Sunday, July 28, 2013

Reliable References

Yesterday I noticed that my Beautyberry Bush was getting totally out of hand. It is planted in the border of the kitchen garden and is really taking up way too much room. To be honest, it is a case of the wrong plant in the wrong place. But hey, I really, really wanted a Beautyberry Bush and at the time that seemed to be the place for it. The question now is, when do I prune it? It gets these fabulous, bright purple/pink berries in the late summer/early fall, but also gets small flowers this time of the year. I grabbed my trusty book, The Pruner’s Bible, for the answer. This got me thinking about the books in my collection that I use the most. I have a considerable amount of gardening books...I do love books AND I love gardening, so it makes sense. However, there are three books that I refer to the most often and would be lost without them.

The American Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Gardening by editors Christopher Brickell and Elvin McDonald. This was my very first gardening book. I still refer to it at least once a year, if not more. It covers everything you could possibly want to know about gardening, from how to create a garden to how to maintain it. Want to know more about soil and fertilizers, coldframes and cloches, or water gardening? You’ll find it all in this hefty book. Reading it is like lifting weights.

An essential: “The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening.”

Month-By-Month Gardening in New Jersey by Pegi Ballister-Howells. I bought this book in 2005 and refer to it often. Sections include Annuals, Bulbs, Fruits, Ground Covers and Vines, Houseplants, Lawns, Perennials, Roses, Shrubs, Trees, Vegetables. Each section is broken down into months. For example, if you want to look up when to prune your roses, look up roses and browse the months and you will see that you should prune them in March, or April at the very latest. They have specific books for many states, if not all of them.

“Month-By_Month Gardening in New Jersey.”

The Pruner’s Bible by Steve Bradley. I bought this a few years ago because I had no idea when and how to prune certain shrubs in my yard. This book tells you when and how to prune pretty much any shrub you can think of, from Abelias to Wisteria. There are helpful diagrams and illustrations for each shrub type. This is the book I reached for when I wondered when I should prune my Beautyberry Bush. The only problem was, I didn’t know the Latin name and couldn’t find the common name in the index. I ended up looking up the Latin name online in order to find out that it is Callicarpa.

“The Pruner’s Bible” by Steve Bradley.

“The Pruner’s Bible” turned to the page on Callicarpa.

Out of all of my many gardening books, these are the ones that I use the most.

Pounding Rain

We have had several heavy rains and thunderstorms this year. Most of them seemed to happen in June and early July. Today we had another downpour. I tried to make a little video with my iPad, so let’s see if this actually works here. This is my first time trying to post a video. I took this while standing on the screened-in back porch, so parts of it are hard to see due to the screens being so wet.

Hmmmm, that wasn’t very exciting, was it? Kind of a let down really. Well, at least now I know I can put video on my blog. Maybe next time I’ll do a little walking tour of the garden. That will have to wait until after I’ve had a chance to weed, though!

Book: The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan

I’ve always kind of had this secret wish to be a farmer, or at least a homesteader, and live off the land. A farmer’s work is never done and boy do they work hard. When I was a kid I remember visiting distant relatives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who had farms and raised cattle. Maybe my desire to homestead has something to do with those memories of people long gone who raised everything they needed right there on their land. I don’t think Brian agrees with my idea of wanting to be a homesteader, yet maybe one day, if we move where they allow it, I can at least have a couple of sheep, goats or chickens.... One thing I know, I don’t think I will ever be without a vegetable garden. 

The Backyard Homestead (from Storey Publishing) is a basic guide on how to “produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre.” Everything from growing a vegetable garden to raising chickens and cows is in this book — or at least touched on. You can read about how to pick a good egg-laying chicken, make sauerkraut, milk a goat, harvest and save seeds, brew your own beer, make your own cheese, plant asparagus, prune blueberry bushes, grow hop vines, can applesauce, make apple cider or elderberry wine, dry herbs, grow and mill your own grains, raise your own Thanksgiving turkey, butcher beef or pigs (yikes!), make jerky or chorizo sausage, forage for food, tap a Maple tree for maple syrup, keep bees, and even more.

