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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Perennials for Midwestern Gardens: Book Review

We could have a good debate about who has the most challenging climate to garden in. Other than those who live on “the fringes” in climates that barely sustain life anyway, I’m sure we would all make a good case for our own particular challenges.

Here in the Midwest, we are challenged by hot summers that offer many days in the upper 80’s and low 90’s with high humidity, and cold winter nights that can see temperatures dip below 0 F. And the ground can freeze and thaw all winter long.

We soon find out that not every perennial flower likes our growing conditions, even if we find that perennial for sale at a local garden center or big box store. That’s why I was pleased to get a copy of a new book on perennials, Perennials for Midwestern Gardens: Proven Plants for the Heartland by Anthony W. Kahtz.

Browsing through this book, I looked up plants I know well from my own garden, like Amsonia tabernaemonta, which I call Blue Dogbane, but Kahtz calls Willow Blue Star. I like that better as a common name, so will call it that in my own garden. I also read with great interest his advice for growing Delphinium hybrids, which should help me in my quest to get these to thrive around here.

I then checked out some perennials I haven’t grown before, like Echinops ritro, Globe Thistle. I am good at growing common weedy thistles, so I should do well purposely growing a “thistle’ that has some ornamental value, not to mention blue flowers.

I like how Kahtz has presented each plant in this book, with a picture, a little fact box with hardiness zone, origin, height, spread, use, season of bloom and key characteristics, followed by his own thoughts and advice and some varieties to try.

Kahtz included 140 plant profiles in this handy reference book, some for old familiar perennials, others for perennials new to me, and all for perennials that will do well in the challenging conditions here in the Midwestern states. While these clearly aren’t all the perennials that will grow in the Midwest, it’s a long list and even just following it, you could end up with a lot of variety in your garden.

This is a welcome addition to my library, a good book to have close at hand for reference whenever I’m looking for new perennials to grow in my garden. It would be good for any gardener in USDA hardiness zones 3 - 6, in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, along with Indiana.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Highs and Lows of My Vegetable Garden

How far we've come since the cold days of last winter when we were all pouring over seed catalogs deciding what we would plant in our gardens this year.

We didn't know if we would have enough rain, too much rain, or too little rain. We didn't know if it would be a hot summer, a cool summer, or just average for our areas.

We just knew we were planting vegetables, once again or perhaps for the first time.

And if we were experienced vegetable gardeners, we knew to expect high points and low points through out the season.

Here are some of the low points and high points from my vegetable garden so far this year.

Low point: The tomatoes took their time ripening, setting a new record for me for the latest I've harvested the first big red tomato. Fortunately, I was briefly distracted and my wait was tempered by the fact that I did grow the WUT, the World's Ugliest Tomato.

High point: Since harvesting the first tomato, I have been picking a lot of tomatoes of all sizes and now have a couple dozen big tomatoes sitting on a tray on the kitchen table, surrounded by dozens and dozens of cherry and currant type tomatoes.

Low point: The raccoons, who have never to my knowledge bothered my garden before, discovered my sweet corn one night. They helped themselve to nearly all of it, the dirty thieves.

High point: I at least got a few ears of homegrown sweet corn before the raccoons arrived, and that corn was delicious. No butter needed. I repeat, no butter needed, they were that good and sweet.

Low point: The squash vine borers seemed to come out of nowhere and before I could say "Who wants some zucchini?", all the vines were dying.

High point: I had enough zucchini to eat some and share some. It was actually kind of nice not to be overrun with it. Really, it was. At least I'm telling myself it was.

Low point: The eggplant plants never did get very big or leafy. I think it was just too cool for them most of the summer, and then suddenly it was hot and dry.

High point: I did manage to harvest one eggplant today. See it in the lower left corner of my trug? Tomorrow, I'm going to peel it, slice, coat it with flour (or cracker crumbs) and fry it up.

Because, other than the big ripe tomatoes, fried eggplant is my favorite vegetable from the garden.

Any other eggplant lovers around?

Overall highest point: I had a vegetable garden. There will always by low points in any garden, but hopefully there will be more high points, just like a good roller coaster ride. So no matter what, I'll always have a vegetable garden.

