Friday, December 31, 2010

Snow melt

It was nice to see the sedum bed again, as the snow melted rapidly on a warm winter day (~50°F) in the mountains.  It was a welcome change to have sun and mild temperatures. 

Mocha behind newly emerged sedum bed
Not having grown up with snow and cold, snow is a treat, but prolonged slippery ice and cold isn't so welcome.  I enjoyed walking this morning without worrying about tripping on an ice patch!

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ordering seeds and seed catalogs

I've been getting e-solicitations from my favorite seed companies, an excellent sign that days are lengthening, and it will be planting time eventually.  I'm looking forward to the seed catalogs that are waiting at home in the Piedmont (hmm, not that I need any more seeds, but you never know).  There's Garden Fest (with vegetable transplants) to plan for, in addition to my raised beds.

The beds here in the mountains have been totally covered with snow (no overwintering cole crops here this winter!)  And I'm afraid my rosemary, sage, and oregano plants have probably succumbed to the continued cold weather. 

But, they're easily replaced and warmer weather is on the way.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter in the mountains

A snowy hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a slippery walk around the neighborhood, and watching birds yumming up black oil sunflower seeds from the feeder (we're refilling it daily) are primary nature components of winter days in the mountains.   But the sunsets are special, and the clear winter air makes them crystalline.

view from the staircase window
We don't see expansive sunsets at home in the Piedmont, but in the mountains, our windows and the siting of the house give us a backlight forest as well as a direct view of the sunset from the stairs up to the loft.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow at sunset

Clearing skies framed sunlight at dusk.
We ended up with over 13 inches of snow from Christmas Day until today.

It was light, fluffy snow, and folks ventured forth a bit on foot yesterday.

The platform feeder was actively visited.
Today, the roads are OK, at least with AWD, and the temperatures will be moderating by mid-week.

This squirrel seemed to be working on her/his nest materials.

The evening winter light was lovely.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas snow

Even in the mountains, snow on Christmas Day is a treat (at least for Southerners not traveling anywhere). It started after daybreak, falling all day long. We may have over 10-12 inches by tomorrow morning.

Quite beautiful to look at, but nice to be snug and warm.

We haven't had internet access for a couple of days (and won't for another week or two) so have been appreciating the disconnection from the virtual world that travel brings. The silent and snowy streets this morning made it seem like we were somewhere unfamiliar, too, as did Christmas Eve visits to historic downtown churches normally closed to visitors.

It's a tradition for us to remember our various Christmas adventures, and this will be one of those - a white Christmas being home with Mocha in the mountains.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter leeks

My raised beds in the mountains have experienced extreme freezes already this season.

The Swiss chard, parsley and arugula is basically 'toast', but I harvested most of the (young) leeks yesterday, and we enjoyed them as roasted leeks this evening, along with pasta and tomato sauce.

winter baby leeks

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 20, 2010

A suet thief

Suet cakes in the winter are always good; woodpeckers like them, chickadees and cardinals appreciate the extra energy (and embedded fruits and nuts), and they add a bit of variety to visitation patterns.

So, given that we had an extra pole available, I hung a suet feeder with a 'woodpecker favorite' block a couple of days ago. In the morning, the feeder was open and there was no sign of suet.  My gardening companion started joking about racoons and opossums.  Hmmm.

Optimistic about such things, I bought two more suet cakes and put the feeder hanging from a much higher point on a young maple tree.  Surely opposums or racoons wouldn't climb up trees to get suet? Hmm.

Sure enough, this morning the suet feeder was on the ground and the suet nowhere to be seen.

But, this evening towards sunset, we caught a glimpse of the culprit.  (My gardening companion points out that my suet eater is back).  Hrmph.

A large, robust, and very healthy-looking opossum was rumbling up the slope, presumably sniffing for the suet that the nice woman up in the house keeps leaving for me.

I only managed a blurry shot through the window, and opening the balcony door, s/he skittered downslope, well-fed from two blocks of suet over the last couple of days!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An old stone retaining wall

The old stone wall next door looks like it's been there a long time.  Parking for the apartment is above this wall (the apartment is probably 80-90 years old), so the wall has probably stabilized the slope for awhile.  Tim (my gardening companion) just snipped the ivy stems at the base of the black locust and trimmed out some box elder saplings, too.

old retaining wall
ravine in winter
The odd-looking stem with thorns next to the Eastern hemlock is Aralia spinosa (Devil's Walkingstick), a striking native that we'll probably regret planting!  But its abundant small flowers are insect favorites and the fruits are attractive, too.

The slope below our house is pretty much clear of ivy, now, and I'm thinking about additions of woodland wildflowers in the understory.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leaves and an exposed wall

My gardening companion has been busy. The snow has melted and the temperatures moderated, so he's been busy rooting up English ivy (and removing it from a stone retaining wall on the edge of our landscape in the mountains).  It's not a bad stone wall at all, built with decent looking rocks, with just a bit of rubble and concrete supporting the parking lot for the adjacent apartment building.  I haven't been much help, with a troublesome finger making heavy pulling and clipping not such a great idea.

The bags of leaves, saved this fall, proved useful for additional mulching down the slope. We're both envisioning woodland wildflowers to accompany the trees and shrubs already planted. 

