Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter sunset

winter sunset view (from the deck)
Winter is not such an active gardening time (at least for me, at this point).  I did sow some lettuce and kale seeds under the mini-hoop house and my rigged-up glass house yesterday, though, as an experiment.

My gardening companion energetically cleaned up ivy along the lower slope of the ravine this morning, hauled off accumulated trash (this was below our neighbor's yard), and spread more leaves.  He and Woody clambered up and down the slopes, getting plenty of exercise in the process.

But that sort of 'gardening' is a bit too hard on my hands to make it worth joining in, although the up and down exercise is welcome.

Tim's made tremendous progress in reclaiming the ravine from invasives and adding all sorts of appropriate native trees and shrubs.  It's really quite amazing. We have two lovely large oaks (seen above at sunset) that set the tone, with lots of other interesting trees, too.  It's a good thing to be nudging the ravine back to a native hardwood forest.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Another window cold frame

It's been mild enough this winter not to need extra protection for most hardy greens (I collected arugula, mustards, and a lovely large leek this evening for part of dinner). 

So I haven't thrown the plastic over the bamboo hoops that are set up, but I did set up another window cold frame, to sow lettuces and spinach in (as soon as I manage to get some seeds up here in the mountains!  I knew I should have put in my winter seed basket for sowing, as well as cataloging purposes).

I haven't managed to get by and take photos of my gardening friend's much more elegant versions, but they're in my mind.  My first attempt on window cold frames will be updated when I'm back home in the Piedmont.

I've opted for a low tech (tacks and jute twine) method for attaching the windows together (so they're easy to take down and move or store).  I wish I'd been able to find smaller windows for the ends, but the solid panels (with openings) are OK for temps down into the 20°s, I think. 

And I'll be sowing seeds this week, too, as soon as I can get back over to Sow True seeds.

simple window cold frame

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy holidays

We've traveled for many years over the holidays - this means Christmas and New Years in the western world, however they're observed.  We're not religious, but respectful of those traditions, and celebrate the places that we've been on Christmas Eve and Christmas over the last decades or so, and are glad to remember Christmas present, too.

The last two years, we've been home in the mountains.  Last year, our old boy, Mocha, had a great time in the snow.  

I thought he was still hale and hearty, but my gardening companion seemed to think ( and knew) that it might be his last winter, so we stayed home with him.  So we had fun, and he enjoyed the heck out of the snow in Asheville and up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But we lost him last March after a sudden, odd illness.
Woody in stream
Our new boy, Woody, is a lovely fellow. He had a great day today (being admired) at the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate.

Rescued from less than optimal circumstance, he's a people's dog: everyone wants to pet him and enjoy him, and it's a gift we're glad to share.  But he's also a rescue boy, and worried to be away from us, so we've stayed home with him this winter, too.  We didn't want to leave him with our nice kennel folks for the month or so that we'd normally be away.

And it's lovely mild weather this Christmas-time, unlike last year.  So walking (of course, with Woody) is quite nice.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smothering English ivy

English ivy is a thug, basically.  It starts out as a hardy groundcover, low-maintenance, and evergreen.  But then it starts creeping up trees, becomes reproductive, and bam!

I remember English ivy from my graduate school days in the SF Bay Area (where it was rampant on campus).  As a traveler, I've seen it in its 'native' habitat in Tuscany (also looking quite weedy, probably after centuries of disturbance), climbing up every tree in the woodlands that we were driving by.

In the Eastern U.S, it's a total pest (and has been designated as such, officially, in the Pacific NW states of Washington and Oregon).

Hand-pulling is effective, but requires labor and time.  Herbicide-spraying (if you're willing to go that route) requires extra (commercial-grade) surfactants added to the herbicide, to overcome the waxy cuticle on the leaves.

But smothering with cardboard, mulch, and leaves is a longer-term solution, too.
ready to smother ivy
ready for leaves

My gardening companion, on a mission to recover the ravine forest below our mountain house, spent some time 'smothering' ivy and pulling it up, too, over the last couple of days.

Final result: leaves over cardboard

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Support regional seed companies

I've had fun learning about vegetable seeds, heirloom varieties, and their sources over the last 20 or so years that I've been a keen vegetable gardener.  My initial forays into tasty vegetables were supported by specialty catalogs, now morphed into LOTS of catalogs, both mainstream and specialty, some more interesting and useful than others.

