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Monday, October 30, 2006

Green Fingers

I don’t like TV shows or movies that are ‘purposefully’ scary and I’ll admit it. Growing up, I avoided watching shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and definitely tried to avoid movies like Halloween, though I did go and see it in college. Yes, occasionally I’ll get talked into watching what I consider to be a scary movie, but I don't like doing so.

My idea of a good show to watch for Halloween is “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.

See the pictures of the pretty pumpkins? My sister and her husband grew them and said I'd be getting one IF they had one left over. But, I think the one left over rotted or something like that, so I'll be using my old stand-by FAKE jack-0-lantern for Halloween.

But I disgress from the subject at hand...

Since I don't like scary shows, I don’t know how it came to pass that I would watch an episode of the TV show Night Gallery from the early 1970’s and remember it even to this day. I think I watched it because it was about a gardener, and I couldn’t help myself. I recall that I was pretty spooked by it. Still today I can recall a specific line from this particular episode…

“Everything I plant grows”.

Anyone else remember this episode? It was called “Green Fingers”.

In this particular episode, there was a seemingly nice, old gardener who had a quaint little cottage and garden that she tended. She claimed she could get anything to grow, including kindling. Then a big, bad developer wanted her land and she refused to sell it to him, saying it was all she had and she wasn’t leaving it. Well, he was just as determined to get her land, so he had someone kill her. You heard her scream, but they didn’t actually show the murder. You just knew they had killed her.

But she fooled them. Before they got there to kill her, she cut off her thumb and planted it and it grew into guess what? Her! I think the episode ends showing her sitting in a rocking chair on her porch because…

“Everything I plant grows, even me”.

Happy Halloween

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A-Chipping and A-Shredding

Guess what? Now that I am shredding all the plant debris from my fall clean up, I don’t think I will even fill my three compost bins. And, I am worried I will become one of “those people” who take their neighbors’ plant debris in an effort to get more material to compost. Why? Because I love compost.

But I will fight that urge. The neighbors are probably already wondering what I am up to as I roll my chipper shredder out of the garage and back to the garden to spend a few happy hours shredding and chipping plant debris.

This afternoon, I topped off a beautiful day of working outdoors with some chipping and shredding. I cleaned up some birch branches from my neighbor’s tree that fell over in the wind a few weeks ago. Oops, did I say I was not going to become one of those people who goes around the neighborhood to find more plant debris? I'm not, really, I just couldn’t resist those birch branches. See how nice they look in the picture, so ready to be chipped up?

No, I did not chip up the main branches... too thick and really too pretty to chip up. They might be useful for a wood crafter to do something with.

Anyway, when I was done with the birch branches, I cut down some perennials around the grape vines and sent those through the shredder.

I’ve got a pretty good system going now. I lay out a tarp, set the chipper shredder on it, then shred up a pile of plant debris onto the tarp, then carry the tarp with the shredded material to the compost bin and dump it in. I have figured out what plant material to send through the top chute, and what sticks to send through the side chute. Now I can just take the tarp and chipper shredder around by all the flower beds, cut down the spent flowers, chip and shred it all right there on the spot, and then move on to the next area.

I think my clean up will be done in no time at all.

But, what if I don’t fill my compost bins?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pear Trees - Not All Created Equal

My neighbors on each side each have a flowering pear tree (Pyrus calleryana) in their front yards. I’ve noticed significant differences in them, so I took pictures of them the other day.

One has dark red foliage now and a more rounded shape.

The other pear tree, which I helped select and plant, is the variety ‘Cleveland Select’ . It is still as green as can be. If it behaves the way it has in other years, the leaves will change colors slowly and drop all the way through Christmas. Then they just kind of blow away all winter.

The other odd thing about the neighbor’s unnamed variety of flowering pear tree is there are a couple of branches where the leaves haven’t changed colors at all. You can see them in the picture. Wonder why? Perhaps the tree is under some kind of stress? It leans a bit, so they’ve got a wire attached to it to try to pull it back upright. I think for this large of a tree, they won’t have too much success. It has had wires pulling on it for several years now, without much movement.

The other tree (‘Cleveland Select’) has a good shape tree shape with no pruning. It flowers nicely in the spring, though you don’t want to get too close, as pear trees are not known for their flower fragrance. Well, actually, they are known for their fragrance, but not in a good way. It’s kind of a funny, odd smell, but it only lasts for a few days.

It does make a difference which variety of pear tree you plant!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Garden for Your Sanity

Following receipt of a comment from Gloria regarding the book, 'A Woman's Hardy Garden’ by Helene Rutherford Ely, I had an urge to explore this book further. Fittingly, Gloria left her comment on this posting about old gardeners.

M. Sinclair-Stevens has this book listed on her blog, Zanthan Gardens, under the heading “instructional”, which is where Gloria found it.

I found this comment from the book most illuminating:

“If the rich and fashionable women of this country took more interest and spent more time in their gardens, and less in frivolity, fewer would suffer from nervous prostration, and the necessity for the multitude of sanitariums would be avoided.”

Need I say more? We must garden for our very sanity, even if we aren’t rich or fashionable!

Lovely Vegetable Garden Now a Memory

Lovely vegetable garden now a memory, how did I do this year? Please indulge me with a few questions for my vegetable garden.

Why were there so few green beans? I planted a 4’ x 8’ bed with two varieties of bush green beans (‘Contender’ was one of them) and elsewhere in the garden I added a teepee of pole beans (‘Kentucky Wonder’). From all this, I got just one good picking worth of green beans. I do know that part of the problem was the voracious appetite of the rabbits, but I overcame that by covering the beans with white cloth until they had reached a size that I thought was big enough to withstand some bunny nibbling. But why would pole beans yield almost nothing, other than lush green growth? Too much fertilizer?

Is it worth it to try to grow corn in a small garden? I was concerned that I would not have enough corn for pollination, and it turns out my real problem was that I didn’t get good ear formation. I had overcome what I was taught growing up, that you need a big corn patch to get any decent corn and taken the plunge. My reward? The seed company said I planted the corn too close together, which is why I didn’t get good ear formation. Then, on the ears that did form properly 95% were attacked by corn smut. I got two clean ears, and then maybe 4 more that had corn ear worm. I removed the darn worms, one per ear, and ate the corn anyway. I clearly need to decide if it is worth planting two raised beds in corn next year!