“The Backyard Homestead” book, edited by Carleen Madigan.

I have to admit that I don’t think I could ever eat an animal that I raised. Just saying. I’m sure there are plenty of people who grew up eating their animals, but I’m not sure I can eat something I’ve frolicked with. I eat mostly vegetarian as it is, and sometimes I eat seafood, even more rarely I eat chicken or pork. I haven’t had red meat in years. 

The vegetable and herb gardening sections of this book were mainly a refresher for me. One key thing I did learn, though, is that lettuce needs at least one inch of water per week in order to maintain a mild flavor. Finally I learned why my greens are usually bitter tasting! This year we had plenty of rain in the spring, so the greens were absolutely delicious. I also learned a trick to getting your pepper plants to produce more peppers: “When they start to blossom, spray the leaves with a weak mix of warm water and Epsom salts – a form of magnesium. The leaves turn dark green, and you will soon have an abundance of peppers.” I haven’t tried that yet, but really need to since I always have troubles getting my pepper plants to produce. There’s a section on how to freeze corn that I’d like to try, too. I had tried to grow corn one year, but I really don’t have the space for it. I buy my sweet corn from Hunters, a local farm market. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, they have THE best corn on the cob.

I found the sections on raising animals interesting, since I do hope that one day I will have at least some of my own farm animals. Eating eggs from your own chickens, using wool from own sheep, or making goat cheese from your own goat’s milk would be great – at least you would know EXACTLY where those products came from and how those animals were treated. There’s even a part in this book on how to build your own chicken coop.

“The Backyard Homestead” book, open to the section on chickens.

Here’s an excerpt from the section called “Turkeys for Thanksgiving” that I thought was interesting:
Traditionally, small farmers raised turkeys both for meat production and for pest control (gobblers are avid eaters of insects like the tobacco hookworm and the tomato hookworm.) By 1970, the production of turkeys had dramatically changed from small-scale farm production to large-scale confinement production on an industrial-type farm.

Today, industrial farms produce almost all of the 280 million turkeys required in the United States and Canada to meet the demand for holiday birds and turkey products ranging from turkey bacon to soup. Over 99 percent of the breeding stock, which is essentially held by just three multinational companies, is tied to merely a few strains of Broad Breasted White turkeys that can no longer breed naturally.

This movement toward industrial turkey production has left many of the old heritage turkeys, such as the Standard Bronze, the Bourbon Red, and the Narragansett, in trouble. In 1997, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) considered turkeys to be among the most critically endangered domestic animals and the most vulnerable to extinction.

Since that time, many of the heritage varieties have begun to make a comeback, thanks largely to interest from Slow Food USA*, which has encouraged small-scale growers to increase the numbers of these endangered birds. The irony is that by creating a market for rare breeds, these growers have been able to keep heritage turkeys from becoming extinct. 

Fascinating. I think Ben Franklin would be pretty upset if he learned that his pick for the national bird of the country was vulnerable to extinction at one point in time.

I had bought The Backyard Homestead because Carleen Madigan, the editor of the book, was doing a talk at Longwood Gardens in May as part of their Branching Out Lecture Series. Unfortunately, it ended up conflicting with the celiac walk in Baltimore that I have participated in every year for the past eight or nine years. I’m glad I still read it, though. Although I admit I took a break from it for awhile to read the book Succulent Container Gardens that I posted about previously. Will I ever actually be a homesteader? Eh, probably not. But maybe one day I’ll at least have a couple of small farm animals and my veggie garden to sustain most of my needs.

I think I’ll go make my own cheese press now (p. 314).

* Definitely check out the Slow Food USA website and blog. I had never heard of it before, but I’m diggin’ it. Seems like a great organization and the blog seems interesting. Just found an interesting post on fish emulsion and milk and molasses for nourishing the garden. I knew about fish emulsion, but milk and molasses is new to me. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tippy, the Bird...or Jasper

I think all gardeners feel a certain amount of stewardship for the land and for the animals that inhabit it, especially for those that inhabit our garden. With this in mind, I have a story to tell.