I was delighted to discover a locally-based seed company (Sow True) a couple of years ago that distributed a variety of open-pollinated vegetables through local nurseries and markets in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I've been interested in the history of growing vegetables, heirloom varieties, and the practices of growing vegetables for the home garden for a long time (even before I started growing my one.  My parents were of the generation enamoured of frozen vegetables and 'convenience' foods, marketed to as time-saving and modern, so my family didn't grow vegetables, needless to say.

My mom, growing up with the hardscrabble farm gardens of my grandma in Northern California, was way too familiar with the hard work involved with growing and harvesting for winter-time storage to find it appealing.  But I thought my grandma's gardens and berry patches were magical, and loved to look at the canned vegetables and fruits in the pantry of her final house.

seeds ready for packaging
I was delighted to be able to visit the warehouse and retail office of Sow True this afternoon, and talk with co-owner Peter Waskiewicz and marketing and communications director Cathryn Davis Zommer.

The operation is efficient, and  interesting in that people-time is the key for processing their seed. 

seeds soaking prior to germination testing
Using community seed swap allocations helps them package both locally-grown and regionally-grown seed, along with seed from national OP producers with a minimal investment expense in equipment. And, I was impressed by the seed storage area (kept at 50°F for optimal seed longevity) and the tidy seed packing area. 

But the bottom line is that I've enjoyed growing their seeds (and eating the results) and fully support their commitment to regionally-produced seeds.   And now that I know that they have an easy-to-order website and a retail store in Asheville, I know where to get seeds all year round, not just when they're available on display at local nurseries and groceries. Woo-hoo!  I just wish I'd snagged some spinach and 'Winter Density' lettuce while I was there.  But I now know where to get more....

Why not check if there are regional seed producers nearby?  Many have been bought up in recent decades by the big players (think agribusiness), but there's been a resurgence in 'start-up'  seed companies like Sow True nationwide as well.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter view

I love the silhouette of this tree -- a open-grown oak below the Asheville Visitor's Center.

With the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance, its canopy is magical.

Oak on a winter day

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Southern Hawthorn (Crataegus viridus 'Winter King')

Seeing some wonderful small trees laden with deep-red fruits in a parking lot planting had me returning for a photo today.  These trees were part of an exceptionally well-done planting outside an upscale grocery. Admirable!

What had me puzzled initially is what the heck these trees were, and why aren't they planted everywhere?  They're that striking.

They turned out to be most likely our native Southern or Green hawthorn, Crataegus viridis, and probably the cultivar 'Winter King' based on the size of the fruits.  I have no idea why they're not more widely planted -- there must be 20 included in this parking lot planting, and they're amazing right now. 

I've seen one or two planted elsewhere here in the mountains, but obviously not often enough to be reminded of them.  They're apparently not heat-tolerant (zone 4- zone 7a), so Piedmont 7b must be too hot (either during the day or at night).

Parking lot planting of Crataegus viridus 'Winter King'

Crataegus viridus 'Winter King'
This is a nice account of the virtues of  Crataegus viridis 'Winter King'.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deer in town?

We're squarely in the middle of our small college town, not out in the suburban and exurban habitats that white-tailed deer have populated in recent decades. 

(And, through overpopulation, they've become downright pests, too, through much of the Eastern U.S).

deer grazing near the garden shed
But it's hunting season, and maybe these does were taking refuge. They enjoyed munching on winter annuals (chickweed and henbit), investigated my containers, checked out the main vegetable garden (largely empty this time of year, except for sorrel and leeks), and then were away.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Window box cold frame

a window-based cold frame
My results (on my first attempt) weren't pretty like my gardening friend's, but serviceable.

But I didn't need power tools.

I used nails and twine to secure the sides (so I can take it apart to store), and the top lies securely on the sides.

If I can find two taller end pieces (or the right-sized windows), it would look much nicer, but it seems functional.
windows and a electric screwdriver (not needed)

another low tech bamboo hoop house with plastic

I sowed some spinach and arugula seeds, and transplanted some lettuce.  We'll see.

I'm hoping that my second box (in a bed in the mountains) will look nicer, but that depends on matching the windows with the ends!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Surprisingly warm weather

It was downright balmy today, with the high about 60°F.  Remarkable for mid-December, but not unheard of.

The last two winters have been unusually cold and snowy; maybe this winter will be milder than usual. Weather extremes seem to be the pattern that climate change is bringing, but gardeners are used to extremes, if we're just sensible.

What we plant needs to make sense, for our climate and weather patterns, whatever they may be. 

I met with a fellow today from central Texas (my hometown is Austin).  They've had horrendous drought and heat over the last couple of seasons.  There's no point in planting hydrangeas or hostas there, to be sure, nor was there ever a reason to do so.