So the transformation from weedy forested ravine to native forested ravine continues...

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A morning sunrise

It's been downright cold and wintry in the mountains, with close to record lows, hardly weather to think about gardening.  My raised beds are covered with snow, and rosemary, leeks, broccoli, and other hardy plants are just peeking through.

It's equally cold back home in the Piedmont, according to the weather reports, and windy, too.

But the clear winter air makes the sunrises beautiful, and we're thankful for our view across the ravine.

We have wonderful views that surround us in our home garden, but not any 'to the horizon' sort of views.  It's a treat and something to be grateful for.

Sunrise across the ravine

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brrr... more seeds, please

Our bird feeder was hopping today -- Eastern Towhees, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice.

It was COLD today, with highs around 18°F, and a wind chill factor making it feel about 2°F.  We ventured forth for a bit of exercise (taking Mocha out and 'working out' at the local Y for awhile), but otherwise, we hung about indoors.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In the mountains for winter break, we were surprised with snow this morning. A matter of 2 degrees lower made the difference between the predicted rain and light fluffy snow. We had about 3 inches, lovely to walk through on a Sunday morning.  (Not so nice if we'd needed to get to work, though).

The prediction is for more snow overnight, with temperatures dropping into the teens (F°), so Monday will possibly be icy as well as snowy.

But the snow was fun for us.  It had been a long time since we'd seen this much snow.

On our street
Snow in the mountains

A frosty forest

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Japanese persimmons

It's been a bumper crop of persimmons on the old tree that we transplanted many years ago from our first garden. It must be close to 25 years old now.  I harvested over 30 fruits early on, worrying about the weight of them on the branches.

But the 25-odd fruits left on the tree continued to develop, and after the hard frosts and unusually low temperatures, have ripened nicely ON the tree, so I've just harvested them.

I made some persimmon bars this evening, have eaten quite a few fresh, and will freeze the rest as pulp (for future persimmon bread and bars!)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter spinach and a cold greenhouse

I sowed more seeds today (mache and red mustard) in our unheated teaching greenhouse (at the garden where I work).  It's an experiment in growing winter greens for the first time, following Elliot Coleman's inspiration in the Winter Harvest Handbook and Four-Seasons Harvest.

'bags' of spinach and greens:  note the water barrels providing transferred heat
It's quite remarkable. We've had unseasonably cool weather (it was down to 26°F last night) and the surface of the flats and bags was still slightly frozen at 11 am, but the ambient temperature was already 60°F.

Even though fall heat precluded sowing anything in the greenhouse until early November, lettuce, spinach, and arugula seedlings (sown in November) are thriving, and transplants of kale, mustard, and parsley are doing fine, too.

Of course, if I had sown these greens much earlier, they'd be larger and harvest-size, as they are in our outdoor kitchen gardens.  We've been harvesting mustard greens, cabbage, turnips, and broccoli for over a month now.

I'm wondering how my mountain beds of arugula, chard, and parsley are faring under much more severe conditions!

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Great blue heron and mosquito fern

There's a shallow pond in the meadow near my office  -- we've called it unofficially the 'leaky' pond, since it's never held water very well, even though we've tried to seal it a couple of times with bentonite treatments.

In spite of the shallow water (and probably because of it), it's been a good pond for frogs, dragonflies, and birds.

heron and azolla in the Meadow pond
Leaving work the other day, I spotted this Great Blue Heron (perhaps a young individual), 'knee deep' in the azolla or mosquito fern (that's colonized the edges of the pond, and is turning red with cold weather).  Presumably, it's Azolla caroliniana, a native mosquito fern, rather than one of the invasive ones.

It's interesting to consider how it's colonized the pond.

I'm thinking that it may have come in with some of the semi-aquatic plants that were transplanted on the edges of the pond at the end of a research project.  But, that's just a guess.

Click on the photo for a closer look.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gardening in winter

In a mild winter climate, there's not much excuse for retreating indoors at the first sign of gloom. 

OK, I'm as susceptible as the next normal Southern U.S. gardener to whine when we have long dark rainy days for more than two days in a row.  Hmm, are we wimpy, or what?

But what our long seasons mean is that we can grow winter vegetables (some with a bit of protection) quite well, and that we can have winter interest in our gardens from berries, bark, seed heads, dried foliage, etc. that continue our gardening season through the winter and beyond.

I was reminded of this today by an excellent article by Piet Oudolf in Fine Gardening's regular e-mail. 

In the long winter days in the Netherlands, he relies on many of our North American natives for winter interest in perennial borders.  He includes plants whose fruits, seedheads, or berries are interesting to look at throughout winter.  Totally wonderful.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leaf mulch

Those of us in deciduous forest habitats (and with lots of deciduous trees in our gardens and neighborhoods) have plenty of free organic mulch.

First, save your own leaves -- don't let any of those go to the curb.

Second, snag your neighbor's leaves.  We collect bags full of them.

one of our leaf stashes!
Finally, corral the leaf-vacuum trunk (if available) and have them dump a load or two in your driveway!

Why buy hardwood or pine bark mulch for your garden when leaves are free?