How can I get some tomatoes earlier than mid-late July? It seems no matter the variety, the 1st tomato ripens around July 20th. I planted ‘Early Girls’ just to get earlier tomatoes, not for the taste, but my 1st tomato was not one of those, it was a ‘Brandywine’. In fact, the ‘Early Girls’ seemed to produce as late into the season as any other tomato. The big surprise of the tomatoes was a new-to-me heirloom variety ‘German Johnson’, which I liked so well that I decided to try to save some seeds from it.

Some of my other lessons from the vegetable garden…

Clearly, raised beds is the way to go. I never have to till the beds and they dry out faster in the spring. So, the only weather worry I have in the spring is around frost. Even a day or two after a rain, I can generally spade up and plant a raised bed. I can also easily weed one or two beds at a time and so the whole garden looks nicer.

I shouldn’t plant the flowers in the back of the garden. I plan to move those up near the front because I think I will enjoy them more, and be more likely to cut them to bring into the house. In the back behind the corn and tomatoes, they were a bit lost and not allowed to do what they do best, add color and beauty.

I should plant fall vegetables. I got kind of lazy toward the end of the season and didn’t try to grow any late season lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc. In the spring, I can’t wait to get out and plant them, but I am less inclined to do so in August. I have the ideal situation for it with the raised bed, because by then, a few beds are cleared and just begging to grow something.

Home grown always taste better. I will always have a vegetable garden. Always.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sugar Maples and Tree Surgery

If I take an alternate route home from work, I come to a 4 way stop at a jog in the road so that right in front of me across the intersection is a gigantic sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Most of the time, there is nothing that stands out about the tree; it’s just a big leafy tree.

But then comes the month of October, and the tree is transformed practically overnight into a drop-dead gorgeous specimen of a tree with the perfect combination of golden yellow, red, and orange leaves.

I look at it as I am driving west, so the sun is behind it, making it positively glow. I start looking at it blocks before I actually get to it, and am concerned that one day I might just drive right through the intersection without stopping, because I am looking, no, staring, at the tree. I always hope that no one is behind me when I get to the four way stop, so I can spend a few extra seconds looking at the tree.

Of course, I don’t have a picture of it because I don’t carry my camera with me, but trust me, it is unbelievably beautiful.

My Dad planted several sugar maples throughout our yard, and even though several of them have died and had to be cut out, several remain and are providing my sister and her family, who live there now, with ample opportunity to rake leaves, as much as they would ever want to.

There is one maple tree in the front yard that was almost not meant to be. Decades ago, perhaps 35 years or so ago, my Dad noticed a horizontal crack in the trunk of the tree, at just about my eye level. When there was a good wind blowing, you could see the crack widen a bit with each gust. He was quite concerned that the tree might just snap over someday, and though it may have only been planted 12 – 15 years earlier, it was already fairly large.

So, he decided to secure a splint of sorts to the tree. One of our neighbors was a welder so he provided my Dad with a six foot long, three to four inch wide piece of thick steel with several holes to fit bolts through. My Dad then bolted the steel plate to the tree to secure it where the crack was and painted it over with tar.

Over the years, the bark grew around the steel plate so that now, 30 – 35 years later, you would not know that inside that tree is a steel plate. At least once a year, I remind my brother-in-law that should they ever decide that the tree should be cut down, he has to remember that there is a steel plate in it. And if they ever sell the house, they have to tell whoever buys it about the steel plate in that tree. I shudder to think what kind of kick back you would get back from a chain saw if you tried to saw through that steel!

I am not sure if this was an approved tree surgery technique, but it did the job and the tree is still with us, still providing great fall color, and still contributing lots of fall clean up opportunities.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Old Gardeners, Vegetables, and Book Club

Every work day for the past 9+ years, I have driven past a large vegetable garden on my way to and from work. I’ve noticed through the years that I see the gardener less and less and his garden contains fewer vegetables and is not as well tended as the year before. This year, all I saw in his garden were sunflowers and weeds. Occasionally, I would see the old gardener standing on the edge surveying it, leaning on his cane. This afternoon when I drove by, I noticed that someone had completely cleared off the garden. I suppose the gardener either died or moved away. Unfortunately, not many people plant large vegetable gardens like his any more.

Earlier today, I read a news item about how eating vegetables keeps your brain young and slows the mental decline that some people experience as they grow older. Eat your vegetables! Better yet, if you can, grow you own vegetables and eat them. I think people who grow their own vegetables probably eat more vegetables in general.

Would you go so far as to eat a purple tomato, the color of an eggplant or blueberry? I saw another news item about how researchers at Oregon State University are refining a purple tomato that contains more nutrients and is better for you. I’d love to try it! I know there are several heirloom purplish colored tomatoes available with names like ‘Purple Cherokee’. I have just not been been tempted to grow them before, but now my interest is piqued, and I want to get some seeds for the purple-est tomato I can find. Any suggestions?

Speaking of finding things, I’ve added another blog where I’ve put links to the posts related to the Garden Bloggers Book Club to make them easier to find. I know if I upgrade to the new beta version of Blogger, I could add tags and make it easy to find the posts that way, but I haven’t, so I set up the separate blog for now. I also added a link to it on my sidebar. All the posts will be here first, then I’ll add them to the book club blog for easier look up later.

I’m still getting suggestions for books, including some interesting ones from Gloria, of Pollinators-Welcome, which she included in a comment to this post.

As I’ve written before, I have in mind a book for March. I also like Gloria’s idea about an ecology related book as well, but that’s probably a good read for January or February when presumably, we northern gardens will have nothing but time on our hands, waiting for the long winter to be over. I’m looking for something a little shorter and lighter for December. Any ideas buried in all the suggestions received so far that would be a bit of an easier read for a busy month?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Secret Life in the Garden

Did you ever wonder what goes on in your garden when your back is turned? Do you suspect there is a secret life out there that you don’t quite know about or understand?

I’ve written before about the mythical life of garden fairies and sprites. I suspect that at the end of the day in the twilight, just as the last bit of light from the day disappears, they begin to stir and prepare for a night of general mischief and fun. I try to provide a few plants I think the garden fairies will like, such as fairy lilies, so they’ll come and stay a bit. And I blame them when I lose things, like a pair of gardening gloves, out in the garden.

Then there is the whimsical life of little bunnies and mice, described by authors like Beatrix Potter who gave us fanciful ideas of hedgehogs named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle and rabbits with names like Benjamin Bunny. I envision all these little creatures dressed in worn, home-spun clothes, living in little nooks and crannies scattered about the garden, visiting one another for tea and treats, and talking about all kinds of ‘goings-on’ in the garden that I am unaware of. “Oh, look”, said the rabbit to the chipmunk, “she’s planted beans so in a few days when they sprout, we’ll have plenty to eat!”