I was looking through a waterwise gardening book by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden this afternoon, and was reminded of all the great Texas and Southwestern plants that thrive in drought-conditions.  Whether most will survive in our droughty Southeastern climate depends on their tolerance for wet soil over winter (in mostly clay, amended subsoil gardening conditions).

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Window cold frames

A gardening friend of mine made some wonderful cold frames from old wooden windows. 

They looked like jeweled terrariums, with paned windows providing four sides and a top. I didn't have my camera at the gathering where I saw them a couple of weeks ago (photos to come), but they were totally inspiring, and were filled with spinach and cilantro.

I've been on a window search since. 

After unfruitful excursions to a couple of Habitat 'Restores' in Seneca, SC and Asheville, NC and several antique stores, I finally found some matching windows (double-paned) at a Habitat store in Anderson, SC. 

Along with 4 end walls of the same height, I scored 6 windows, to make 2 window box cold frames.  Only $24 for all of them, too. Woo, hoo!

My (electric) screwdriver is charging now.  I'm hardly apt at anything like this, but my gardening friend's setup made it look possible, even with my minimal skills. 

All I need is some braces to fasten the windows together, and then hinges for the lid.  With a drill and a screwdriver (my only power tools), I should be good to go.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A warm fall

Now in early December, the shortest day of the year is just a couple of weeks away.  Our shortest day still has almost 10 hrs of daylight (we're under 10 hours for just a couple of weeks), so it's not that dark.

But what's been remarkable this fall is how mild it's been.  We've had a few light frosts, a couple of heavy frosts, but not a killing freeze even yet.  This mild fall has been experienced throughout the Eastern U.S., even as the midwest has had early cold, and in some cases, unusual snows.

Today, balmy humid air was pushed out by a cold front (with accompanying rain). We're approaching normal rainfall for the year, but it's been unevenly distributed, so we've had much longer periods without rain (August and September) than normal, with warmer temperatures, too.

It makes me wonder about the conventional rubric of the 'first frost date' as a date on the gardening calendar -- it's all about how cold, how sustained, and what soil temperatures are, not just about being 32°F as an air temperature.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trees planted (with volunteer help)

 Planting day for the Clemson Child Development Center was last Saturday. 

Here were just a few images from that day.  (I was busy planting and organizing and didn't have a lot of free photo time!).  The good news was that we had very nice large trees;  the challenge was that we needed equipment to plant them.  Thanks to a delightful volunteer from the Clemson United Methodist Church, we had that equipment, and he knew how to use it.

Holes ready for trees
The first tree to be planted
Teamwork made the difference
One of the planted areas
It was a totally rewarding experience.  And we'll be mulching the planted beds in the weeks to come, and I'm looking forward to seeing how these trees do!  It's hard to transplant larger trees, but they make a instant difference in the landscape.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tree planting

Clemson horticulturist Tim Johnson 'augering' a planting site
I became involved in a tree planting project somewhat by accident, but it's turned out to be quite rewarding. I was asked by a friend (who shares local food interests) if I could suggest some shade trees for the Clemson Child Development Center (which shares a building with the Clemson ARTS Center, and the Clemson African-American Museum).  Sure, I said.

The building ( I think) was the former black elementary school many years ago, re-purposed later for K-1 (?) as the Morrison Annex (to Morrison Elementary School), now replaced by Clemson Elementary School.  In any case, the building has been there for a long time.

Perimeter trees were planted at the time it was last renovated, but there were still no trees surrounding the playgrounds for the CCDC.

I sketched out some ideas, money for trees was raised, and somehow, we're going to plant 6 oaks, 5 dogwoods, 5 oakleaf hydrangeas, and 5 blueberries on Saturday and creating mulched beds around them.   Woo-hoo!  Somehow, I think, the spark was provided to make this happen. Synergy.

I ended up spending a lot more time that I'd imagined talking with folks, arranging trees and the augering of holes (thanks to the City of Clemson's horticulturist), suggesting mulch, etc.-- all relatively easy, really.

Augered holes for an oak, a couple of dogwoods, and two oakleaf hydrangeas

It's definitely reminded me how simple actions can make a difference.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meyer lemons

I was the pleased recipient of a Meyer lemon tree (in a container) when my friend CEN moved north. 