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sustainable Gardening

I've been thinking quite a bit about 'sustainable gardening' lately.  I promote (what I consider) are sustainable gardening practices in the classes I teach -- minimal inputs of water, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, and inorganic fertilizers, don't let leaves leave your property, don't kill things, promote diversity, plant mostly natives, think naturalistic planting design, minimize areas devoted to lawn, etc. 

We've been happy with our 'natural garden' created with this approach in our own home landscape in the Piedmont of South Carolina.  And we're continuing this in our second home in the mountains (where we'll probably 'retire'), where we're populating the slope around our small mountain house with native understory shrubs along with native trees.

Vegetable gardening is a bit more problematic;  vegetables, by their domesticated nature, are nutrient and water hogs, so the gardener is ALWAYS grubbing around for more sources of organic matter and nutrients. 

Homemade compost is excellent, but it's hard to produce enough that's high nitrogen, unless you have chickens, rabbits, cows, or horses.  Chickens and rabbits are feasible in an urban environment if you're at home most all of the time, but not so practical if you're away for weekends or holidays.

But what exactly is sustainable gardening? 

I'll assert that it is creating an ecologically-balanced landscape on the property that you inhabit, and that restores most of the ecology that once was on that site, along with making sure that no extra inputs of fertilizer or pesticides get washed into the stormwater drains. 

That's what we've tried to do, in our attempt to create natural woodland and forest habitat and meadow on what once was almost 2 acres of lawn in the Piedmont, and incorporated organic vegetable gardens into the mix as well.

In the mountains, trying to restore an invasive-rich ravine into a rich cove forest of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers is an amazing effort;  my gardening companion has made remarkable progress already. 

And converting part of the driveway and bare area below the house to vegetable garden beds is productive, too.

So, my first 'take-home' message, is let's get planting natives instead of 'ornamentals' in our gardens and landscapes.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Removing invasive species

We've been freeing the slope below our small (urban) mountain house of invasive species.

Or, really, I should say my gardening companion has been doing it, with my encouragement.  It's made a huge difference to date;  first, he tackled the Japanese honeysuckle, English ivy climbing up trees and walls, and now is rooting out English ivy sprawled along the forest slope.   He's all the way down to the intermittent creek in the ravine, and is making great progress along the creek bed.

Enjoying the hard physical labor, he's ventured forth on the lower slopes of adjoining lots, too, clearing trash as well as weeds.  The results have been great. What was a sea of green honeysuckle and ivy in winter is now bare branches and a rich understory of fallen leaves (with bags and bags added from our neighbors' collections).

We're plotting additions of woodland wildflowers to accompany the shrubs and trees that have already been added (all characteristic of cove forests).  That'll be my gardening challenge, as we 'landscape' the paths down to the garden studio (now in the planning stages, but hopefully construction to begin in the new year) and beyond.

It's fun to think about restoring a weedy, overgrown ravine to a semblance of a natural plant community.

Maybe someday, if and when a greenway is established along the creek, folks will talk about the enthusiastic homeowners (the botanists) who transformed the slopes along the creek.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More winter greens

Our young neighbors in the mountains (who live in the apartment building next door) have been fun to watch (and encourage). 

There was a large cast iron water feature that was breeding mosquitoes when we took over our cottage;  we put anti-larval dunks in it to their approval (they're mostly health professionals).

a re-purposed salad bowl

But this year, they filled it with potting mix and are growing mustard and chard.  What a nice thing!

Our late November raised beds with leeks, chard, lettuce, and greens

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 22, 2010

Miscanthus sinensis

What's out of place in this image?

It's not hard to spot, as an invasive plant, along Interstate 26 from Greenville, SC to Asheville, NC and up the Blue Ridge Escarpment on Highway 25.  It's colonized the roadsides along those thoroughfares and is now moving out to disturbed old field habitat beyond.

It's a colonizer, to be sure.  My gardening companion and I saw it in Northern Vietnam, where it's native, flourishing on disturbed slopes.

Supposedly, our plants in the Garden were sterile cultivars, but here are a couple of plants that have become established in the powerline corridor.

So, we're still planting it as an 'ornamental grass' -- hmm, what's out of place here?

A footnote:  River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is an equally prolific (reproductively speaking) grass in our area.  Plant it in your landscape at your peril.  Other native grasses will also abundantly set seed (Indian Grass comes to mind), but that's what plants often do, to be fair!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Labels and categories

Geez, I'm thinking I need to go back through my posts to focus their categories and labels, so if one of you is interested in something (I've) written on a topic, it's easy to find correlated posts, if you have time to read them.  Happily, Google's search capabilities within blogs are good (I use it all the time to find connections on mine), but I was admiring the nice category clouds and lists on other blogs. 

I'd like to create a reasonable (small) category list, but obviously my personally generated labels (by Google standards) are all over.  Hmm.  Going back and sorting though posts and adding more 
general labels for posts seems necessary to do so, though.  Yikes, that could take awhile.

Labels: , ,

Full moon in November

It would have been a beautiful evening for a full moon walk. 

But November 21 could just as easily have been cold and rainy than the lovely late fall day that it was.  This evening was mild, and the sky just punctuated with clouds, and the crickets are still singing.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ginkgo in fall

It's been a great fall color season, and the ginkgos are currently at their peak.