What kind of roller coaster ride did your vegetable garden take you on this year?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cranky Garden

My garden is cranky.

It’s a lot like a family that went on a long summer vacation.

The family starts out with bags neatly packed, the car all cleaned up, and everyone is rested, excited and ready to go.

My garden started the summer that way, too, all cleaned up, freshly planted, and poised to grow.

Those first few days of the family vacation are so exciting. Every mile brings new sites, exciting adventures, ooohhh’s and aaahhh’s as everyone points excitedly at every change in scenery. Look at that! Wow, it’s prettier than I thought it would be! This sure isn’t like we remembered it!

Those first few months of the summer garden were exciting, too. Every week brought lovely rain, lots of rain, and every day it seemed there was something new flowering. Ooohhh, look at those June flowers. Aaahhh, July’s flowers were exciting too. Wow, all that rain, the garden was greener than I’ve ever seen it! It sure wasn’t like last year!

Then the family begins the journey back. Clothes are dirty, the car smells kinda funny, and everyone is tired and out of sorts and cranky.

Then the garden hit August, or August hit the garden. Smack down! The rain is gone, the garden is starting to have that funny “too dry” smell, the flowers look droopy and tired and can barely put on enough of a show to attract the bees.

My garden is cranky!

After a long shower, some home-cooked food and clean clothes, and a bit of alone time, the family comes back together and remembers the good times of their journey.

So to will my garden be remembered for the good times of 2008! With a little bit of ‘garden time’ this weekend, I can revive my garden and remember it as a good garden. I’m going to:

- Water. I always give Mother Nature a chance to deliver the rain, but that doesn’t look likely, so I’ll start watering this weekend.

- Weed. A weed pulled now is a dozen weeds I don’t have
to pull next year. I’ll pull out all the weeds I can find before they set seed. If any look like they’ve already set seed, I’ll throw them out in the trash, not in the compost bin.

- Remove. I need to pull out some of the annual flowers that are clearly well past their prime. I’ll look for fall annuals like pansies, mums, and asters to plant in their place for a nice long show into late fall.

- Deadhead. I can prevent a lot of problems next spring by deadheading those perennials that are rampant self-sowers, like Bee Balm (Monarda), and False Sunflower (Helianthus sp.), now. I’ll leave the black-eyed susan’s (Rudbeckia sp.) and coneflowers (Echinacea sp.) because the goldfinches love the seeds and I like to watch the goldfinches.

- Enjoy. I need to remember to rest and enjoy the garden. After all, it’s a holiday weekend in the U.S. so I have a whole extra day off from work. I'll use some of that time to enjoy my garden.
What will you do this weekend in your garden?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Universal and Local Gardening Blogging

There is universality to gardening that allows gardeners from all corners of the earth, all walks of life, and all levels of experience to immediately connect with one another.

We all sow seeds, fight weeds, and try to figure out what our plants need to grow and flower. We see the first bloom of spring and want everyone to share that experience. We all want our first frosts to be late and our last frosts to be early, if we live where there is frost.

We want our vegetables to be productive and our flowers to be prolific. We want to leave the land we garden on whole for the next generation and hope that if our garden warrants it, once we can no longer care for it, someone will come along to not only care for it but make it a better garden.

We plant trees knowing that we might not be the ones to rest in their shade, but hope that someone will, and consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

We want the rain to fall when we need it, and the sun to shine all the other days.

We prove this universality of gardening every day through the connections we make with one another through our garden blogs and what we share about our gardens.

I am amazed by the gardeners around the world who I have encountered virtually and in real life through my blog, gardeners I would not otherwise have met. And all of these gardeners, some more so than others, have enriched my life, provided encouragement and support, and made me a better gardener. I love this aspect of garden blogging!

I want to thank everyone who stops by here, whether you regularly leave a comment or not, for enriching my life and helping me find these connections and sustain them. You’ve inspired me!

Yet, as universal as gardening is, it is also quite local. Every gardener does not share my frost free date, my particular growing conditions, my hardiness zone.

So this week, I’ve started writing about my local gardening experience, specific to central Indiana and Indianapolis, as the Indianapolis Gardening Examiner at Examiner.com.

