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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

We have a wonderful aster blooming now in our front meadow garden in the mountains.

It's an Eastern US native (formerly Aster oblongifolius, now Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).   Asters have been split up into three genera now, following modern taxonomic techniques, and their new generic names sound unfamiliar, but are accepted.

The flowers on these plants are currently covered with honeybees, bumblebees, and butterflies, and they make a wonderful addition to the fall-flowering asters to use in gardening, as they're low and spreading.  This looks like a great plant!

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Friday, September 17, 2010


Moon flower vine on power pole
I planted morning glory and moonflower seeds at the base of our power and telephone poles and lines in the mountains.

They've flourished, to no surprise, and the morning glories have been lovely.

But the moonflowers have just started blooming in the last weeks, attracting night-flying sphinx moths and other night-flyers.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Raised bed gardening

One of the first gardening activities I did back 'at work' today was helping plant and get ready to plant two raised beds at the Clemson Child Development Center. One is for the 2 and 3-yr olds; the other is for the 4 and 5-yr olds.

This is a grant-funded activity, but supported by volunteers.  I'm there in my 'official' capacity, but am donating all the plants and seeds personally.

It was such fun to get the potting mix ready, mixed with sustained release organic fertilizer and mushroom compost.  Then we helped the kids dig small holes, as I showed them how to plant the collards, broccoli, and lettuce transplants, and sow radishes and carrots.

A great afternoon.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Green gardening

Our garden welcomed me home after a week in Texas, first visiting family in Austin, but most of the week spent at the Garden Writers Association annual conference in Dallas.  The cool greens and yellows in the perennial borders, the big trees, the pocket lawn framed by perennials, not to mention a flourishing array of fall greens was heartening and the songs of singing crickets are loud outside the open window.

There were interesting gardens in Dallas, to be sure, and wonderful educational sessions, but the meeting took place in a huge conference hotel at the end of downtown.  Being indoors in windowless rooms for long spells of sitting each afternoon is not my idea of fun, no matter how interesting.  I attended every session, however, and found it well worth the time and effort (and personal expense).

Mornings and afternoons spent on garden tours don't provide enough of an antidote to real 'green' though, as the gardens we visited were often extravagant, some totally over the top, and frequent devoid of any clue as to the inspiration of the gardener.  They were billed as showing us the 'Big D,' however, and certainly delivered on that.  Sustainable, they weren't, with the exception of a wonderful schoolyard vegetable and wildlife garden (at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School's Stonewall Gardens), flourishing now with private support, following school system budget cuts.

A delightful surprise was the Dallas Arboretum, which I'd thought of as a primarily display-oriented garden in the past.  They were enormously gracious hosts, providing a lovely reception and dinner for us, but the gardens were a treat, in a great setting.

I took lots of photos, but they kept us so busy, there was hardly a time to make a post!  Hopefully, I'll be able to add a few things along the way.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

A Japanese Garden: soothing colors and textures

An unexpected outing to Ft. Worth Botanic Garden's Japanese Garden brought a fresh awareness of texture, form, and shades of green.

In this extraordinary garden, plant shapes, foliage texture, water, and rock create a harmonious and restful place.

Color is not the point; its peacefulness is grounded in green foliage.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Gardens, traveling, and challenges

Heading off to attend the Garden Writers Association annual conference in Dallas, I took a pre-conference detour to Austin, Texas, where I grew up. 

Austin is a great city, but not the place that I remember.  

My mom's house (our family home) was in Northwest Austin, but my dad (and his wife) and my sister (and her husband) now live well outside of anything that I'd call 'in Austin' today, outside the Highway 360 loop.

Lobelia cardinalis along Hill Country Stream
I mention this in talks; where I rambled as a young teenager, poking around in natural landscapes, is now completely developed.  From where our family home was, once open space, is filled with houses to where my sister lives, a considerable distance away.

But, I was encouraged by the sense of place that many residential and commercial landscapes had. 

Central Texas sees the convergence of the Edwards Plateau,  black land prairie and other ecosystems.  It makes a great mix, both for vegetation and wildlife.

And a visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was an encouraging reminder of the power of native plants.  I've been a member for many years, but the last time I'd visited their site was about five years ago, on tour with a Botanical Society of America conference, as best as I remember.

 an inspiring wildlife pond
It looks great now, and I was totally impressed.  I loved all of the landscapes around their historically appropriate buildings. And the plantings, mature now, are wonderful.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Fall vegetable gardening

I'm doing another three-season vegetable gardening program tomorrow, this time for our Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Amazingly, 24 people are signed up - a remarkable number, it seems to me, and totally encouraging as interest in vegetable gardening!

In my own vegetable garden, my beds are turned, lots of cool-season vegetable seeds are sown, and I've got flats of lettuce mix, greens, and arugula going.

I'm plotting with my fellow garden educator about growing fall greens in an unheated (and unused) hoop house at the garden where I work.  Hmm, that sounds like fun!

We actually have two hoop houses as possibilities (in our after-school greenhouse, my Sprouting Wings colleagues have added water containers painted black, to provide radiant heat, so it may be more congenial than the totally unheated hoop house.)

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

It's been a good weekend for gardening, glorious weather here in the Southeastern U.S.  I've spent a lot of time tidying up, planting fall vegetables, and getting ready to be away, yet again.

a bumblebee magnet
A quick trip up to the mountains late last week had me harvesting beans and tomatoes, but more importantly, admiring the wealth of native bumblebees visiting the Sedum 'Autumn Joy' that's in the middle of our sedum bed.  In flower just for a short while, it's amazing when the flowers are open.  The flower heads were covered with bees of all sizes.

Back in the Piedmont, the bank of Sedum in front of the visitor center (at the botanical garden where I work) was covered with butterflies (buckeyes, tiger swallowtails, sulfurs, etc.)

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Garden design thoughts

Work conundrums have gotten in the way lately of enjoying the magical morning light, the bounty of the vegetable garden, and experiencing the joy of gardening. 

But, preparing for a class about mixed borders, I made note of a point in Ann Lovejoy's excellent book about garden design (Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School).  She wrote about how gardens were a process, not something to be finished, in much more elegant prose than what I'm remembering.  This book is one of my favorites, actually;  it's wise about sustainable gardening, but equally wise about creating a garden that suits you.  And isn't that the point?

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