Ginkgos are ancient conifers with a delightful habit of turning butter yellow in fall, just before all the leaves (in clusters on short shoots) drop, practically in unison.

I remember a great photo/memory image from years ago of our dog romping with my gardening companion in the ginkgo leaves in front of our (first) house in Georgia.

Ginkgos at the South Carolina Botanical Garden
We've had ginkgos ever since.

These two are at the garden where I work.  Fabulous!

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preparing vegetable beds for spring

I've amended all of the soil in my satellite garden beds now.  Garlic is planted in a couple of them, but the rest are devoted to getting ready for spring.  The asparagus is flourishing, hooray, (not shown in this image), so I'm hopeful those beds are fine, especially after the mulching of compost that they received.

I half-heartedly transplanted kale and mustard greens in one of the beds (the one on the far left) last weekend, but the resident woodchuck (not yet in semi-hibernation) crept up and made short work of them.  Hhrmph. 

If it's not the herbivorous squirrels (who knew), the major herbivores (big-time) are woodchucks. 

OK, I AM a wildlife gardener, but this is getting tiresome. 

I came across a 'gardening tip' today that vanilla extract (the real thing) sprinkled on lettuce leaves was a woodchuck magnet (that's according to Sharon Lovejoy, in Trowel and Error) -- it may be worth trying in my Havahart trap!

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Seasonal changes and musings

We've had a long extended fall season, with colorful leaves persisting for weeks.

The ginkgo leaves are at their peak now, with an beautiful golden color.  They'll all drop any day, but they're glorious while they're here.   The dogwoods, even in spite of their drought-stressed summer, are putting on a show of reds and oranges.

The kids I had outside in a program today delighted in the perfect fall weather, which was clear and cool, following several rainy days.

We discovered fall fruits and seeds (having them squish them between their fingers is always interesting - I demonstrate- -- are they sticky, indicating sugars, or smooth, indicating lipids, how many seeds are in each fruit, etc.?)

Who eats them?  Oh, they're poisonous, many kids say when looking at red fruits.

Hmm, why do you think red fruits are 'poisonous', I ask, after some 'wait' time.  Hmm, what eats these berries or fruits?  And we talk about the virtues of being sugary or being lipid-rich. I finally explain that red fruits are basically signaling 'I'm ready to eat.'


Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vegetable gardening seasons

A quick trip to the grocery this evening brought a question from a fellow shopper:  are you a Master Gardener?

Well, no, I'm not, I said, but I work at the Botanical Garden.

I supposed she'd seen me at Garden Fest (where we've been promoting growing your own vegetables for the last couple of years), but she didn't say.

We proceeded to talk about winter vegetables.  She asked if it was too late to sow kale seeds (yes), are broccoli and kale plants in the ground hardy (yes), and would a cold frame be handy (yes).

It's encouraging, even though we live in a small college town, to be asked these questions, from someone I didn't know!

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creative hanging baskets

My colleague Ginny is an artist in the Garden.  Not only does she create wonderful  vignettes in her borders for us to learn from, but her baskets, on the Nature Center porch, are amazing. 

I took these photos after the first frost (the bromeliads that had been in the baskets have been tucked away in a warmer spot), but even at that, you can see the magic at work.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hardiness of greens

Arugula, parsley, and kale
I was surprised to see the kale seedlings looking quite good, after frosty nights in their beds in the mountains. 

Supposedly, young leaves are more frost tolerant than older ones, and kale is normally tough to 20°F, in any case.   The leeks, lettuce, swiss chard, and parsley are doing well, too.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 12, 2010

A long fall season

After a mild frost (30-32°F) last weekend, we've had lovely warm days (highs near 70° F) with lows in the 40's.  Tender annuals and perennials were zapped, of course, but hardier plants, whether ornamental or vegetable, sailed through.

In our (SE US) climate, it's always variable, and with a mix of plants from around the world in our gardens (vegetables included),  it's hard to predict HOW the impact of oncoming cold weather will affect our individual gardens.

There's always the site to consider, and exposure, in addition to how frost affects our plants (whether edible or ornamental).

We're doing an experiment in our unheated education (Sprouting Wings) greenhouse this winter (I've posted about this previously).

It'll be interesting see if we can 'grow' greens in the winter, beyond simply holding them for harvest.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A gray tree frog

We had an unexpected visitor in our garden office building this afternoon, a gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor).  I'd seen anoles inside before, but not a tree frog.  But my new office colleague (a keen naturalist) spotted it in the stairwell, and we took a look.  Gray tree frogs vary in color, depending on their surroundings, temperature, and humidity;  this one was a solid dried-leaf gray.

I was surprised to see a frog still out and about, maybe seeking warmth?  But, doing a bit of research, I learned that gray tree frogs survive the winter by hibernating 'on land' - under leaf litter, rocks, and logs; their bodies 'freeze' but are protected from damage by high glycerol levels in their tissues.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Winter greens and other winter vegetables

We're doing an winter vegetable gardening experiment in our unheated education hoop house (it used to be a 'greenhouse').

Propane costs ran up to $500/month to heat the house (and after losing all of the tropical plants after an severe freeze, without heat, a couple of years ago), it's quite appealing to run the house as a demonstration 'cold house'.