Rest assured I’ll still be posting here at May Dreams Gardens on the ‘universal good stuff’, about hoes, gardening geeks, what eccentric gardeners do, based on my own experiences, my rabbit wars, the not so embraceable aspects of gardening that everyone should embrace, etc., etc., etc.

In other words, May Dreams Gardens, the blog, isn’t going to change, but now you can get the “local flavor” of my gardens and gardening at Examiner.com

Please stop over there if you get a chance to see my first post and leave a comment to say “Hey”, if you are so inclined.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Society" Considers Weighty Matters

Dear Esteemed and Potential Members of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”),

Having considered old-time gardening superstitions and the important matter of invasive plants, Madame President (me) now brings before the membership a weighty cause of vital interest to many gardeners, both ladies and gentlemen.

As the founder and self-appointed President and Secretary of the Society, I hereby ask all to consider…

Do those 40 pound bags of top soil seem to get heavier every year or is it just me?

And is anyone else foregoing projects that require cement or sand because they come in 80 pound bags?

Who decided that was the size of bag to sell that stuff in?

Whoever it was, we ask that they now consider that a preponderance of gardeners would appreciate a smaller bag to carry. We think something around 25 to 30 pounds would be better.

And this change in bag size should be done without increasing the price per pound of whatever the bag contains.

And furthermore, the plastic used to make these bags should be of a recyclable material, clearly marked as recyclable, and merchants selling them should be required to have a place to drop off the empty bags to be recycled. Yes, that would be much appreciated.

Is that asking for too much?

The Society would like it to be further known that this request for smaller, lighter bags has nothing to do with the aging of its members. It has more to do with preserving our strength for digging, hoeing, raking and other worthwhile gardening activities.

The President of the Society (me) would like it to be even further known that she can still lift a 40 pound bag and considers it a triumph to prove it each spring as she waits patiently for her truck to be loaded with 40 pound bags of top soil.

She is so patient that after 20 minutes of waiting with no one in sight, she goes ahead and loads it all herself.

This is preferable sometimes, as she remembers the time she was at the big box hardware store, and someone wanted to load an entire pallet of top soil on her truck with a fork lift, and she would not let them. After all, what would she do with that pallet afterwards?

So the surly and disgruntled fork lift driver left the pallet raised up on the fork lift and proceeded to hand load the top soil. However, as each bag was taken off the pallet, the pallet moved forward slightly, damaging the edge of the truck gate.

This resulted in some discussions with store management, pictures being taken and claims being filed.

And then there was the time when the person loading some heavy bags wore a belt with a gigantic buckle, probably bought in Texas, which is also know as the “big buckle state”. Each time he got close to the truck to throw in a bag, he scratched the paint with that buckle.

Sometimes it really is just better to load those heavy bags yourself.

But it would be best if the bags were lighter, overall.

Do we have a motion in favor of smaller, lighter bags of top soil, sand, cement, peat moss, etc. at the same per pound price?

Who seconds this motion?


All in favor of this proposal may indicate such agreement via a comment. If the motion is approved, this request will be brought to the attention of those who decide just what size these bags should be, whoever they are. Thank you for your vote.

If any current or potential members have other business for the Society to consider, please indicate such via a comment or email.

Sincerely,

Carol, May Dreams Gardens
President of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Embrace Garden Journals for a Happier Life

How does a gardener remember anything without a garden journal?

I’ll admit, there was a period of time when I didn’t keep a garden journal and those years are now lost to me, they exist only in my mind and in a few faded photographs, like this one from my first garden some decades ago.

But not the last eight years!

For the last eight years, I’ve written down snippets of gardening facts and observations in my 10 year gardener’s journal so I can go back, review them, and remember!
Everyday, I can look back at that same day, all the way back to 2001, all on the same page, and see what was going on, what the temperatures were, what I did, what I harvested and other interesting tidbits.

Just look at all the fun facts and observations for August 26:

2001 – 83/67
2002 – 83/65 Harvested last of zucchini, tons of tomatoes, peppers
2003 – 92/67 Picked a few cherry tomatoes. Very dry, Watered in evening.
2004 – 81/67 Rain overnight
2005 – 80/67
2006 – 86/68 Harvested tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant. Spread some mulch, made more salsa.
2007 – 82/63 Picked a few tomatoes & more grapes. Made grape jam. Found an orchid in bloom – Brassia rex ‘Barbara’
2008 -

Many gardeners don’t embrace garden journaling and spend valuable journaling time coming up with excuses!