Finally, there is the secret natural life of the garden, a world that I know some about but would like to learn a lot more about because I think it will make me a better gardener. The natural life includes everything from microscopic organisms eating through plant material to make rich compost up through earthworms, insects, and the relatively gigantic birds and bunnies. If I understood it better, I might be able to keep the darn rabbits from eating my beans!

And why the picture of the mushroom? It just appeared in my yard out of nowhere as most mushrooms do, but instead of mowing it down, I mowed around it. I thought it was a good halfway point, a wee bit of shelter, should a garden fairy attempt to cross the great expanse of lawn in my back yard.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club - Seeds of Ideas

I might indeed have opened a can of worms as noted by Garden Rant when I disagreed with Henry Mitchell, in “The Essential Earthman” in regards to Lombardy Poplar trees. They asked a good question: “does his work stand the test of time”. I’m thinking about my answer to that question…

In the meantime, let me tell you that Henry Mitchell has convinced me to try something new, growing Iris reticulata (Japanese Iris) from seed.

He made growing Iris from seed sound so simple and rewarding when he described how he did it. And he named the subsection of the chapter on growing iris from seed “Cheap Thrills: Japanese Iris from Seed”. So how could I not try to grow some from seed? I think I will do just that.

I picked up the first and so far only seed catalog I’ve received this fall and looked up Iris. They have some ‘Pacific Coast Hybrids’, a.k.a. Orchid Iris, but they are shown as only hardy to Zone 7. Zone 7?! I’m in Zone 5 and I think Henry was in Zone 6. Am I not to experience the cheap thrills of growing Iris from seed? I know Iris reticulata is hardy to at least Zone 5, since I have some growing in my own garden now, pictured above from last spring.

So, I quickly found some seeds at a website called Plant Explorers that are for an Iris reticulata that is hardy to Zone 5. Now I need to decide if I should try to sow the seeds yet this fall, if I can get them in time, or wait until spring. Henry said they were best sown in October, but he started his in the spring. If that worked for him, I think I’ll take my chances and wait until spring, too.

So what was the question? Does Henry Mitchell’s writing about gardens and gardening stand the test of time? I think so, because even now he’s got me going off in search of a new gardening adventure, growing Iris from seed. That’s a sign to me that the author’s work stands the test of time. He has given me a new idea and instilled in me the confidence to try something I haven’t tried in gardening.

I like to read the works of ‘garden essayists’, like Henry Mitchell, even though they may not have gardened in the same hardiness zone as I do or even in the same time period. Reading their books is like a long conversation with a good gardener, who is revealing to you all their secrets, assuring you that there are ups and downs to gardening, and convincing you that it is all worth it. They plant seeds of ideas in my mind on other ways of looking at gardening and new things to try.

I hope you are also enjoying reading The Essential Earthman, our 1st selection of the Garden Blogger’s Book Club! When you’ve posted something about the book, send me a comment along the way. Then toward the end of November, I’ll valiantly attempt to publish a post with links to any and all blogs with comments on the book.

I’m also still working out book selections for December through March, so if you have some new ideas on books to include, send me a comment. I think I have figured out a book for March, but I'm still am up in the air on the other months.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Truth about Burning Bush

It is easy to be quite impressed with the Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) at this time of year, when its best feature, its fall foliage, is displayed in full glory. At first glance, especially in its little one gallon container in the nursery, it appears to be a nice, basic shrub that provides brilliant red fall foliage. But there are some traits of this shrub that every gardener needs to be aware of before they rush out to get one or more for their own garden.

The Burning Bush is a bit over used, so maybe you were going to pass on it anyway? You can go to nearly any place where shrubs are sold, be that an upscale garden center or a big box store, and find Burning Bush for sale. They are often sold in one gallon containers, looking for all the world like a nice small shrub about a foot high, and listed as Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’. Compacta? That means small to most people, even if they don't claim to know any Latin, so they buy several and plant them some place where they want a nice little shrub that grows two or three feet in size.

They are then surprised to find that “compacta” in the Euonymus alatus world means it gets to 10 feet tall and nearly as wide versus 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide for the species. I don’t think people even look at the plant label, or maybe there is no label with the plant when they buy it. Regardless, now they have a shrub planted without enough room to grow. How do they solve that problem? Generally they solve it by shearing their shrub back each summer to keep it to a manageable size.

In shearing it back they then lose the shrub’s best features, the bright red fall color. If you look around at the balls and squares of shorn Burning Bush right now, you will find that most of them are a dark, maroon-ish red, and don’t really stand out much in the landscape. It is the leaves at the tips of the branches that have the best color, and that growth is all removed with shearing.

Plus, when people shear them back they shape them into little balls and squares and other forms that weren’t intended to be in a garden, unless it is a topiary garden. The only time I would shear them like that is if I were using them as a hedge, which I’ve seen done and it doesn’t look too bad. They are certainly a better choice for a hedge than common privet, Ligustrum sp., if you ask me.

The Burning Bush also needs a sunny location if it is to turn maximum red. In shady spots, I’ve seen the leaves turn a washed out pink or have no color at all. The pink is not too bad, actually, but it is certainly not the full brilliant red that you see when the shrub is in full sun.

Perhaps the most controversial characteristic of the Burning Bush is that they aren’t from around here. They are from someplace in Asia and they are now considered an invasive species in some areas because they have been found growing in naturalized and wild areas.

Should you be concerned about this and chop down the Burning Bush in your garden?

I don’t think so, unless of course you have underestimated its size and are cutting it back into balls or squares each year or you’ve chosen a site without enough sun. Or, per the article I’ve linked to above, you might consider removing yours if you’ve planted it near a woodland or other naturalized area. Then I’d consider apologizing to it and moving it on to the mulch pile and then going about finding a more suitable shrub. I would recommend perhaps a nice Viburnum or maybe a Fothergilla? I have some very nice Fothergilla that turns all kinds of colors in the fall, plus it flowers in the spring, whereas the flowers of the Burning Bush are inconspicuous and not even worth a mention. It really only draws attention to itself in the fall.

By the way, the picture above is of this shrub in my sister’s garden, taken just as it was starting to change color. I believe she’s done right by the Burning Bush. She planted it where it could get to its full size in a good sunny location, so it is a striking accent, especially in the fall. As a large shrub, it also provides shelter for birds. And as far as I know, she doesn’t have a bunch of Burning Bush growing up all over the yard, so I think she should leave it alone and enjoy it.