In our Piedmont South Carolina winter, we only have a few weeks with less than 10 hours of sunlight a day.  That's plenty to support winter greens to harvest, and probably to grow  -- I'm thinking we'll be able to do successive lettuce mix plantings as well as grow hardy and semi-hardy vegetables in containers.  (This house has a gravel surface so isn't conducive to ground sowing.)

West Dean, UK cold frame
We sowed various mixes of greens today, and will be doing more in the coming weeks.  There may be enough light for greens to grow through mid-December and take a rest, and then resume growing, but temperatures will be important, too.

We've got a bank of black plastic drums (recycled soft-drink syrup containers) filled with water that will be serving as a reservoir of heat, and we can always add a second layer of frost-protection with floating row covers.

If Elliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch can grow greens in coastal Maine in unheated houses, surely we can manage to extend our growing beyond kale and collards in the Southeastern U.S. (They're tasty, of course, but lettuce, spinach, and arugula are great additions to winter salads.)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 8, 2010

Black walnuts

My gardening companion collected LOTS of green-husked black walnuts a couple of weeks ago. He said that he'd crack them on our driveway (hmm, ancient black asphalt?)

They sat in a ceramic dish on the dining table for some time, until some were showing sign of mold, when I banished them to outside the kitchen door.

black walnuts ready to be predated
After quite a bit of rain, the dish filled up with water, and the husks darkened and started decomposing.

And the squirrels discovered the dish and started recovering the nuts.  Way cool!

We're down to maybe one or two black walnut 'nuts' to be recovered today.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The first frost

We had a solid frost last night. The temperature went down to 30°F, with enough moisture in the air and combined with a still wind, the conditions were ideal to produce a heavy frost.

The mustard greens, purple mustard, arugula, etc. were frozen early, but by late morning were fine (I'd harvested all of the large leaves yesterday, just in case).

The lone fall tomato plants wilted with frost, of course, but the young green tomatoes became sauce for a vegetable lasagna that I'm planning to make tomorrow.

It was a good day in the vegetable garden.  I finished planting garlic cloves and prepared two beds with extra compost in the satellite garden for potatoes and onions. for spring.  The added mushroom compost and composted manure will enrich the soil over winter, so those beds will be perfect for planting.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A (college) student vegetable garden

Ecoplex vegetable garden
The students at the Clemson University Ecoplex (a duplex retrofitted with energy-conserving features) were up for trying a vegetable garden this fall.

They weren't experienced, but game, and following soil prep (and support and encouragement by an committed CU Housing staff member and CU's Sustainability Program), we planted out transplants of lettuces, mustards, and red cabbage as well as sowing seeds of mesclun mix and other greens in late September.

I was delighted to receive this photo late last week (in addition to reports along the way).  The fall vegetables have been flourishing, and the students report that they've been sharing lettuce and greens with neighbors and others.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Using leaf mulch

It always amazes us that some of our neighbors don't keep their leaves. 

My gardening companion and gardening assistant with leaf bounty
They're such a great source of organic matter, and usually nutrient-rich, too, it's like throwing away the bags of organic material available for purchase at big-box stores. 

We're not talking big bucks here, but dry leaves are a LOT easier to move around than bags of mushroom compost, pine bark nuggets, or hardwood mulch.

Putting leaves out
We've got a long back slope in the mountains that benefits from leaves, and we have plenty of space to put as many as we can collect. 

My gardening companion (aka my husband Tim) is restoring it as a hardwood forest, pulling up the English ivy, editing the box elders and wild cherries, removing the debris of some decades, and opening it up for a variety of suitable tree and shrub species, not to mention understory woodland plants.

For understory plants to thrive, though, we need more mulch to enrich the soil, creating the deeper layers that support them in natural conditions.  It'll be fun to start planting when the soil's ready.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 1, 2010

Winter vegetables

In the Southeastern U.S., we're blessed with plenty of winter sunshine (at least compared to Northern and Central Europe and Northern Asia) -- I need to check corresponding parallels in Asia, to be sure, actually.

And our winter temperatures aren't so bad either, being much more moderate than the Northeastern U.S. We often experience relatively mild winters, although it's variable, and more recently, even more so.

In the mountains of N.C., we're Zone 6, but have only had a light frost so far, which even romaine lettuce of unknown hardiness (transplants from a big box store) sailed through.  With predictions of 28°F for next weekend,  I harvested all of the outside (lettuce) leaves this afternoon, and chard leaves of any decent size, and the arugula in that category, too, before heading down the 'hill' tomorrow.  I'm sure that the frost/freeze might not amount to much and the raised beds are plenty buffered by their stone walls, but I'd rather enjoy eating the greens than clean up the frost-bitten remnants on a later trip!

The young mesclun mix, kale, and mustard seedlings are on their own.  I'll be delighted to harvest any of them.  The parsley is looking great, too, so I'll probably cut quite a bit tomorrow morning, too.

At home in the Piedmont (Zone 7b), I've planted several beds of garlic, but need to tuck in a couple of more beds.  And I have flats of kale, arugula, and other greens to tend.

I'm planning for a winter vegetable garden experiment in one of our unheated houses at the Garden where I work.  Doesn't it seem like winter greens are a no-brainer?

