Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Views from the house

A view towards the porch.

A living room view

Out the front door

Many years ago, a couple of our longstanding volunteers suggested to me that views from your windows were important. It was a revelation.

She and her husband had transformed a normal suburban plot into something extraordinary, so I was listening. I don't think I 'd thought about that before.

The house where I grew up had a lovely view into the treetops from the living and dining rooms, thanks to protection of the woods surrounding the house. My parents weren't gardeners at all, but clearly chose the lot (because it was steep and wooded with natural Central Texas vegetation) to build the house based on the surroundings.

But I was thinking about the views from the windows this afternoon, as lovely fall light illuminated the landscape.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monarchs coming through

There was a group of Monarch butterflies visiting our large butterfly bush today at lunchtime. I saw at least five, along with a couple of Variegated Fritillaries.

They probably came in with the cool front that pushed out the rain over the weekend. They're heading south to their wintering grounds in Michoacan.

In the late afternoon, I saw one nectaring on one of the large New England Asters that I have in containers.

I haven't yet seen any on the massed Buddleias and Lantanas adjacent to my work parking area, though.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Signs of fall

It's always nice to come back home, even if things look a big ragged around the edges. We're not fussy gardeners at all (messy edges are good for birds and other wildlife, of course).

But a bit of editing would make a difference in the overall ambience. The crickets are still singing, but the air is drier, and the colors of fall are becoming evident.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Native plants and natural gardening

I visited two great gardens this morning, one public and one private. This post is about the public one.

I first visited North Carolina Botanical Garden about 25 years ago. It was fabulous then (and I've been a member ever since). Their mission, promoting native plants of the Southeast, and being a conservation garden, is essential to preserving and restoring our native plant communities.

They provide a garden vision that I (and my gardening companion) have embraced: trying to create a sense of place in our garden that reflects our native plants and their habitats.

It was wonderful to return and see the Coastal Plain Habitat Garden in its fall glory. Based on a plant rescue, this habitat garden has been burned periodically, and is a wonderful reflection of what our coastal plain habitats are like, when relatively undisturbed by human activity.

The pitcher plant bog habitats, in new raised stone beds were spectacular.

The borders were lovely, too.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Interesting plants

I'd not been to Plant Delights Nursery before. I've heard about it for a long time; it's been a mecca for plant nuts (professional and amateur) for quite awhile.

It totally exceeded my expectations.
Not only are the nursery offerings fabulous, but the gardens that Tony and Michelle Avent have developed around their house and business are totally impressive.

I was limited to what I could carry back to the bus, probably a good thing.

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Public recycling, Part II

OK, I have great photos to post from the Garden Writers Association Plant Delights Nursery visit this morning (totally wonderful), and our visit to the JC Raulston Arboretum this afternoon, but I'm inspired by Russ's comments on yesterday's post to make my reply a post for today.

I'm glad to hear about your efforts, and I'm going home to try to encourage our community businesses to add recycling to their mix (my small city has curbside recycling, but the commercial waste disposal folks who service the food businesses apparently don't.)

Over 20 years ago, I remember talking to a college class about how aluminum can recycling was energy-efficient, yada, yada. We're kind of slow to get with the program.

And I'll look into the ClearStream Cleartainer, too. Sounds excellent.

Another concern to me is all the paper stuff that we generate at these meetings.

I've got a whole bagful of paper that I didn't ask for, as well as paperboard from various small packaging things that I've consumed (containing the coffee extras in the room, for example). I'd recycle this stuff at home, so why not while traveling? At least at this meeting, I drove, so I'm able to take things home to recycle.

I've brought along my stainless steel coffee cup, too, although I've been glad to see that the convention center is using ceramic cups, etc. And Panera Bread, the caterer for our breakfast this morning, minimized waste with paper packaging of breakfast 'sandwiches' although I think there were plastic plates for the pastries.

But, this evening, the barbeque dinner was on divided plastic plates with plastic water and drink cups. Yuck. The dinner was fine, but why can't we complete the cycle somehow?