They don’t have the right kind of journal. Their pens are the wrong color, size or are completely out of ink. They worry it won’t be perfect! They’ll mess it up somehow. They’ll skip a day or two. Then what’s the use, it’s not a complete record?

Or they think that no one will care about it. It’s a waste of time. They’ve never been good at writing.

I don’t accept any of those excuses. I say embrace garden journals for a happier life!

Here are five tips to get past that feeling of seeing that blank first page of a brand new journal and wondering what to do.

Don’t wait for the perfect journal to write in. While some of us bloggers, including Robin, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter and Phillip, have Lee Valley’s 10 Year Gardener’s Journal, it’s not necessary to have that particular one to embrace journaling. Any blank book or paper you can write on will work. I think Elizabeth Lawrence even used 3 x 5 index cards.

Don’t strive for perfection. You’ll miss some days, you’ll write illegibly sometimes, or you’ll write incomplete sentences and incoherent thoughts occasionally, after working yourself to exhaustion in your garden. None of those reasons should keep you from trying it. Just accept that life, gardens, and garden journals, aren’t perfect.

Don’t stress over ‘what’ to include. Include whatever comes to mind, whatever you want to remember. I record daily high and low temps, if it rained/how much, first blooms, first veggies, what veggies I harvested, first frost, last frost, and what I did in the garden, to name a few things. And I record when I mow the lawn, or at least have done that for the past several years, and for the past two years I’ve kept track of how many times. But your journal can include whatever you want to include.

Don’t worry if others will read your garden journal. Your garden journal should be for you, the gardener. If you are concerned others will read it, hide it! If you want others to read it, leave it out where they can find it. But write it for yourself and don’t worry if it makes sense to anyone else. It’s your journal.

Don’t think you have to wait until January 1st to get started. When starting a journal or diary, there’s always the temptation to start on the 1st day of the year. But the best time to start a garden journal if you haven’t started one is today. Just start writing and if you keep at it, after a month or so, journal writing should be a habit, and you’ll do it without thinking.

Embrace garden journals for a happier life!

*****

Other Embraces for a Happier Life…

Embrace weeding
Embrace bugs
Embrace your weather
Embrace your soil
Embrace mowing
Embrace botanical names
Embrace never finished

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sounds of Late Summer

If you enjoy the sounds of late summer, you might enjoy this little sound bite from my garden.



For those who thought it was going to be the sound of the lawn mower, I am sorry to disappoint you. I've let my lawn go dormant and so my twice weekly mowings have come to an abrupt stop. Oh, I miss my mowing! But soon the rain will return and the grass will grow again.

I've mowed the lawn 31 times so far this season, maybe 32. Would anyone like to guess how many times I'll end up mowing it before "the mowing season" is over? You can leave your guess in a comment and maybe this time there will be an actual prize for the first person to guess correctly.

For my next video, maybe I'll try to capture the a clip of the eccentric gardener here at May Dreams Gardens as she is mowing the lawn? It's quite a sight! Or maybe I'll try to record the elusive sound of the butterflies on the zinnias?

And for those readers who are all creeped out by the sounds of insects, my apologies for not warning you how loud those cicadas are in that video. You need to embrace bugs and the sounds they make for a happier life!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Olympic Edition

You might be an Olympic gardening geek if…

You enter a Gardening Olympics hosted by Idahogardener and win a gold medal or any medal at all. Bonus points if you got a special award for creating the symbol of the Gardening Olympics.

You host the Gardening Olympics!

You write a post about the flower bouquets that are given to the medal winners.

You write a post about the Chinese folk song, Jasmine Flowers, played for all of the medal ceremonies.

You think that hoeing, digging, pruning, and other gardening activities should be considered Olympic sports. Bonus points if you entered the Gardening Olympics in one of these events.

You write a post about what you would include in the Olympics if gardening was a sport.

