planted with trailing squashes) , 2 older bales that were starting compost pile duty (and I struggled to tip over end to end to their new site), and 2 fresh bales that hopefully have aged enough to support plants. The latter are yet to be planted.

I justified this by buying 4 new straw bales to take on compost protection duty (from our gardening assistant, aka Mocha our Golden Retriever, who loves compost scavenging, which gives him indigestion.)

The premise behind straw bales is excellent -- start the straw decomposing, whether with ammonium nitrate or compost tea or rain water. Dig out a spot to put in potting soil or compost, plant, and proceed to keep the bale moist and nutrient-rich, with added nutrients, compost tea, slow-release fertilizers, or even inoculations of mycorrhizal fungi.

And, then plant, either in an excavated hole filled with compost or potting mix, or simply poking a transplant between the straw. I'm opting for the former, even though straw bales are really just a form of hydroponic gardening.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Spring gardening

In good years (that is, with normal rainfall and without an unexpectedly late hard frost), this is a time our native trees, shrubs, and woodland wildflowers are bursting with green leaves and spring flowers, creating the green tapestry that is a wonderful part of spring.

We've had plenty of rain this spring, thank goodness, helping ease the drought conditions of the last decade, which were at 100-yr extremes over the two years. There are lots of echo effects of drought-stress; shallow-rooted dogwoods and azaleas have succumbed in many neighborhood yards, as well as much older red oaks, pines, and water oaks.

But, the rhododendrons in the shady area near the porch look lovely this year. And, my impulse purchase of moisture-loving magenta-flowered bee-balm and a lime-colored heuchera hasn't been for naught. (The two hybrid lobelias, unfortunately, have failed to make a reappearance; they came back last spring, but not this one.)

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Sunday, May 3, 2009


It's been a lovely weekend spent in the garden. There's something spiritual about digging, planting and sowing seeds. It connects us (gardeners) to the earth and certainly reminds me to be grateful for farmers. The idea that I could grow all my own vegetables (much less our sustenance) is daunting. I'm keen on our three-to-four seasons in our benign climate, but the effort it would take to can, freeze, and store our growing season bounty sounds like hard work, and it is.

I love to garden. The physical effort, checking the plants, enjoying fruit production, watching the pollinators -- all of these things I love. I do enjoy my vegetable garden the most (I think because I love to cook directly from the garden), but our restored landscape provides peace.

Our front yard didn't always look like this -- it was a vast lawn desert when we moved in.

The backyard, ditto. And we're still working on both.

The view from the porch keeps improving -- I've got to add more bird feeders, to be sure. But here's another view from the front steps.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

French sorrel

A seed order last June included French sorrel, among other interesting seeds (I think it must have been the Dyna kohlrabi that produced so well in containers for Garden Fest!)

French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is kin to garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a European species that's made a home in acidic disturbed areas in many places.

I sowed some seed in containers, then transplanted 3 plants to the main vegetable garden, not expecting too much. But after a mild showing in fall, these plants have been producing large succulent leaves all spring. And, they grow fast.

So I've been investigating what the heck you do with an abundance of sorrel leaves -- hmm, sorrel soup sounds good, but the recipe that calls for a 1/2 cup of heavy cream isn't going to happen. Small leaves in salads are delicious, certainly (sorrel is quite tart, because of the oxalic acid in the leaves). A pesto made with sorrel was quite tasty this evening, although a bit bland (more garlic next time, perhaps, and sharper cheese). A sorrel tart quiche sounds good (but doesn't use enough leaves).

Perhaps I'll try my all-purpose solution to an abundance of leafy greens - a LARGE stir-fry of leaves in olive oil and garlic with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Yum. And left-over greens are always good, too.

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