We had a really weird incident about a week ago. I came home from yoga class to find my two cats playing with a the house. How did it get in the house? I have no clue. I checked all windows and all seemed secure. Maybe it flew in when I opened the door to leave for class...who knows. I don’t really know birds very well, but I think it was a sparrow. It was the kind of bird that nests in the birdhouses that are attached to our shed. I was in a panic trying to find a way to get this bird away from Molly and Izzy, who were torturing it by playing with it. It was clear it couldn’t fly and it was trying to hop away from them. I managed to get them away from it and it went under the bed in the guest room. I shut the door until Brian got home to help me.

Brian managed to get it in a box, but we didn’t know what to do next. We couldn’t put it outside, injured and unable to fly, because we knew one of the many neighborhood cats would eat it. We called a local animal hospital and they suggested getting in touch with a local wildlife center/hospital. It was very late at night and we couldn’t call or take it to the wildlife hospital yet, so we put the little guy in the greenhouse, in the open box, to wait until morning. 

We woke up half expecting it to be dead, but there it was hopping around in the box and chirping. Brian said he named him Jasper. I said I named him Tippy. I wasn’t sure why I thought of Tippy, then I realized it is the name of the actress who played the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s AWESOME movie, “The Birds.” Her name is Tippi Hedren. Ha!!! Funny how the mind works. I ended up driving, way out of my way, to take Tippy/Jasper to the wildlife hospital at Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. With traffic, it took me about an hour and a half to get there and almost two hours to get home. All for this little sparrow.

I had to fill out a form and tell how I found it and what happened to it. The young girl there examined him quickly and determined that his wings were NOT broken, which was a surprise to me. This guy had been sitting in a box in my greenhouse all night and in my car on the way there without flying. She said he was either a fledgling still learning to fly or he had “cat scratch fever,*” which would slow him down a lot. (Sounds made up, right? I sure hope not.) She said they would give him an antibiotic for cat scratch fever, assuming that’s probably what it was, and that he should be able to fly again and would be ok. How ‘bout that! And here you thought this story would have a sad ending. I made a donation while there, since Cedar Run is non-profit. It was the least I could do for Tippy.

I wonder if your average person would have put the bird outside and let it fend for itself...I just couldn’t do that. Here was a bird that probably was born in one of our birdhouses, who probably ate out of the bird feeder in my garden, probably frolicked in my garden — I had a certain amount of responsibility for it. How it got in the house, I have no idea. I hope it never happens again. But I feel good that we did the right thing and Tippy/Jasper should be able to live a full, happy life. I wonder if he’ll find his way back to my garden.

* If this story has put the song “Cat Scratch Fever” in your head and you want to listen to it, YouTube has you covered.

Our Gardens are Reflections of Ourselves

I think whether we are aware of it or not, our gardens are a reflection of who we are. Every garden has a story, just like every gardener has a story. Maybe someday I will tell my garden story, the hows and whys I started gardening, but that’s really personal to me. I definitely think my garden tells something about my personality. For instance, I like borders. I have borders on every bed. My flower garden has a border of rectangular stones, my kitchen garden has a border of bricks. Yet I feel like my planting style, at least in the flower garden, is more relaxed and free-form. It’s very un-planned, unlike my kitchen garden when is very, very planned, from when I first started it, to every season when I decide what I will plant where. I have some clipped boxwood here and there, but I also have plenty of un-pruned, un-tamed plants. What does all that say about me? I guess it says that I like having control, but I also like my freedom and don’t want anyone telling me what to do.