You look at the Beijing Olympic Gardens and wonder how you could recreate some of them in your own garden.




Thank you to Mary Ann, the Idahogardener, for my Gardening Olympics Gold Medal and special award. I hope all are enjoying the Olympics!

Now who do we write to about adding a bit more gardening to the 2012 Olympics in London? Surely having the Olympics in England will bring out the very best in gardening and gardeners, since we all consider England to be the gardening capital of the world!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Answering Questions of Biblical Proportions

Apparently, I am providing answers of “biblical proportions” on my blog.

A post I wrote in October 2006, titled “The Truth About Burning Bush”, continues to be the most viewed of all my posts on this blog.

Since June 2007, it has been viewed over 5,700 times.

My first thought was that people are really interested in Euonymous alatus, the burning bush! But after some discussion with a co-worker, I think they are actually trying to find out about the other burning bush, the one Moses encountered in the desert.

I hope they find the shrub information useful, anyway.
I do get some questions occasionally on older posts and emails. I never know if I answer them with a comment on that same post, will the reader ever see them? So I’ll answer a few here…

How do I sharpen my Felco pruners?

I have an old sharpening stone and run the blade across that a few times and it seems to do the trick. But I’m not too sure of myself and wonder if someone locally has a class on sharpening knifes and pruners. If so, I’d love to take it! How about others?

How close to a patio would I plant a Japanese tree lilac?

In the email, the person asked if four feet was too close and noted they were tall people, so could they limb it up to six feet. Yes, I think four feet is too close to the patio, I’d go out further, maybe ten feet, but it really depends on the overall design of the garden, and what else will be planted around it. You can limb this tree up, but it isn’t a very tall tree to begin with, so I wouldn't go higher than six feet.

I also get some questions from co-workers and friends. I try to answer them nicely, even if they are the same questions over and over again. I try to remember that not everyone grew up gardening and may just now be getting interested in gardening as they buy their first house. Or maybe they’ve looked at food prices and decided that growing your own vegetables is a good idea, after all.

Whatever the question, I try to provide a good answer, something helpful that encourages their interest in plants and gardening.

But how do you answer this question, “What tree does the rhubarb come from?’

Oh, where to start!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Favorite Places in My Garden

Would you like to see a few of my favorite places in the garden?

I like to sit out on the front porch on my bench where I can watch people walking and cycling by but they don’t usually see me.

I’m hidden behind the crabapple tree and this year, the giant Boston ferns attract more attention than I do.

At my feet and all around me are containers of plants, including rain lilies, Zephyranthes sp., and the purple heart, Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea', grown from a start given to me by Annie in Austin.


This fall, I’ll take the purple heart inside and put the rain lilies in the garage to overwinter.

Though the porch faces south, the overhang of the roof and the crabapple tree shade it most of the time, so it’s a nice place to sit and read a book or thumb through gardening magazines, any time of day.

Another favorite spot is the vegetable garden.

I’ve posted picture after picture of this garden, generally taken while standing in this same spot. The garden isn't looking its best right now. After being cool and rainy most of the summer, the rain has moved on, and the garden could use some water. But I still love it.

Few visitors actually walk all the way back here to the vegetable garden, so it really is my space. I know it well. I built all the frames for the raised beds, added the dirt, laid out the paths, brought in the mulch for the paths, set up the compost bins. I plant it every year. I’ve made it my garden.

I am planning this same approach this fall when I create a new border garden along another section of the fence. I’ll bring in some compost and top soil ‘one wheelbarrow at a time’ and soon I’ll have a nice bed ready for planting.

If you do a big project like this vegetable garden a little at a time, soon you’ll have a nice garden, a garden that you are connected with.

Every gardener has a favorite place or two in their garden, places they spend more time in than other places.

We find those places by being in the garden in all seasons and all times of day. We think about what we want those places to be and then we make them, one plant, one shovelful of dirt at a time. They are our places.

Without those places, it’s not a garden, is it?

Do you have a favorite place in your garden?

Monday, August 18, 2008

How Plants Grow At May Dreams Gardens

One minute I’m thinking that this will be the year that none of the tomatoes will ripen and I’ll be “outed’ as a less-than-adequate vegetable gardener, and then I have more ripe tomatoes than I can eat, and I’m looking for people to take a few off my hands.