What do you think of the Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’?

Fall Foliage Report Boston and Indy

Several years ago, maybe a dozen or so, I had to go to Boston to attend a work-related conference. I remember we had some additional time on Sunday, the day before the conference started, and so I found myself browsing in a local bookstore. When I could not find the gardening book section (isn’t that where you go first in a bookstore?), I asked someone to direct me to it.

I will never forget the reply. “We don’t have a gardening book section because people around here don’t do much gardening.”

I think I probably visibly recoiled when she said that and that comment is one I repeat to others. "They don't garden much in Boston." Ah, yes, words have impact, and can last for a long time.

I have since been assured that people in Boston DO garden.

Anyway, I found myself in Boston again yesterday. I did not have much of an opportunity to look around to confirm that they really do garden there, but I can report that the fall foliage is nearing peak, and at least by the interstates, it is quite nice.

Here in the Indianapolis area, we should start seeing the fall foliage peak over the next 10 days or so. And some of the most colorful foliage will be from the Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus, pictured above. This one is growing in my older sister's garden.

Monday, October 16, 2006

When the Frost is on the Punkin

When I work around the yard in the fall, often times I think over and over of the 1st line of the poem “When the Frost is on the Punkin” written by the Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley.

“When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”
“When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”
“When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”

Translation “when there is frost on the pumpkin and all the corn is gathered and tied together out in the fields”.

It’s like one of those song tunes you can’t get out of your head.

“When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”

On Sunday, we finally had a killing frost. It was a hoarfrost, matter of fact. There were little hairy ice crystals all over the plants and lawn, as you can see from the picture above.

So the season is finished.

Now I have nothing left to do but clean up the garden, empty the containers, plant bulbs, make sure the snow blower works, and get everything stowed away until next spring. At the same time, I’ll still be cutting the grass at least once a week until Thanksgiving. Thankfully, I don't have too many large trees, yet, so leaf raking won't be a big deal for me.

After emptying the compost bins on Saturday, I managed to fill one three quarters full again with more plant refuse. As you can see below, at least the vegetable garden is cleaned up. Now on to the flower beds…

“When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!”

“When the Frost Is on the Punkin” by James Whitcomb Riley

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,

And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,

And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it's then's the times a feller is a-feelin' at his best,

With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere

When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here --

Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,

And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;

But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock --

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,

And the raspin' of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;

The stubble in the furries -- kindo' lonesome-like,

but still A-preachin' sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;

The strawsack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;

The hosses in theyr stalls below -- the clover overhead! --

O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,

When the frost is on the punkin, and the fodder's in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps

Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;

And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through

With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!

I don't know how to tell it -- but ef sich a thing could be

As the Angles wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me --

I'd want to 'commodate 'em -- all the whole-indurin' flock --

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Black Gold

If someone invited me to their garden and asked me to give them some advice, I would first look for their compost bins. And, if I didn’t find any compost bins, I would immediately set about helping the gardener find a place to put compost. Regardless of the style or type of garden, there has to be a little corner or hidden area where one can put a compost bin or two. That’s my advice.

I myself prefer to have three compost bins. I fill one, then the other, then a third throughout the season. I don’t do much turning of the compost, nor do I worry about the percentage of brown “dried” plant material versus green “wet” plant material. I also don’t check the temperature in the middle of the compost pile or add water or any of those compost starters sold at some stores. I just throw everything in there and hope for the best.

By everything I mean really, “most plant debris”. I do refrain from throwing away diseased plant material, peonies, and English Ivy. And sometimes, about mid summer, the bins can get pretty full and I end up putting shrub trimmings and other “slow to compost” plant debris out with the trash.

I always feel bad and wasteful when I put plant debris out for the trash man to take, which is one of the reasons I decided to buy myself a chipper shredder. I figured that if I shred all the shrub trimmings, they will no longer be slow to decompose, and I’ll have that much more compost. I also think that if I shred more of all the plant material before I put it in the compost bin, it will all decompose much faster, and I will have more than my one annual harvest of compost.
I enjoy harvesting the rich, dark compost in the fall, almost (but not quite) as much as harvesting vegetables. I am always amazed that all that plant debris “magically” turns into compost. I just remove the top layer of plant material that hasn’t decomposed yet, and underneath, there is the prize! The cycle of plant life completed. The foundation for new plant life. Black gold!

To harvest my compost, I use a compost sieve that I made out of scraps of lumber and hardware cloth. I throw a couple of shovelfuls from the compost bin in to the sieve sitting on top of the wheelbarrow, sift out the debris that isn’t composted, and end up with a wheelbarrow full of rich, dark compost. Then I throw what’s left in the sieve back into the compost bin to finish decomposing.

On Saturday, I ended up with nearly 20 wheelbarrow loads of compost, which so far I’ve added back to the raised beds in the vegetable garden. And that was just two bin’s worth of compost. Each bin is a little over 9 cubic feet, which is about as small as you can go and still get good heat build up necessary for the composting process. I still have a third bin to clean out, though I don’t think it has as much compost in it as the other two did.

Many books and pamphlets have been written on compost, so I won’t go on and on myself about how to make good compost. But I can understand why people are driven to write so much about it, because when you see that rich, dark compost where once there was a pile of plant debris, I think it is easy to get excited and want to talk about it! (At least I think it is exciting, but I could be one of the few and not the many.)

J. I. Rodale himself wrote nearly a 1,000 pages on his book “Complete Book of Composting”. Think about it. One thousand pages, all about composting plant material. And I’m currently reading “Teaming with Microbes, A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, which has a chapter on compost. They almost apologize that it is only a chapter. I’m sure after reading it I’ll at least know what I should ideally be doing in terms of green material, brown material, and moisture in my compost bins. Whether I do it or not is another matter.

In the meantime, I will continue enjoying my fall harvest of “black gold”.

Saints Among Us

Did you ever comment that someone was a saint because they cheerfully put up with life conditions, illness, or someone in their lives that would drive others to despair? What about all those statues of St. Francis that are sold in garden centers, some made so that St. Francis is holding a small dish to fill with bird seed? Ever wonder who St. Francis was and why he is a popular garden statue? Do you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day?