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Public recycling

At home, we recycle everything - cans, bottles, cardboard, paper, glass, and plastic. Anything that's fresh and organic (minus grease, meat, and bones) is composted. So when traveling, and in this case, attending a green industry conference (Garden Writers Association), I'd like to be able to recycle, too. Sometimes my car is like a mobile recycling center, bringing home plastic soda bottles, paper, etc.

To their credit, the Raleigh Convention Center recycles cans, bottles, and plastic, as did the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at a lovely reception this evening. The Convention Center has slots for newspapers, too.

But what about my banana peels and apple cores? And the waste (paper plates, uneaten food, napkins, etc) from our lunch today on the exhibit floor? And all the extra paper stuff and packaging of materials that exhibitors push on us.

Nice to have much of it (thanks especially to North Creek Nurseries and American Beauties for the cool Vernonia 'Iron Butterfly,' Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler', and Hibiscus moscheutos 'Torchy'), Renee's Garden, Ferry-Morse, and Baker's Creek for wonderful seeds, but I definitely appreciate the All-America Rose Selections folks that give us our 'press packets' in a small jump drive -- after viewing and potentially using the info, we can reuse it as a portable drive (unlike the throwaway CD's).

And why are all of the plant giveaways packaged in cute plastic bags instead of compostable paper? We did get lots of giveaways in reusable totes, but they're the sort that last for a couple of weeks with anything heavy, not heavy-duty tote bags. I guess I miss the old canvas totes (at least they were biodegradable).

OK, maybe I should be happy with the recycling bins, which are quite impressive, actually, but I'm a cranky environmentalist. I want compost receptables, too!

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Native American plants

I spent an enjoyable morning at the NC Natural Science Museum, but that's a topic for longer post. Next to it was the NC History Museum, which I haven't visited yet, but was attracted to by their interesting outdoor planting beds.

In addition to a traditional three sisters planting in some front beds, several side beds were devoted to 'Native American' plants. These were nicely done, and included North American stalwarts like pokeweed, in addition to adopted European plants brought by colonists.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interesting questions

I had a great question this morning (in a Botany for Gardeners segment that's part of a Home Gardening Fundamentals series). It elicited a 'oh, what a great question' response from me. She asked 'how are tulip bulbs grown, from seed, or from bulb offshoots'? Hmm, I didn't know, but I was determined to find out.

This was one of my top Google hits, more about global bulb production than tulips, per se, but still quite interesting. Here's another fascinating piece about tulips in the Netherlands.

It seems that commercial production of bulbs is largely a matter of planting the offshoots (in good soil, with plenty of fertilization), and growing them to good size (by cutting the flowers early) - but it was hard to find detailed information, at least in early layers of searching.

I love questions like this.

They make the familiar (tulip bulbs) unfamilar, a key to observation and learning.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Visiting more gardens

I'm heading off tomorrow for a conference (Garden Writers Association) in Raleigh, NC. I'm keen as I haven't been to the 'Triangle' in NC for some years (at least 11 or 12).

Home to three major universities, the 'Triangle' has the NC Botanical Garden at UNC Chapel Hill (focused on native plants), a favorite of mine, the JC Raulston Arboretum (at NC State University, focused on interesting plants from around the world), and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens (at Duke University), which includes a variety of lovely gardens, including a wonderful native plant area. We'll be visiting all of these during the conference. In addition, there are wonderful private gardens (Montrose) and great nurseries (Plant Delights and Niche Gardens) included, and interesting gardening vendors in the exhibits.

I had a thoroughly enriching time last year in Portland at my first GWA conference. I think that garden writers (really garden communicators) are essentially gardening educators (like I am) and are keen gardeners, too (ditto).

So it's well worth self-sponsoring attendance (since my garden doesn't have the budget to send any of us for professional development experiences).

I'm looking forward to it.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Planting a new perennial bed

A visit to the Fall Plant Sale at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, a wonderful 50+ year old garden devoted to native plants resulted in more than a number of purchases.