I like visiting other people’s gardens. I get ideas from them and it’s also a glimpse into that person’s personality. It’s like snooping around their house or looking in their medicine cabinet. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has some events each year where you can tour private gardens. I usually do that, or this year I toured some private gardens through The Garden Conservancy Open Days program. Often, these garden tours are like seeing how the other half lives — expensive houses with expensive landscaping. If you have a landscaper do your yard then it doesn’t say much about you, unless maybe you helped plan it. To me, that’s kind of cheating — putting your house on a garden tour when you really had nothing to do with it. However, I think some people at least do some of the planting themselves, as well as maintenance. That’s at least putting a little bit of themselves into their garden. 

Lately, I’ve been doing some reflecting on where I’ve been and where I want to go from here. Would I change anything about my past? Some things no, but some things yes. However, would I be the same person I am today if I had done things differently? Probably not, just like my garden wouldn’t be the same garden I have today if I had moved things or planted different things. I am at a point where I’m fairly satisfied with my garden areas, in general. I finally got rid of all the overgrown areas and there’s a certain amount of logic, reason and beauty in the yard. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes get the urge to rip it all out and start all over again — make a big change, make it totally different.

Contradictions. It’s in me and it’s in my garden. What’s in YOUR garden?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Flower Garden in July

Wow, it’s still July and I am actually posting pictures from THIS month! Crazy. I actually took these TODAY and am posting them TODAY. Unheard of. I don’t expect this will be the start of a new trend, though. Sad, but true.

In my last post, I mentioned my Phlox David. I have tried at least four different other Phlox varieties in my garden over the years and this is the only one that has survived and continues to do well. It will occasionally get powdery mildew, but I spray it with an organic spray if that happens and then it’s fine. I like the pure white flowers. They practically glow in the moonlight. 

Phlox David

The purple coneflowers are seriously going to town right now. I really wish I could get a picture of the goldfinches that visit every morning, but they are very sensitive to noise and fly away whenever I try to capture them on film...or should I say digitally.

Purple Coneflowers.

These two different hydrangeas are doing pretty well. I have three others in the flower garden that are looking pretty fried from the recent heat.

Two different hydrangeas.

This is yet another hydrangea, along with the Black-Eyed Susan that is just starting to bloom.

Another hydrangea and Black-Eyed Susan.

I like sitting on the bench in the Kitchen Garden because it gives a good view of the flower garden. Here’s the view, but a little more zoomed in.

The flower garden in July.

I bought these two tall containers from Plow and Hearth earlier this year. They are supposed to be self-watering, however, they really just fill up with water and attract mosquitoes – and I don’t need any more mosquitoes than I already have. My plan is to drill some holes in the bottom to allow them to drain. The self-watering thing just isn’t working out. The red Cannas don’t seem to mind too much, but the variegated ivy isn’t liking all the water. Take a close look and you might spy a cross-eyed-looking Molly-cat sitting in her bowl on the back porch. (Check out the story of Molly’s bowl if you want to know why Molly is sitting in a bowl.)

Red Cannas and ivy in tall containers.

Spicebush Swallowtail

I am always fascinated by all of the different insects and animals that visit the garden. I spotted the hummingbird a couple of weeks ago, however, he is always much too quick for me to snap a picture. One of today’s visitors was a Spicebush Swallowtail. Swallowtails are almost as tricky to get a photo of as bees because, unlike other butterflies, they flutter their wings even when feeding. This one was a perfect beauty. It seemed to be really enjoying the Phlox David, which is the only phlox I have ever grown that seems to do well year after year in my garden.

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly on the white Phlox David.

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bees a Buzzin’

The other day, as I was walking through the garden checking on how things were holding up in this heat, I was suddenly surrounded by the hum of many, many bees. I was standing on the path in the flower garden that goes under the arch. The Purple Coneflowers are on one side and the Raspberry Wine Monarda are on the other side, along with a few coneflowers. I was literally surrounded by what seemed to be at least a hundred of those black and yellow bees. No honey bees, unfortunately. Don’t see many of those anymore. I tried to get some pictures, but the bees were so busy flitting about it was a bit difficult to capture the moment. Can you spot the bees?