Saints have clearly become a part of our lives, whether we are Catholic or not. And now a new saint has entered our lives. The shoes you see pictured here were worn by Mother Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of St-Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, when she worked in the gardens they forged out of the Indiana wilderness in the mid 1800’s.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI declared her to be a saint.

The picture is from the local weekly Catholic newspaper, The Criterion, which is full of articles and blogs about this event because this particular saint is from Indiana. The caption under the photo reads “These shoes, known in French as sabots, were used by Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin while gardening or working on her community’s farm”.

A friend gave me a copy of the picture because she thought I’d be interested in it, because of the gardening connection. I hope all gardeners have good friends like that who, when they run across a picture or article or whatever related to gardening, they bring it to your attention. I love having friends like that, keep that gardening info coming my way!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mums and Cold Saturday Mornings

A few mums around my garden and neighborhood.

I refuse to call them by their new botanical name Dendranthema.

And now, I'd better get to my garden chores, as I think of this quote from The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell...

“… but fall--not spring—is the great planting season for woody things. If, in other words, you had thought of lolling in the warm weekends admiring the chrysanthemums and the dogwoods turning red, congratulating yourself perhaps that the weeds are losing heart, let me cheerfully remind you that you should be exhausted (not lolling) since this is the busiest of all the garden seasons."

I'd update his quote for today to be "lolling around blogging about mums while waiting for the temperatures to rise a few degrees when you know that with another layer of clothing you'll be fine and let me cheerfully remind you that if you just go out and get started, soon enough the actual physical labor of turning compost and pulling out frost bitten plants will make you forget the cold..."

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club & Thoughts on Lombardy Poplar

I’m continuing to read through The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell, the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club November selection.

I ran across a paragraph that I could just not believe, and had to re-read several times and then go back and read it in context. I am still somewhat dumb-founded.

Henry is recommending the Lombardy Poplar, Populus nigra, as a good tree for the garden! What?!

And I quote: “But no matter what you hear or read, I am here to say flatly that there is no more exciting or lovely tree in all the world than the Lombardy Poplar, and if the gardener is going to lose his head and ruin the roses forever, at least this poplar is a comprehensible infatuation”.

A "comprehensible infatuation"? It is? On what planet? To be fair, Mr. Mitchell does discuss how the tree has shallow roots, has been overplanted, has weak branches that break off in storms or the whole crown breaks off so it no longer has its distinctive columnar form. So, he isn’t hiding the tree's flaws.

Here’s what I think of the Lombardy Poplar. Buy a chain saw at the same time you buy the trees, because before you know it, you will need the chain saw to cut down what I consider one giant woody weed! And do “real trees” really come in packages of a dozen bare root stems? I don’t think so, but that’s generally how I’ve seen these sold.

I’ve never liked the Lombardy Poplar, and can’t even think where I might have seen it growing recently. I think it has fallen out of favor, or at least I hope so! We had some in our backyard when I was growing up, but they were all cut down after just a few years, because they were a mess. And that upright form? My recollection is that they always seemed to be leaning in whatever the direction the prevailing wind pushed them.

If you want a tree with a nice columnar upright form, surely there are better choices than the Lombardy Poplar! I did a quick search for “fastigate trees” and came up with this list in short order. When you look up info on the Lombardy Poplar, you see comments like “short-lived”, “plant as a wind screen until slower growing trees mature”, etc. So I guess it has its place as a “temporary tree”, but not as a tree you plant for generations to follow.

So, that’s how my reading is going. I agree with some things, disagree with others, but overall, I’m enjoying the book. Anyone else started reading?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When the Toad Lily Blooms

When the toad lily blooms, I assume it’s all over for the season. This is the last “new” bloom in the garden for the year. I started these toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta) from seed, but occasionally I have found them for sale in a garden center/nursery. These grow on the north side of the house, behind some hostas. They aren’t “shout out” showy but are a pleasant surprise each fall when they bloom, since nothing else around them is blooming at the same time. And I love the spots on them.

With impending winter-like weather coming rapidly towards us, (should be here by Friday) I rounded up the last of the tomatoes and took a few pictures this evening and then brought in a few plants that won’t stand a frost/freeze. I am questioning my sanity in starting 6 new “Queen of the Night” plants, (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) as I’ve got one great big one and another one that my aunt gave me this spring, so I certainly don’t have room for more. I will be looking for family and friends to take those off my hands.

A few days ago, I picked all the peppers I cared to pick and put those in the refrigerator until I can find time to cut them up to freeze or give them away.

This weekend, I will begin fall clean up “in earnest”, starting first with some general straightening out of the garage to make room for what needs to be brought inside. Several years ago, what I have outside in the summer “out grew” the space I have for storage in the garage, so later on I’ll shove a bunch of stuff (table, chairs, benches, pots, etc.) to one corner of the patio, cover it all for with a tarp, tie it down, and hope for the best. I’ll also throw a few moth balls under the tarp to keep critters from nesting there. But, I won't do that for a few more weeks. I don't want to get too ahead of myself!

And I still want to find time to dig up a new flower and shrub border. But alas, with more rain in the forecast for this week, I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to do that this fall.

It is a busy time in the garden!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tall Grasses, Strange Things Going On

"Many species of ornamental grass offer interest in winter. They provide attractive plant form and many of them hold their seed heads through at least part of the winter. They include feather reed grass (Calamagrostis) and maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis). "

I don't have any tall grasses in my garden (yet), but I always thought one of the main reasons to grow them was BECAUSE of the winter interest they provide with their seed heads. Then WHY was the neighbor across the street and down a bit cutting down all the tall grass in his yard this weekend? He used electric hedge trimmers to cut it down to the ground, in its PRIME.

Then on the news the evening, they showed someone spray painting their tall grass seed heads white or light blue or some color. This guy said he just likes to paint his tall grass different colors, depending on his mood and the season. He said people stop and ask him all the time where he got his "unusual" tall grass.

I have no tall grass in my garden and since my neighbor cut his down, I can't sneak over and take a picture of his to put on this post, so it shall remain pictureless. The link to the video of the spray painting is kind of buried on the TV station web site, so I can't really provide a good link. (If you want to try to find it, do a search for "tall grass", then replay the weather forecast last modified on 10/09/06 at 07:08 PM, it's toward the end of that.)

I can't figure out why these people are treating their tall grasses this way. I've been thinking about adding some to my garden. Now that I have a chipper shredder, I could chop up the dried grass IN THE SPRING and make mulch of it. Having that shredder is kind of liberating. I also promise I would not paint the seed heads in the fall. Promise! Any recommendations on a good tall grass for zone 5?