4 Meyer lemons
I'm not sure it's flourished exactly, but it's done fine outdoors in the last two summers, with a bit of fertilizing and pruning out offshoots of the kaffir lime rootstock (I need to do this again).  And, it's spent indoors in the winter, with sun exposure through a sunny southern window. (I need to get a decent photo during the day).

It's produced 5 lemons this year, 4 of which have turned a lovely shade of yellow already.  Woo-hoo!  The fifth is still green, but I'll see what it does.

They're not yet fragrant, but I'll wait a bit more before using them in something special.  (This account details some good suggestions).

This post (note the arrow) shows the lemon in May 2010 - it produced four lemons last year.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011


Woody watching a red squirrel
Our young Golden is a master at spotting and stalking squirrels (not that he'd ever catch one).

Woody taking a rest, but still alert
The red squirrels ('boomers' for their warning calls) fascinated him.  He peered at them for quite awhile.

Woody and me on the trail
Delightful to have him be so exuberant and confident on this trail, as it was his first real hike (he was tentative then, as a rescue fellow without experience of trails and the natural world).

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Hike at Craggy Gardens

Woody waiting
Woody on the trail

We had a lovely hike at Craggy Gardens off the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning.  It was a clear, still and warm day, most unusual for Craggy, which is more likely cool (or cold) and windy.

A follow-up excursion to Pinnacle Peak found folks hanging out enjoying the view in warm sunshine. Wow!  Normally, they'd look at the 360° view (whatever they could see of it) and scurry back down. Today, it was wonderfully clear.  And the air was still and warm. Perfect.

Seep with icicles

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Leaves are gold

You can never have too many leaves, I tell folks in classes.  But our neighbors in the Piedmont and the Mountains keep putting them out.

Grab them.  They're gold.
Collected leaves;  there are more to collect!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A fall vegetable garden planting

I didn't post about helping a group of students plant fall vegetables early this fall.  It's just part of what I like to do.

They have a courtyard, with small planting spaces, with full sun only in mid-day.  They're a great group - LIEF students, the acronym corresponding to something environmental.

So I was delighted to see a gallery of photos on their Facebook page. I probably wouldn't have noticed but my artist friend Ellen, founder of the Rensing Center, 'tagged' the gallery.  Woo-hoo!  Thanks, Ellen.

What a nice group of students, and I hope they've been eating their greens...

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Old Southern apples

Malus domestica
The Slow Food Clemson University group hosted a delightful heirloom apple celebration this afternoon, marking the planting of a collection of 5 varieties of South Carolina heirloom apples, among them, Red June, an Edisto Island selection (read coastal) that ripens early. 

The whips came from Century Farm Orchards, a NC nursery focused on heirloom apples.

The event was at the Student Organic Farm, where 10 trees are planted.  Ten more are slated for the upper part of the Heirloom Garden at the South Carolina Botanical Garden.

Apples are a venerable fruit, having traveled from their native western Asian homeland (where larger and tastier fruits were selected - through evolutionary time - by Asian black bears) along trade routes, and then taken with settlers throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.

Arriving in colonial America, apples were planted from seed, but around 1800, grafted varieties became much more popular. 

It was fitting that the author of Old Southern Apples, Creighton Lee Calhoun, had selected the apples to plant, and was there this afternoon to provide his thoughts.  He's one of the last descendants of the family that founded Clemson University through the gift of Fort Hill, a 19th century plantation, to the State of South Carolina.

The trees that were planted are semi-dwarf and will reach 15-18 feet tall. 

In the Piedmont, larger trees fair better in our summer droughts, apparently, and will do better in the long term than the smaller dwarf varieties popular in backyard gardens.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter vegetable gardening

I'm a bit behind (we had a medium hard frost overnight), but I'm ready to put plastic over bamboo and river cane supports to create low hoop tunnels. 

Arundinaria gigantea is one of our native bamboos in the SE US, and its young canes make lovely supports, as they're flexible and an attractive purple green color.

river cane hoops ready for protection
But young canes of Asian bamboo (overly robust where planted around here), work well too. 

When green, they're flexible, and have the advantage over PVC pipe of being sustainable (that is, biodegradable) and attractive.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Local food and growing lentils

I was at an interesting food forum today, focused on discussion of promoting connections between growers and consumer, farm to table, etc.  I was encouraged by the representation of interests of the folks that came, from SC Dept. of Agriculture to CU Extension to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to local producers, the Clemson Area Food Network, and the Upstate Locavores, among others.

I have only a slice of my professional hat in this, but a lot of what I'm interested in as a natural gardener (at least the food side) is involved in good food, preferably local (as from my own garden and kitchen).