Check this book out (The Winter Harvest Handbook by Elliot Coleman).  It's a fabulous guide (and inspiration) to what more of us should be doing.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkins and gourds

I've spent more time lately in other people's gardens than my own, it seems to me (that includes my workplace garden, but not necessarily being IN the garden).  Normally, there's plenty to record and remember, but if I haven't been out there much, there isn't much to write about, alas.

But I'm reminded, being in the mountains for a long Fall Break weekend, that this is Halloween weekend, too  -- not a holiday that we particularly celebrate now, but that we remember enjoying as kids.

Gourds, winter squashes, and pumpkins of all sorts are a wonderful reflection of the harvest time that it is.  And the farmer's markets here are full of delicious varieties, including the sugar pumpkins that I nabbed, and stuck out on the front porch.

I even bought some candy, in case we have some young visitors tomorrow evening  (we're in a much more compact family-friendly sort of street in Asheville than in Clemson, SC).  But, my gardening companion will enjoy any 'leftovers' --so we're set.

I was reminded of this delightful squash vignette from the Dallas Arboretum that I saw in September.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Children's gardens

There's been an explosion in recent years in children's gardens -- it's definitely a good thing, when these gardens encourage exploration of the world of plants and nature. 

I visited a delightful Children's Garden at Phipps Conservatory this summer (in Pittsburgh, PA).

Children's gardens that are full of fabricated stuff don't appeal to me, but the small pocket garden adjoining the conservatories at Phipps  was totally appealing.

These boys were using the water feature to fill up their buckets (one of them actually watered my feet, hmm).  But they were exploring the environment of perennials, a nicely done concrete tree (with informative nooks), and various other exploratory venues.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mexican oregano

I'd never heard of Mexican oregano, but a caller on our Your Day public radio gardening call-in show mentioned it.  She said it was a great plant, and tasty, too, with a delightful sweetness.

Hmm.  I meant to look it up, but didn't.

While cleaning up my office recently (I'm prone to stacks, piles, and unorganized folders of interesting things), I found a clipping about Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Plants and Gardens News, which I receive as a member. (Their publications are wonderful).

It's easy to grow, liking heat, full sun, and fertile soil.  It's not apparently hardy in the Piedmont, being hardy only to Zone 10, but we can apparently overwinter it inside on a south-facing windowsill. The author, Scott Appell, says it's easy to propagate, too, from tip-cuttings, another way to keep it going.

He mentions its culinary qualities, too, and suggests that many cooks prefer it to 'regular' oregano (Origanum spp.)

Lippia isn't even in the Mint family (Lamiaceae), but in the Verbena family (Verbenaceae), but must be chemical cousins in terms of their leaf compounds.

Definitely something to try!

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Garlic planting time

I've managed to tuck garlic into 3 beds now, separating their cloves and poking them into deep, compost-amended soil.  I've had no trouble growing garlic, and we've enjoying eating it.  Perhaps I haven't grown giant heads, due to my parsimonious watering and fertilizing, but last year's harvest was a bumper crop.

I've used homegrown garlic to replant this year for the first time.  It's fun to continue that cycle, although some of the cloves aren't as large as I'd like.

a bed ready to be planted
The asparagus has flourished through the growing season, too, and is looking robust and vigorous.  After it goes dormant, I'm planning to consolidate two primary growing beds, to accommodate a couple of outliers that I stuck in place as an afterthought.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fall color

We usually think about fall color in leaves; in Eastern North America, we have an abundance of deciduous trees that illuminate our landscapes with colors varying from yellow to red.

But on a 'fall color walk' today, I pointed out many more 'fall colors' -- those of flowers and fruits, especially, but also of foliage of annuals and perennials that we don't normally think about as 'fall color.'

It was interesting -- fall color (in terms of leaves) is just now coming on.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saffron crocus

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I noticed that the saffron crocus has suddenly appeared, in flower.  I had thought the bulbs would have succumbed to the exceptionally cold winter last year, followed by extreme heat.

But there they were.  Some of the clumps looked flourishing, actually.

I'll collect the stigmas from open flowers tomorrow to dry  - it was wet today.

I noticed that I'd made a post on Oct. 26 a couple of years ago about the saffron crocus being in flower!

Labels: ,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway views

Fall color in the North Carolina mountains is becoming apparent.  At mid-elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the color is spectacular.  Higher up, it's still early; lower down, drought stress may diminish the usual clear yellows, defaulting to brown.

Hemlocks are gray ghosts, felled by woolly adelgids
But yesterday, it was spectacular north of Devil's Courthouse and Graveyard Fields.

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Natural gardening and garden visits

I enjoy encouraging the folks in programs that I do to think about gardening for nature and creating a natural garden. 

A Master Naturalist/Master Gardener friend in the Low Country of South Carolina calls her similar program  'Gardening as if life mattered.' It's a much more powerful title, and compelling. Her journey as a gardener,  from understanding how to develop spectacular perennial borders to creating a sanctuary garden (as a survivor of a life-challenging illness) to wildlife gardener is inspirational.

We can all plant more plants 'that matter' -- that is, plants that work for a living, wherever we live in the world. 