The bare edge next to our house in the mountains gained Heuchera, Viola pedata, and Rudbeckia 'Henry Eiler.'

One of the gardeners was pretty darn happy digging and planting.

We had secured an approved design for adding perennials to an open, full sun expanse (our small mountain house is in an historic district), but weren't actually intending to buy so many plants. They were quite irresistible.

We added a nice mix of perennials in the front as well as next to the house and along the side yard (blueberries!)

This photo doesn't show how nice-looking the new bed actually is.

The sale, supporting the Gardens, features various local native plant nurseries (both retail and wholesale), local garden clubs, and the Gardens itself.

We snagged birdsfoot violet, Celadine poppy, an Appalachian carex, a great small Helianthus angustifolia selection, a Carolina Hemlock, and Rudbeckia 'Henry Eilers' (a nice selection of a lovely curled petaled Arkansas species that I first saw last fall at Terra Nova nursery in Portland, Oregon). An excellent small selection of Joe Pye weed ('Baby Joe'), a sweet prostrate aromatic aster Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies', and a new selection of another Arkansas native (Vernonia lettermannii) also jumped into the back of the car. A return trip found me getting blueberries for the edge between us and the next door apartment, as well.

We even got several more Sedums for the sedum planting next to the front walk.

Our gardening assistant enjoyed the activity. It was a good day.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Feeding birds

In the mountains, our thistle and sunflower seed feeders received non-stop activity in early evening. Goldfinches ate niger seeds. Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals and White-Breasted Nuthatches took turns at the other feeder, after we refilled the box with black oil sunflower seeds.

We still have hummingbirds visiting the jewelweed patches, although having feeders up for them in a weekend place isn't really practical (or healthy for hummingbirds).

At home in the Piedmont of SC, we're still seeing ruby-throated hummingbirds at our flowers and feeders, but they've started to head south. We'll probably see the last visitor in mid-October, based on previous years.

Check out Operation RubyThroat to post your observations about what you see in the Eastern U.S. and Canada (where we see Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds from late spring to early fall). Bill Hilton, at Hilton Pond Natural History Center, an expert natural history investigator on hummingbird behavior, is partnering with Earth Trek in this Citizen Science project.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Renovating a perennial garden

I put in a pollinator border next to the Nature Center (at the Botanical Garden where I work) about seven years ago. Needless to say, it's now in need of renovation and restoration. This photo is from better days.

A primary problem is a weedy Bermuda grass patch (brought in with some leaf mulch). Rudbeckia hirta and R. fulgida gone wild (although the finches are happy) is another issue. And the volunteer Solidago isn't a particularly desirable element.

So I've come to the conclusion that I need to have a renovation project (inspired by all of the participants in a Home Gardening Fundamentals class - 3/4 of whom are coping with overgrown landscapes).

My home garden is in need of some updates, too. I need my gardening companion (AKA my husband) back, now that his final book manuscript is about to be sent off. Hooray!

Our gardening assistant, Mocha, is not very helpful, alas, only providing moral support. But that's invaluable.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy for some rain

Late this afternoon, it started to rain. It's been awhile here.

I was working in my office and activity out the window caught my eye. Mockingbirds, a group of at least five, were perched in the Gordonia outside enjoying the rain. They were flapping their wings, fluffing their feathers, and definitely looked happy to finally have a bit of a bath.

What fun!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Slow gardening

I'm feeling awfully behind in my fall gardening at this point.

I 'should' have transplanted greens by now; my home-grown brussel sprouts and broccoli seedlings are languishing in pots. I keep catching a poor young opossum instead of the voracious woodchuck in my Havahart trap. This last time (I think it had pushed its way in, as I hadn't left it set), we provided water and food (dog kibble and fresh apple pieces) before it recovered enough to scamper off into the forest edge.

I managed to get out before dusk this evening , and sow a round of mixed wild kale, Tuscan kale, and some Oriental Spinach, and managed to water them in well.