By the way, the neighbors bagged all their grass up to send off with the trash.

People are indeed doing some strange things to their tall grasses around here.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club November Selection

Dogwood turning red...

After much review of the list of suggested books for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, I am pleased to announce a book that I think will be a good read for November.

Without further ado… the November selection is The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell.

Why this book? There were several reasons…

Henry Mitchell was one of the most often named authors on the various lists and suggestions I received from everyone, so this book has wide-spread appeal going for it.

This book is available just about everywhere. It is available at both Amazon and Amazon UK. There is also a “limited view” on Google Books, but I suspect after looking at it for a few minutes that you’ll be able to read a page or two of a chapter, but not the whole thing. That might get kind of frustrating, but might be better than nothing at all. I also checked my local library, and they have copies of it, so I assume most libraries will have a copy.

The way the book is written, you can read a chapter or two or the whole book and have something to write a post or two about. So, if you aren’t sure you have time to read a whole book, you might read a chapter or two, and still find plenty to comment on.

Several people commented that they also like to re-read Henry Mitchell, so if someone has already read this book, it is worth reading again.

The “clincher” endorsement came from Annie at The Transplantable Rose, who commented that she used Henry Mitchell’s books as a reward, telling herself “now just get a couple more loads of clothes done and you can reread 4 chapters of Earthman".

With all that going for this book, how could we go wrong with it as the first month’s book selection?

I found this website with more information about Henry Mitchell, if you would like to learn a little more about him before you set about reading his book, The Essential Earthman. From this web page, you can explore his garden, read about his life, and explore other websites with information about him.

Remember that all you have to do to participate is read the book (or part of it), write a post in November with your thoughts about the book, and post it on your blog. Then send me a comment to let me know you’ve posted, and I’ll try to put it all together in a “compilation” post at the end of November.

And keep sending me your suggestions, as I am looking through them to pick books for December, January, February and March. I’ve received some interesting choices, including mystery books with a gardening theme from Judith at Weeds between the Cracks and several ideas in the comments to this post.

I leave you with this quote from The Essential Earthman:

“… but fall--not spring—is the great planting season for woody things. If, in other words, you had thought of lolling in the warm weekends admiring the chrysanthemums and the dogwoods turning red, congratulating yourself perhaps that the weeds are losing heart, let me cheerfully remind you that you should be exhausted (not lolling) since this is the busiest of all the garden seasons. When you are not planting bulbs, digging up bindweed roots, rooting out pokeweed, soaking bamboo, there are still other tasks. Thousands of them. You are terribly behind. The very idea of just sitting about in the sun!”

I feel sufficiently chastised in even thinking that I should start winding down for the season this soon, don't you? Well, we do have all of November to read the book in between our "thousands of tasks". Happy Reading…

View from the Hammock

This is a view from my hammock yesterday afternoon. I think we are going to have a repeat of this same weather today. Blue skies, cool breezes, a *near* perfect day.

Here's another view from the hammock. That's really how blue the sky was yesterday and today. I did nothing to change the focus or color of this picture. Honestly.

New, Liberating Fun in the Garden

I had some new fun in the garden yesterday. New, liberating fun. Scary kind of fun.

I used my new chipper shredder for the first time. Yes, that’s right, I have a new chipper shredder, the McCullough Electric Chipper Shredder. I wrote about it awhile back, so if you have been reading my blog, you should not be surprised that I got it.

I had been reading about it, seeing it in catalogs, and wanting it for some time. Then I found it online at Amazon/Target last month for quite a bit less than I had seen it anyplace else online, so I took that as a sign that it was meant to be for me and I ordered it up.

The UPS driver brought it to me about three days later. I was actually home, and she rang the bell and offered to put it in my garage, since it was a big box.

Then, unfortunately, I got very busy again and didn’t have a chance to unpack it and put it together until last Saturday. I was able to put it together with minimal tools by myself, and just had one moment where I had to study it a bit to figure out how the motor/blade part of it should go on the stand part. Otherwise, as far as putting things together, I’d say it wasn’t too bad. Not the easiest, but not the hardest thing to put together.

Then this Saturday, a glorious, cool, perfect blue sky kind of day, I wheeled it out to the garden and tried it out. First, I ran some old, dried up zinnia plants through it. It was actually not too loud, though I did use ear plugs, just because it is loud then quiet, loud then quiet. But overall the noise level was not too bad and it was certainly not nearly as loud as my old gas powered chipper. It shredded the zinnia plants just fine.

So I moved on to the giant sunflowers. It ate them up like a hungry bear coming out of hibernation eats its first meal.

Moving on, we (me and the chipper shredder) tried out the big pile of corn stalks I’d chopped down a month or so ago. The dry stalks were no problem. However, the stalks near the bottom of the pile were wet and beginning to rot. Those caused a few problems, but the hopper is easy to remove and clear out and I was able to at least shred all of the stalks. Then we finished up with another pile of zinnias and some dry stuff I took out of the compost bin.

The chipper shredder is a keeper and is now one of my top gardening tools. It will change the way I do fall clean up and my whole approach to the end of the season.

No longer will I be digging long trenches in my raised beds and burying the garden refuse. No longer will I feel the shame of putting plant material in trash bags to go to the city incinerator/dump. No longer will I have full compost bins, with large, bulky plant material taking forever to decay.

Now I will be happily shredding everything and watching it quickly compost into ‘black gold’ to be put back into the very garden beds that provided the plant material that made it all possible! I can’t wait to continue the garden clean up so I can gather more material to shred. Told you I had liberating, scary kind of fun yesterday!

Here are the two piles of mulch I ended up with yesterday. Aren't they pretty?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Seasonal Roller Coaster - Straight Down Hill

A single, confused daisy blooming a few days ago, does it "know" what's coming...

I just heard another "F" word come out of the mouth of the TV weatherperson. She just said "Freeze". Then she really got my attention when she said "Snow". What?

Attention, please. We are supposed to start with a light frost, followed by maybe a little bit heavier frost, then freeze, but "freeze" should NOT come before the end of October. SHOULD NOT! And snow?

I've seen snow in October. I forget the year, but I am pretty sure it was on October 18th. And I'm smart enough and have been around long enough to know that an October snow is NOT the same as a January snow. An October snow would not be measured in inches, it would be counted as flakes. If it did snow later this week, it would probably be some flurries, probably wouldn't even turn the ground white, I hope. So, there is no need for panic. NO NEED FOR PANIC.