With all the bees that I come across in the garden, I have never been stung by one. I mind my own business and they mind theirs and that seems to work out ok for all of us.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Through the Window

We have three birdhouses attached to the shed/workshop. We can see these through the windows in the family room. We have a kitchen table and chairs right by the window and often watch the birds at the birdhouses. Seems like there are always babies in at least one of them. Right now the babies are in the far left birdhouse. I took these pictures through the window, so they’re not great, but it shows the kind of activity we get to watch on a daily basis through the window. I wish I knew more about birds so that I could say what kind these are, but I don’t.

Baby birds waiting to be fed.

Mommy bird feeding baby birds.

Mommy bird taking  break and watching me suspiciously.

Better let them get back to their dinner. (No, technically those aren’t Christmas lights that we forgot to bring in. We leave little white lights on the shed year round....although, they’re kind of falling off there by the birdhouses because the birds like to sit on them.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Front Yard, Front Porch, and Back Steps

This is obviously my day to play catch-up on my blog! I took these shots a couple of weeks ago.

The Endless Summer Hydrangea in the front yard has been absolutely gorgeous this year. And soooooo blue! I feel like it was more purplish / lavender last year. The acidity of the soil must have changed in this spot. You can see my hanging Dragon Wing Begonia here, too. I like to use them in my hanging baskets because they do better than anything else I’ve tried on my mostly shady front porch.

Endless Summer Hydrangea and hanging Dragon Wing Begonia.

Endless Summer Hydrangea in the front yard.

I had to move my small pot of succulents from the front steps to the porch because of all the rain we were getting. It was drowning! The Coleus on the right is called Kong Mosaic. It’s a showy one with really large leaves. I have at least three different types of begonias in this shot, some variegated ivy and some Goldfinger Sweet Potato Vine.

Front porch plants.

A fern, more begonias, etc...I should be better at keeping track of these things! The flowering plant in the bottom center is Holanda Justicia – I know that much!

Front porch plants.

The steps to the back porch is a hot spot, so there’s some heat-loving plants here. Mostly different types of succulents, plus the big shallow bowls of bog and carnivorous plants.

Plants on the back porch steps.

Lots of herbs near the back porch for easy accessibility: Germander, Chives, Lemon Balm, and Mint (with a purple clematis on the trellis).

Germander, Chives, Lemon Balm, and Mint.

On the other side of the back porch steps are some more herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and sage, along with Green Velvet Boxwood, an iris and a “box” of succulents. Oh look, there’s Molly on the screened in back porch.

Herbs and such.

The Kitchen Garden in June...yes, June...

I posted my June flower garden pics, now it’s time for June veggie garden pics.

The kitchen garden as seen from the right back corner of the yard.

There were successes and there were failures, as always, however, I am still so happy I made this area of raised beds for my veggies (and some herbs). Starting from seed using row covers in this area has been very successful.

The kitchen garden as seen from the left back corner of the yard.

I only wish the neighbor would finish the gosh-darn fence so I wouldn’t have to look at his broken-down boat that sits there all the time.

The kitchen garden.

The greens have done especially well this year because we’ve had rain/thunderstorms almost every day for the past several weeks. I always wondered why my greens tasted bitter, then I read that they require a certain amount of water per week to keep them from being bitter. They must have gotten plenty of water because they have tasted great. I haven’t even had to put the sprinklers on for weeks.

Gourmet leaf mix, Bibb lettuce, and Romaine.

Squash and cilantro. This was taken before the cilantro bolted. No squash yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty soon.

Squash and cilantro.

Turnips, turnips, turnips! First year I ever planted them and they went to town!

Turnips and nasturtium.

We had lots of radishes in June. The cucumbers started to show up the end of June and they have been really delicious. Great addition to salads.

Cucumbers, nasturtium, radishes and tomato.