If I can just keep enough water on those beds, maybe I'll have something to work with, after all. My flats of arugula and mustards look fine, but they're in partial shade in nice fluffy moisture-retentive potting mix.

It's been dreadfully dry in August and early September, so everything is looking wan (the gardener included!)

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eclectic gardens

A first annual West Asheville garden tour this weekend (in a creative and eclectic neighborhood of Asheville, NC) provided a number of fun garden scenes. Incorporating reclaimed metal objects (formerly useful), recycled glass (blue bottles and marble), and a sense of fun, these gardens were a wonderful reflections of their gardeners. Even the messy one.

The light was bright this afternoon, but we enjoyed seeing a few of the gardens.

Here are just a few photos.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

A bumblebee and flower

After a LONG week, and not much time spent in the garden, I'm ready for reflections.
Here's a lovely image of a bumblee and flower, from a recent excursion.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Dry weather

The return of droughty conditions is hindering germination of fall greens in the main vegetable garden. Lettuce, spinach, and arugula, directly sown, aren't appearing so far. I sowed a second round this evening, hopefully to a better result. I've been too preoccupied with other things to be scrupulous about watering them every day, which doesn't help either.

The salad mixes, wild mustards, and arugula sown in flats are doing fine, but they're in partial shade and easy to keep moist.

But happily, I'm harvesting a few heirloom tomatoes from container-grown plants, and French filet beans, thanks to seeds from my friend CEN, and I'll be sowing some mustards and kale directly in the garden tomorrow evening.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cleaning up

There's nothing like a month of enforced neglect to get a gardener worried. I'm not a fussy gardener at all; in truth, I quite like an exuberant and prolific garden, whether it be in borders, meadows, woodland plantings, or my vegetable garden.

But weedy beds and declining vegetables are not a happy sight. I worked on vegetables yesterday for my allotted hour or so (it'll be nice to get back to normal!)

So I was glad to be able to get out this morning and clean up a primary perennial border. It was full of crabgrass (yuck), but thankfully easy to pull, and various other pesky weeds.

Some judicious editing, and it was a good effort, even though it was about all I could manage.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

A Corn Moon walk

I had almost 40 people for a full moon hike this evening. A big group, to be sure, largely family groups, but also couples and singles. There were also many more young children than usual, perhaps because of Labor Day weekend.

One of the things I love about summer and early fall evenings are the sounds -- ground crickets, tree crickets, katydids, owls, tree frogs, etc. And, with digital technology, it's increasingly easy to learn more and share the sounds (and sights) of nature day and night.

I used my iPod nano for the first time, attached to a small portable speaker, to play (the quite different) calls of crickets, katydids, and cicadas, with the backdrop of the real-time nocturnal symphony. It had helped me distinguish between their sounds and songs, so I thought it would be helpful for a group program (as long as the tech part wasn't too distracting).

It worked well, and hopefully encouraged participants to listen more closely on more peaceful night-time excursions. I've been using a simple Birdsong Identiflyer for birds and frogs in the field, which is great. Low tech and effective.

Check out for some excellent recordings (and information about more extensive collections. I have all of Lang Elliot's CD and accompanying guides (with Wil Hershberger for insects). They're great, especially with the portability provided by mp3 players.

Check out this great singing insect jukebox from their website.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Restoring nature

Restoring nature isn't easy, nor is it always possible. It's what we need to do, in our communities, gardens, and home landscapes, however.

So, I was glad to read a story in the NY Times today about a significant restoration project in Manhattan.

Nature is resilient, but today, needs help to restore a semblance of what's 'natural.'

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A cool September day

The beginning of the month felt like fall. Quite amazing. The air was cool, the breeze was stiff, and it definitely wasn't 'Indian summer.'

This has not been a bad summer for us in the Southeastern U.S.; the heat wasn't stifling, nor endless. Driblets of rain managed to keep us squeaking through the worst of normal summer droughtiness (that's compared to the brutal droughts of the last few summers.)

And the coolness makes me hopeful that we'll have a nice fall growing season ahead of us, whether for vegetables or garden plants.

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