Granted, the weather person was a bit "hedgy" as she said this. She said this would not be until Thursday, and so it might change. But still! To mention these two things this early in October...

I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. Someone ask me if I had heard a prediction about this winter, and I haven't. I won't try to find woolly worms to see how furry they are or look for any other signs. What happens, happens. But I think I'll add to my list of chores today "see if the snowblower starts".

And, suddenly, I feel quite ready to clean up the vegetable garden and start emptying some containers. It's going to be a bit chilly when I start (in the 40's) but should be around 70 when I finish.

See you in the garden...

Oh, one more thing... This weekend sometime, I hope to find some time to announce the first book selection of the Garden Bloggers Book Club.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Seasonal Roller Coaster

I got an email today with a weather update from a local television station. It included the “F” word. Yes, frost. (What did you think I meant?)

Anyway, I should not be surprised if we got some frost, as we are well within the range of “normal” to start having some light frosts, especially in low lying areas and away from “the city”. But the weather isn’t doing its part to prepare us. Do you think this could all happen gradually, a few degrees at a time?

No, apparently it can’t. The 1st three days of this week, temperatures peaked in the low 80’s each afternoon. Today, the temperature peaked in the high 50’s. By the weekend, they forecast that we will be back in the low 70’s. And tonight, some people will see light fronts.

As with many areas that have four seasons, getting through the transitional seasons of spring and fall around here can be quite a roller coaster ride. Temperatures and leaf changes are all over the place.

The Skyline Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Skycole’) pictured above clearly knows it is fall. It’s the first tree in my yard to change color and drop its leaves. When I look at it, I know it is autumn. The Red Maple (Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’) pictured below doesn't seem to be changing at all. If you looked just at it, you might think it is still summer.

But even though this change of seasons has its ups and downs, and offers some of the most pleasant and beautiful days to enjoy outdoors, we clearly know where this is heading.

So, let’s just get on with it. I’m personally feeling a bit of guilt about neglecting the vegetable garden these past few weeks, and would not panic if a frost came and finished it off. Indeed, the frost would diminish my guilt feelings considerably. Then I could begin the fall clean up in earnest, turn my vegetable garden into a “clean slate” for next spring, and overall prepare for winter.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

One More Question

Fall color and berries on a Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)

I made my nearly daily trek to Starbucks at lunch today for a green iced tea and noticed a book for sale there, For One More Day by Mitch Ablom. The poster next to it said something along the lines of “if you had one more day to spend with someone you lost”.

You can go to the link above to read a synopsis of the book. The reason I am writing about it here is because I naturally turned this thought to, “if you had one more chance to ask a gardening question of someone you lost, what would that question be?”

I’ve written before about my Dad who gardened, and I’d say I have a few questions for him, like where did he get those asters that he gave to my grandmother? I also think about how big his tomato plants were each year and I use my memory of those as a measure of my own success with tomatoes. Since I still haven’t gotten my tomato plants to grow that big, I’m sure there is at least one ‘secret’ he didn’t share about growing tomatoes. I need to find out what that secret was!

Both of my grandmothers were gardeners; one in the city who grew mostly flowers and the other in the country on a farm where they had a large vegetable garden.

I wonder if my “country grandma” was the primary gardener out there in the vegetable garden or was it my grandfather? She would have some some tips to share about growing vegetables, I'm certain of that.

And I’d guess that my ‘city grandma’, who never had much money, might also have a question or two for me about all my gardening tools, so we would not have a one way conversation.

Did you miss the opportunity to ask someone about their gardening secrets and wish you could go back and ask just one more question of them? And who are you sharing your gardening secrets with? What is your gardening secret?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Aster Mystery Cleared Up

I could not figure out how my aunt got starts of these asters from my Dad, when I could not remember my Dad ever having these in our yard when I was growing up. I was bothered that I could not remember these because I think I was more aware of the plants around me at an earlier age than most, come to find out when I compare notes with others. And I certainly hope I would remember a flower like this that is blooming when not a lot of other flowers are.

Further adding to the mystery, asters just did not seem like the kind of flowers my Dad would have. They are much too messy, floppy, gangly and a bit out of control for his taste. He generally liked his plants to be a bit more 'well-behaved', like nicely trimmed yews or a row of red geraniums safely contained in a long planter box on the front porch.

Then I talked to my aunt this weekend and she gave me the real story and it is all no longer such a mystery.

First, she didn't get the plants directly from my Dad. She got them from her mother (my Dad's mother-in-law) who got them from my Dad. That clears up some of the mystery, but how did he come to have them in the first place? That we won't ever know, but my aunt said he gave them to his mother-in-law because he didn't like the untidy, unruly nature of these flowers.

I hope Dad provided a complete description for Grandma of what she was getting in the asters before he gave them to her. Normally passalong plants are shared plants that we love, that we want someone else to also enjoy, not "here take these, not my kind of flower". But, I guess there are exceptions, and I would prefer to think that he gave them to her because he thought she would enjoy them and not just because he wanted to get rid of them.

Anyway, that's why I don't remember us having asters when I was growing up. Dad didn't keep them around long enough for me to notice them. I am guessing he got rid of them before I was five or so.

Fortunately, I don't mind a plant that doesn't exactly play by the garden rules all the time, so I am happy to have them. In return for me putting up with all the misbehaving aspects of the aster, I get these lovely flowers blooming in late September, early October, when not much else is blooming. I think they are worth it, don't you?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Itsy Bitsy Big Ugly Spiders

I went to my sister’s house yesterday for a birthday party. The skies were blue, the grass was green and it was in the mid 70’s. In other words, it was a perfect day, and definitely a day to be outside.

Being one of the last to arrive, I assumed when I went into the house, everyone would already be outside on the deck and gazebo. Instead, I found everyone inside the house. All inside! I asked the group why no one was outside. My niece, who is 9, piped up and said “We are all afraid of the spiders”.

Spiders? My sister had mentioned some spiders hanging out around the gazebo and nearby sandbox, but I hadn’t given it too much thought. I certainly didn’t think it was keeping some of them from going outside.

So my sister went out with me to show me one of the spiders. I am warning you now that I put a picture of one of the spiders at the bottom of this post, so if you aren’t into big, ugly spiders, you can pass now and move on to something else. If you are undecided on if you want to get to the bottom to see the picture, I’ll just natter on here for a bit longer while you decide.