And as a cook, eater of whole foods, keen vegetable gardener, and supporter of local food and local farmers, I'm interested in helping promote an interest in our local farmers and their products, and increasing awareness of how we could be growing a lot more food (diversity-wise) locally than we're currently doing.

So I was glad to be a part of this gathering.

A side conversation about growing beans (my artist friend Ellen grew some great-sounding Italian heirlooms that she'd brought back from Italy, she said) and lentils were brought up.  

Lentils were hard to grow in our climate, I suggested, remembering looking this up after returning from India a few years ago, and wondering about growing them.  Lentils were everywhere in their markets.

Here's a bit more about that, from NC State's website, courtesy of Dr. Jeanine Davis and her Q & A page,
Q RICHLEA LENTILS. I was approached about growing Richlea lentils. What are they and can I grow them in eastern North Carolina? I've never seen lentils growing around here. Do you know why?
A The Richlea is a very desirable lentil. It is a medium green lentil. I used to live in the heart of lentil and dry pea country in the Palouse region of Washington State. I was surrounded by lentils!
Take a look at slides 1, 5, and 6 in this little presentation to see where lentils, peas, and chickpeas are grown in this country and what the terrain looks like:

Lentils are already big business in these states: In other words, there is no shortage.

I think the main reason we do not have a lentil industry in the Southeast is because it is too hot, humid, and wet. Lentils are adapted to cool, semi-arid areas of the world. High humidity and rainfall reduce yield and seed quality. Where I lived, we got about 12 inches of rain a year, and that came in the winter. And there was no humidity.  (Bold is mine, lkw). 

Doesn't sound like North Carolina, does it? Drought and high temperatures can also seriously reduce yields. The plants will not tolerate even short periods of flooded or water logged soils.So, I'm sure that someone could grow some lentils here if they really wanted to. They would probably be successful some years, but probably most years they would get low yields and poor quality. Here is some general lentil production information:

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Never too many leaves?

We have an abundance of leaves already, but my gardening companion still is gleefully collecting nice large bags of dry oak, maple, and hickory leaves. 

He's selective (no bags with excessive twigs, or trash, or yard debris), so we've got lots of treasure to distribute in our woodland forest (developing) and to compost (in the bags) to amend planting pockets for woodland herbs.
leafy treasure

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

A fall street planting

Street planting in front of The Junction, River Arts District
This photo doesn't do justice to the striking combination of tans and browns in one of the most unusual and striking street plantings I've seen in a while. A bald cypress is the anchor, surrounded by clusters of an ornamental grass, with the dark contrast from the spent seed heads of Rudbeckias. It was amazing in the late afternoon light.

By the time I returned with my camera, the light was a bit dimmer, so the browns were less vibrant.  We'd been poking around on the River Arts District Stroll, not something that I thought would be a photo op.

These are new street plantings in the River Arts District (Asheville, NC). A formerly industrial district, it's now a vibrant area of studios of working artists.  I'm going to find out who's the designer. Asheville Green Works, a local non-profit devoted to greening the city is located across the street, so I imagine they're involved, but the design is definitely something out of the ordinary.

Street planting in front of the building housing Asheville Green Works and numerous studios

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall to (almost) winter

Coming up the Blue Ridge Escarpment, the glorious oranges and reds in the foothills dimmed to patchy spots of yellow and red (Southern sugar maple) and a few final scarlet oak leaves.  It definitely felt like the transition from fall to winter, especially since a cold front was pushing through.  Stopping to take a picture of Table Rock (still surrounded by brilliant fall color), there was a beginning of a chill in the air.

Behind our house in the mountains, the ravine forest is brightened by two large yellow sugar maples, and the final color from the young ones in the understory.  The Japanese maple across the street is totally scarlet.

And it was below freezing overnight.  The sugar snap peas that I harvested were delicious (but an errant woodchuck has eaten all of the cole transplants in our absence - broccoli, kale, and collards, along with most of the parsley, and some of the pea shoots).  Hhrmph.   At least s/he left us some mustards and mesclun mix, and, of course, didn't bother the leeks!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

More fall color

study window view
The views from my study window and out to the side garden were stunning this morning. 

The dogwoods are deep red, the yellows of sassafras and ginkgo persist, etc.

side yard (garden) view

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall color

Fall color at the South Carolina Botanical Garden
It's been another glorious fall, in terms of color.  The extended season, with cold snaps, then sunny warm days, has resulted in glorious reds, maroons, and oranges.