It's a joy to have plants whose flowers are visited by butterflies and bees, whose leaves are eaten by caterpillars, and whose fruits are enjoyed by birds, mammals, and others.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Question Mark butterflies visiting sap

Question Mark butterflies collecting sap (Thanks, Randy!)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sap-visiting butterflies

I was surprised when my fellow butterfly enthusiasts and Garden volunteers told me today about butterflies visiting oozing sap on an oak near the Caboose Parking area and showed me some remarkable photos. Wow.

There were Red Admirals, and Commas, and others taking advantage of the fresh sap, perhaps as a consequence of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers drilling into the bark.

One of our garden horticulturists had alerted them to this, having just observed the masses of butterflies.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post a few of their photos!

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Last signs of summer

We saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird visiting cypress vine flowers yesterday in the Children's Garden.  She was a late straggler, to be sure. 

October 18th is the last date we're seen hummingbirds in the Upstate of South Carolina, a couple of years ago.

And there were monarchs flitting by, as well.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A luminous meadow

I spent some time this afternoon cleaning up and 'editing' the front meadow. 

It needed to be freed of the weedy annuals that had popped up in late summer, the remnants of vines that had clambered around (including the passionvine, Passiflora incarnata), and generally tidied up -- the Helianthus hirsutus (Rough-stemmed Sunflower) was downright ugly, even to a wildlife-friendly gardener, and I'm confident the goldfinches have long since eaten its seeds.  And the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is such a great host for monarch caterpillars, is in decline as well, and most monarchs are well south at this point, too, and any stragglers are not going to be successful in reproducing here, before the first frost.

Front meadow in evening
It was satisfying work, even if driven by thinking I might have the Osher Lifelong Learning class come visit next after the Gardening for Nature class that I like doing for them.  I think I'll describe what our next projects are, and our real-life challenges as natural gardeners (hmm, full-time work, two gardens at the moment, we have other things to do, etc.)

Actually, our garden in the Upstate is a testament to the toughness of natives and well-adapted plants over a summer of brutal heat and no rain in the last third of the summer, with minimal 'care' on a couple of short visits and supplemental water only to recently planted things.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Butterflies and more butterflies

Our warm, early fall temperatures, at least by late morning, are wonderful for watching butterflies.  On the purple lantana near my office, there were pipevine swallowtails, monarchs, skippers of all sorts, sulphur butterflies, and fritillaries.


Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gulf fritillary butterflies

I've always enjoyed the late summer rush of fritillaries.  We have Gulf as well as Variegated Fritillaries and probably others that I haven't noticed; Gulf Fritillary adults visit a variety of nectar plants, but their caterpillars specialize on passion vines (in our area, the native Passiflora incarnata or Maypops).

The bright orange caterpillars are fun to watch, and the adults are a striking orange, with silvery undersides.

Gulf Fritillary chrysalis
A sharp-eyed third grader spotted this chrysalis hanging from an Opuntia pad, near one of the passion vines in the Children's Garden.  Way cool!  Gulf Fritillaries are one of the few butterflies that migrate;  they move south as adults towards frost-free areas in fall, and recolonize north with successive broods in late spring and early summer.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Squirrel herbivory

We think about Eastern gray squirrels eating nuts, mushrooms, and berries.  But I wouldn't put them on the top of my 'eating greens' list.

But, first the collard transplants disappeared, then the broccoli, and then the red cabbage.  Hmmrph....  I was thinking an errant woodchuck might be selectively browsing, but s/he skipped the cilantro in one of my containers (a woodchuck favorite), so I was puzzled.

A greens-loving squirrel
At home for lunch, I caught the culprit in action.  First, s/he investigated the (sorry) remnants of the collards and broccoli, and then started investigating the adjoining mustard bed.  And, s/he started chewing.  Hmmrph.  My Mr. McGregor instincts had me snapping a quick couple of shots, before I ran out to show him/her away!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Swiss chard and green tomatoes

I harvested most of the tomatoes in the mountains today, both big and small.  The weather for tomorrow is a low in the high 30's, and a high in the 60's (°F), so  tomato ripening is not in the forecast.  I cleaned up the spent plants, sowed some collard, mesclun, and kale seeds, thinking optimistically, and about bed protections (row covers), and started work preserving the harvest.  I roasted about half of the green tomatoes (large and small),  froze them, but also put bags of fresh green cherry tomatoes directly in freezer bags, too.

I'm still left with a (quite) large container full of green tomatoes along with a biggish one full of green cherry tomatoes, in addition a number of half-ripe large tomatoes, and a bowlful of red cherry tomatoes.

Swiss chard and green cherry tomatoes
We had chard tonight, fresh from the garden, along with wahoo from the NC coast.  A lovely dinner.  There wasn't a reason to buy greens at the farmer's market this morning; it basically was an enjoyable stroll, picking up some winter squash and fresh eggs. Both are delicious.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cloudless sulphur caterpillars

It's been great fun (as well as rewarding) to have a new butterfly garden (that emphasizes host plants as well as nectar plants) at the Botanical Garden where I work.  Two of our long-term volunteers and I came up with a list of our essential plants for a butterfly garden, as we were relocating ours from a less hospitable site (windy and rocky).

Most of the plants were then rounded up with the help of Garden staff, purchased with support from the Carolina Butterfly Society, or donated (largely from our home gardens).

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar on Cassia
It's been magical through summer and fall.  The garden has flourished beyond expectations, and has been full of caterpillars and butterflies.