We think the spiders are big, and there seems to be quite a few of them. Most of them have taken up residence in two large Albert Spruces (Picea glauca ‘Conica’). These are two of the best looking Alberta Spruces that I have ever seen; they are over 20 years old and we’ve done almost nothing special to them. They’ve never even had red spider mites, which is a common problem with them.

Now they’ve got these great, big spiders living in them. Another sister and I talked about the spiders and agreed that if they were in our yard, we would have done something about them. However, I am not sure what that something would be. I would not want to spray them with a chemical and risk injury to the spruces. But life outside would be better without them!

My sister’s kids are even starting to use these spiders as a reason not to go out onto the deck. And these are not kids that generally run at the sight of any bugs. So, you know these are big, ugly, scary looking spiders.

As additional background information, next door, the neighbors had a creek that flowed through their property but they and some other neighbors talked the city into putting in gigantic plastic pipes underground and covering over the creek. In the process, they also cut down several very large maple trees, some of the biggest around. We all thought it was a shame and wonder if this is where the spiders came from. Perhaps the destruction of this last little bit of wilderness in the neighborhood forced them to find a new home, and that new home is in my sister’s yard?

So, I’ve gone on enough, by now you should be seeing the picture of one of the spiders that I posted below. Any idea what kind of spider it is? Is it a wolf spider? I have no desire to do all kinds of web searches to look at various spiders to try to figure out kind this one is. How would you get rid of them? Would you use a chemical? How about a strong spray of water to knock them of the tree? Would they just go back? Or would you leave them alone? Remember, I am showing you just one, keep in mind there are a whole bunch of them out there!

Oh, and the beautiful day was just too special to miss, so eventually most of us did end up outside on the gazebo, but I think all of us kept at least one eye on the spiders to make sure they stayed in the spruces and left us alone!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club - Still Time to Send Your List

I’ve received a few more book lists over the weekend for the Garden Bloggers Book Club. I’ll be posting a consolidated list of all the choices in a week or so, asking for some assistance to choose some for our winter reading pleasure. So there is still plenty of time to send me a comment with your list, or post your list on your blog and send me a comment and I’ll come visit your blog, leave a comment, and copy your list.

And while I was thinking about what books we might read, and how to make choices so that anyone who wants to participate can find the book at either a library or at a discount price, I wondered if we could find an out of print book on Google Books that offers a full view, that would be an interesting read? If anyone has some time to do some looking around on that site…

Anyway, we are officially an international club with gardeners commenting from Mexico, England and also Milan, Italy, amongst other places. Sue in Milan, Italy provided this list:

Michael Pollan - The Botany of Desire : A Plant’s Eye View of the World, Bloomsbury Publishing
Christoper Lloyd and Graham Rice - Garden Flowers from Seed, Penguin (UK) Timber Press (USA)
Alan Titchmarsh – The Gardener’s Year, BBC Books (or anything else by Alan Titchmarsh, come to that).
Charles Chesshire- Japanese Gardening, Aquamarine
Steven B Carroll - Ecology for Gardeners, Timber Press - this is available for limited preview on Google.

And M Sinclair Stevens from Texas provided these suggestions and insights on some books.
(Re: a book suggested by Earth Girl that we have a description of but not the title, she asks) “does Earth Girl mean "Elizabeth and her German Garden" by Elizabeth Von Arnim? It was published in 1898, and so is Victorian, not Elizabethan. Maybe the author's name confused her.”

Here are M's other comments/suggestions:
“I just reread "Tottering in My Garden" by Midge Ellis Keeble and enjoyed it even more the second time than the first. Eventually I'll get around to writing a review of it on my blog

One of the funniest books and most observant books I've ever read about gardening is Karel Capek's "The Gardener's Year".

And I never tire of reading Antonia Ridge's "For Love of a Rose" about the 3 generations of rose growers who formed the Meilland family and developed the 'Peace' rose.

I would second anything by Henry Mitchell and add anything by Allen Lacy or Elizabeth Lawrence. I also second Margery Fish's "We Made A Garden", Celia Thaxter's "An Island Garden" and "Mrs. Whaley and her Charleston Garden".”

I think it is becoming clear that we’ll need to include a book by Henry Mitchell. The question is which one should we include? Discuss and let me know!

Bunch of Grapes

Hey, I found another bunch of grapes! Big deal, you say, and by the way, Carol, that is a tiny little bunch of grapes. But remember, I thought my grape vines were 'goners' with very little life showing this spring. I almost pulled them out for non-performance.

Instead I gave them a second chance, and they came back with all kinds of vines, but no grapes that I could see, unless you make me count an earlier bunch of THREE little concord grapes I found six weeks ago.

And for awhile, it looked like one of the grapes had some kind of disease, based on some odd colorations I was seeing on the leaves.

In fact, I had to whack back some of the vines a month or so ago because they were being too aggressive toward a viburnum shrub that is next to the grape arbor. Couldn't have that! After all it was a Korean Spice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). Darn grape vine thugs.

So, suddenly, I am thinking I'll need to do a little more study of viticulture this winter, so I can learn how to prune the vines correctly this spring, and do all I can to give my vines their best shot at producing some actual grapes.

My two grapes are 'Concord' (I don't have to tell you what kind that is!) and 'Himrod', a green seedless grape. With those two varieties, I am not planning to explore wine-making, just grape-growing.

I'd like to tell you that I picked these two varieties after extensive research on the best varieties to grow in Indiana and after checking out all kinds of resources online. But I can't. I bought them on impulse, which started a whole new project to construct a grape arbor. But isn't that how it goes for most gardeners? Buy the plant because you see it and decide you must have it, then plan for where you will plant it, right?!

Enough about my little grape harvest, I obviously need some grape growing tips and advice, so am I'm happy to accept any and all advice on growing grapes in zone 5.

Garden Bloggers Tell Their Story Week

It's "garden bloggers tell their story" week at Gardening Tips 'n' Ideas, and and today is my story. You can check it out at this link.

Gardening Tips 'n' Ideas is the blog of Stuart who lives in Western Australia. He came up with the idea of inviting other garden bloggers to tell their story on his blog so that while he is on vacation, something new shows up there everyday.

Why do I think of the story of Tom Sawyer and whitewashing fences? I guess it doesn't really apply because Stuart had to do a lot of work to set this all up before he left on vacation, so that a new post automatically shows up each day.

By the way, it is spring in Australia, so they are just starting up their gardens, as we wind down with ours. In honor of spring "down under", I've included a picture of some woodland violets blooming very early this past spring in my garden.