This bed was and still is looking pretty sad. My beets barely did much at all this year. My Gomphrena seeds didn’t do anything and even the nasturtium weren’t too happy in this bed. Come to think of it, the pole lima beans, sweet peppers, and Fairy Tale Eggplant aren’t looking very productive here either. I’m wondering if this bed is getting too much shade or maybe I need to add more compost to boost the soil.

Where are the beets????

Some cilantro reseeded itself in this bed from last year.  My Rainbow Swiss Chard isn’t doing as well as it did last year, but it’s ok. The Summer Savory is kinda weak here and the Table Queen Acorn Squash I planted is non-existent now. The Chervil seems to be doing ok, and so are the pole green beans.

Cilantro, Swiss Chard, Pole Green Beans and Chervil.

This bed has parsley, hot peppers, radishes, nasturtium, a tomato, and the turnips (which you can’t see in this shot.)

Parley, Hot Peppers, Radishes, Nasturtium, and Tomato.

I have three lavender bushes in the kitchen garden (used to have four, but one died due to too much shade). The lavender looked great in June, but now it’s not looking as healthy. I think it may be due to all the rain we have had.


The two u-shaped beds have the lavender, cosmos, sweet basil, garlic chives and sorrel. I never had sorrel before and I LOVE it in salads. It adds a nice “bite” to the salad.

Lavender, Cosmos, Sorrel, Sweet Basil and Garlic Chives.

A favorite plant that edges the kitchen garden – Heliopsis Summer Nights. Started to bloom in June and is a powerhouse of flowers right now. I don’t remember noticing the hairy bits on the stems before – check that out!

Heliopsis Summer Nights.

We planted this blackberry bush several years ago, before the kitchen garden was even there. It’s looking so healthy this year and has TONS of little berries forming. I hope this actually forms mature berries and we can eat them before the birds do. How exciting!

Blackberry bush.

Flower Garden in June

Well, here I go again, posting pictures of the garden a month late. Sigh...can’t seem to keep up.

The roses and catmint were the star of the show in early-mid June.

Flower garden in early-mid June.

Pink roses and small white/light pink roses.

We had lots of rain and thunderstorms in June. The roses took a beating.

Pink roses after some rain.

These roses really ARE this bright. The thorns on this bush are treacherous.

Magenta roses.

I never had delphinium come back for me until I moved here. They return every year now. Here they are just starting to bloom. You can see the Smokebush behind them. Last year I was worried my Smokebush wouldn’t survive, but thankfully it did and seems plenty healthy right now.

Delphinium and Smokebush.

The hydrangeas were blooming...and still are.


Pink hydrangea.

Purple hydrangea.

Purple hyrangea with daisies and delphinium in background.

The daisies showed their happy faces in June and I’m still enjoying them now.

Shasta daisies.

Then the purple coneflowers started to bloom. Not long after, the goldfinches arrived to eat the seed heads. I feel like they showed up early this year. I spotted two males and two females not long after they started to bloom.

Purple coneflower.

Purple coneflowers.

The Purple Coneflowers and Raspberry Wine Monarda attract the bees.

Purple coneflowers, monarda, and blue hydrangea.

Monarda and purple coneflowers in the flower garden.

This was taken from the kitchen garden looking towards the flower garden and shed/workshop.

The flower garden in June.

Due to my elbow issues, I have yet to finish this area behind the flower garden. I’m working on it slowly. There are some transplanted hostas, along with Christmas ferns, some Fanal Red Astilbe, and a rhododendron.

Behind the flower garden.

I added some Coreopsis Sunfire to the area on the left side of the yard that was cleared out last year. I felt like I needed more yellow in the yard and I love the dark red centers.

Coreopsis Sunfire.

I’ve been working on this shady area that is part of the left side of the yard that was cleared out last year. I added Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum ‘Variegatum’), Foamflower Sugar and Spice (Tiarella), and Rose Queen Bishop’s Hat (Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Rose Queen’) to this area.

Shady area near the kitchen garden.

So that was June. My goal is to actually post July pictures IN July! I think that was my goal for June, though, and I failed miserably.