The sulphur butterfly caterpillars taking advantage of the Cassia obtusifolia (Sicklepod) plants were excellent to see, along with monarch caterpillars munching common milkweed, gulf fritillary caterpillars on passion vine, black swallowtails decimating the fennel and dill, and sleepy orange caterpillars on the Cassia plants.  Not to mention the Giant Swallowtails that have appeared, apparently because Rue and other herbs are around.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Woo, hoo! More rain!

It's ungrateful not to be glad for the inch and a half or so of rain we've already received, but... we're glad to have an evening wave of thunderstorms and heavy downpours add to the total.

We came out of drought conditions officially last January after years of significant, if not severe drought, but went back into incipient drought (according to our state climatologist) in mid-summer, I think.

October is normally a dry month, and in a newspaper article today, she (our state climatologist) is predicting a dry fall and winter because of La Nina effects.  So anything helps at this point.

I'm beginning to think about focusing more sharply in my educational gardening programs towards sustainable gardening.  I've already been doing that, but really, we don't have any justification as gardeners to use landscape plants that need more water than we've ever normally received in rainfall.  And in a time of a changing climate, it's best to be more conservative than ever in how much 'life support' our garden plants need.  I don't see how we can justify watering lawns and landscape plants, when folks downstream need water for drinking and other essential uses.

Sure, our vegetables are water and nutrient-hogs, but that's to be expected.  We've bred them for productivity, not for their thrifty character. 

But we can go a long way with mulch, soil conservation techniques, and conservation of rainwater and gray water.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally some rain

Happily, the suggested rains did appear, and we'd received over an inch by 3 pm this afternoon.  It's a good thing, as it's been dry, dry, dry over the last month or so.

And more rain is predicted for tomorrow, so that's good, too.  I can already see plants in our garden perking up!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Droughty conditions and watering again

We don't like to water much;  we've designed our landscapes (yikes, it's now plural) to be largely self-reliant on rainfall, but a very long spell (weeks and weeks, maybe a month or more without any rain), and pushing 90°F temperatures through the end of September has even hardy natives looking wan, not to mention those from moister sites and higher elevations.

So I'm dragging the hose around, my gardening companion has gone to the mountains this weekend to water newly planted trees and shrubs in our landscape there  (he also has vegetable harvesting duties, and watering the raised beds, too).   So, we're hoping for some decent rain with the cold front that's coming in tomorrow.

In the meantime, I've managed to tidy up the perennial beds, get them ready for needed renovation, change out some containers, and plant to edit the front meadow tomorrow morning (it needs it, big time). There's a group of folks coming after a Osher Lifelong Learning Gardening for Nature program in mid-October, which somehow has become the program where 'we visit your garden.'

I like to encourage people to create gardens that welcome them home  -- ours does that, but we've gotten used to the mulch pile next to the garage (hmm), so it does create a bit of mild anxiety.  But I'm a teacher, and sharing the process is what learning is about.

Gardens are always changing, and even though we love our natural landscape, there are always shrubs to manage, and trees that don't flourish, etc. And we're ready to do the next round of editing and planting.

My vegetable beds in the Piedmont are doing well, with lots of nice fall greens (mustards, arugula, lettuce, and kale) in spite of a herbivore that keeps eating the leaves of my red cabbage and broccoli plants.

harvested garlic in early summer
I'm looking forward to planting garlic, as soon as we get some rain, and it cools off a bit more.

I caught sight of a large Eastern Cottontail rabbit this evening as I was watering, and thought, hmm.  I was blaming woodchucks creeping up from their forest den behind the brush pile, or squirrels, led to herbivory by dry weather.  Who knows?  All are possibilities.  But I'm glad enough to share a bit, at this point, although it's getting tiresome.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Full moons

It's a delight to share full moons with others. 

It's a gift to follow the phases of the moon, however you can see it. 

At the Garden (where I work), I like to do a lovely walk through the meadows (at dusk), drop into the forested areas near the stream (as it becomes dark), and emerge up to the Arboretum just about the time the moon rises.

We catch glimpses of the full moon as it rises, through the trees, and if it's clear enough, see the full moon from the meadows.

It's magical.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fall equinox

I'm doing a Harvest Moon walk tomorrow evening, which should be nice.  And, it's always good to celebrate the first day of fall.

It's warm enough still (too warm, actually) that the nocturnal symphony (crickets, cicadas, tree frogs, and their ilk)  is still in full swing, although muted by droughty weather.

And, we need rain.  Planting (of shrubs, perennials or fall vegetables) requires lots of watering to properly get a planting place ready.  Even in the mountains, I've had to frequently drench my raised beds to keep up moisture levels.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 20, 2010

Restoring the ecology of your yard and garden

About 15 years ago, a garden board member mentioned Sara Stein's book Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards to me.

It was transformational to read.

She described the arc of her learning as a gardener from tidy ornamentals (the wildlife vanished) back to ecological gardening, and restoration.

I was reminded yet again of this coming back from a recent trip (to Garden Writers Association's annual meeting).

Returning into the Greenville-Spartanburg airport, visible through the small jet window, there were subdivisions, barren of any actual plantings, with red clay subsoil visible through the window.

Labels: , , ,