We haven't yet had a hard frost, so the leaves just keep hanging on!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Plant a Row for the Hungry

Foothills MG vegetable garden
A devoted Master Gardeners of the Foothills group has been growing vegetables all summer and fall in the Heirloom Vegetable Garden site.  It's resulted in well over 600 lbs. of produce to our local food banks.

In the spirit of the Garden Writer Association initiative, I've titled this Plant a Row for the Hungry -- they've been encouraging this for years.  But lots of groups are doing this;  we have a lot of open space in our cities and towns that could be used to grow food. Often, it's devoted to lawn.

But look at the fall plantings they've made.  What a lovely, productive garden!

a mix of greens, broccoli, and a final few peppers

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Atlanta Botanical Garden

A delightful visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden last weekend included giving an evening talk (my gardening companion) and doing a program about native plants and native woodland gardens on Saturday (both of us).

Happily, our visit included some wandering around the Garden and a behind the scenes visit to their outstanding conservatories and conservation greenhouse with Conservatory and Conservation Director Ron Determann.

And we had a chance to interact with a great group of participants as well as other staff.

ABG is a class act, and has been nicely redeveloped and recently expanded (in terms of access) to now include the Storza Woods (through the Canopy Walk).

This expansion has included a new visitor center and entrance, a parking deck that's a model of how to do one, and a multi-use education facility since we'd visited last.

I've been a member for years (I like to support nearby public gardens) and was glad to renew and upgrade our membership to a dual one on this visit.

If you're in Atlanta, take time to visit. It's a special place, part of Piedmont Park in mid-town Atlanta.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall color

An email today describing a shaggy garden had me thinking today. 

view towards front woodland
Hmm, our garden is a bit 'shaggy' too -- but maybe it's just a little bit 'wild' and not manicured...

fall chairs
Yes, it definitely needs editing, and cleaning up, after a summer season away, and not so much time yet this fall.

porch corner
But it's still pleasing, and this afternoon was glorious, with fall color and late afternoon light.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cricket songs

Crickets were singing as I went out to the grocery store this evening.  I don't know what species they were, but they were noteworthy, as we've had frost on the ground the last few mornings.

I wondered if perhaps they'll be the last night singers of the season.  The cold snap followed (and accompanied) the last of the monarchs and a final hummingbird on Oct. 24.

Fall color is lovely now in the Piedmont (in the Southern US).  The clear yellows of the hickories, reds and oranges of the maples are evident, and the rich reds and tans of the oaks - not to mention the scarlet of sourwood and sumac!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter vegetable gardening

I'm planning on winter greens this year.  Yes, I've already planted kale and collards (as well as broccoli and brussel sprouts), but I'd like to try to carry over some less hardy winter greens (lettuce, spinach and mustards) with a bit of protection, especially in the piedmont, where woodchucks and squirrels like to be herbivorous.

In some years, winter vegetables are easier, but the last two winters have been unusually cold, apparently due to arctic air flowing south as the arctic regions themselves are warmer.  Hmmm.

After trying to figure out how best to provide the small-scale protection needed (think low hoop tunnels, etc.) in the satellite garden, while still looking half-way decent and not requiring carpentry skills that I don't have, I realized that I can use my vinyl-coated tomato cages, fastened with 'earth staples' and covered with plastic to create nice rectangle-shaped protection.  Aha!

satellite garden beds ready to plant/cold frame with greens and leek seedlings
The beds are ready now, after dispatching the (almost) last of the tomato vines, and I'm ready to plant tomorrow late afternoon!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rain garden planting

rainstorm prior to planting
We've got a small area of roof and a larger area of compacted lawn served by a created rain garden adjacent to our education building (at the South Carolina Botanical Garden).

Notice the stream of water entering off the pathway!

Our recent rain garden planting included a number of full-sun perennials that can tolerate periodic inundation, as well as droughty periods.

They're listed below, but my message, as the plant choice person, is that you need to know the conditions of your site, when choosing plants for a 'rain garden' which after all, is nothing more than a well-prepared perennial bed (and equivalent to a nice bit of natural vegetation/native plant community).

plants ready for planting
laid-out plants
Here's a look at what it looked like through the planting process.

after planting and before mulching

Plants used in the rain garden:
Iris virginica
Symphyotrichum novae-anglaie (Purple Dome) 
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ 
Solidago rugosa  ‘Fireworks’ 
Vernonia noveboracensis
Muhlenbergia capillaris  Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’
Chrysogonum virginianum
Vernonia lettermanii
Ruellia brittonia

And a bit more about the planning process was in

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