I love gardening!

I love the up’s and down’s of it, how I love my garden one minute, and then after I see someone else’s garden or a picture in a magazine, or on a blog, I’m ready to rip out whole sections of plants and start over.

I love gardening!

I love how I carefully tend a special plant and give it my best, and then it up and dies on me, while in the compost bin a false sunflower grows, a survivor from all of the plants I ripped out, cut up, and threw in there earlier this spring.
I love gardening!

Perhaps the first lesson every gardener should learn is sometimes, the less we fuss over a plant, the better it will grow.

Or maybe the first lesson is that conditions don’t have to be perfect for a plant to grow.

Or maybe the first lesson is that we are in control of far less than we think in our gardens, so we might as well just go with the flow, sit back and watch the garden grow.

I love gardening!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

When the Cicadas Sing, Starting Making Plans For Houseplants

If I didn't have a calendar, I'd still know that fall is coming because of the constant singing of the cicadas up in the trees.

And with fall approaching, I'm starting to make some choices about which plants I'll bring inside to save them from the killing frost.

Yes, I said killing frost and it is still August. The killing frost (oops, wrote it again) is still hopefully about two months from now, but it never hurts to plan in advance.

First, I need to figure out what to do with the Red Banana plants, Ensete maurelii. I really like them and would like to save them. This is a picture taken in early July. They are now twice as big!

Fortunately, Proven Winners has some good instructions on what to do to winter them over. I think I'll choose the option of keeping them in the garage.

I've already decided that this Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' is spending the winter in the sunroom.It was a little "runt" of a plant when I bought it, the last one the garden center had, so I'm kind of fond of it. It jumped into my cart, honest!

I think it will get a bit leggy inside, but should survive, and then I can cut it back next spring when I put it back outside.

This old-fashioned Streptocarpus is also coming inside for the winter.
It's generally a houseplant around here, anyway. It was an impulse purchase this spring. Did you know I bought plants on impulse like that?

I also have a purple-leaved plant I call "Moses-in-the-Cradle" that I got a start of from Annie in Austin, so I am definitely bringing it inside well before the first frost. (There's that bad "frost" word again, sorry if that gave you chills.)

And of course, I'm bringing back into the house all the Clivia plants and the poinsettias that I set outside for the summer.

Just about the only plants that could make it inside in the winter that I'm not bringing in are three ginormous Boston ferns, Nephrolepis exaltata, hanging on the front porch. They would do okay inside, but I would have to sweep up leaves all winter long. Who needs that?

When I bring plants back inside for the fall and winter, I take several precautions to give them the best chance of making it through until spring without ending up with an invasion of pests inside my house. My precautions include:

- Bring them in well before the first frost. Some tropical plants, especially, don't even like temperatures in the 40's. Plus, the cooler temperatures often are the signal for the plants to start going dormant. I plan to start bringing some plants inside as early as Labor Day weekend.

- Repot them if I can. I know that fall is not the time to replant houseplants. Spring is preferred, but I don't want to bring in the pots that have been outside all summer with all the creatures that live in them now... like pill bugs, millipedes, and spiders, just to name a few. So I take my chances and repot the plants.

- Check them thoroughly for pests, especially the undersides of the leaves. I know, by the way, that I still have a big problem with mealybugs on the Clivia lilies that I set outside. I'll have to start now trying to get rid of them. (Mealybugs are also still a problem inside, unfortunately. I've been battling it for years.)

- Give them a little bit of fertilizer for a little boost going into winter. Then I don't fertilize them all winter, just water them when needed (which isn't as often as most people think.)

Does anyone else bring plants in for the winter? What do you do to ensure they'll survive until spring?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Let The Gardening Olympics Begin...

Let the Olympic gardening games begin.

The one and only Idahogardener is hosting a blogging event to commemorate the Olympics in true gardening fashion.

There are just three rules:

1. You must link back to her website.
2. You must show her the best of the best of your garden. You decide what that is: single plant, single fabulous piece of produce, collection of tomatoes, collection of hoes, a garden vignette, whatever. Three entries per garden.
3. Deadline is Sunday night at midnight.

And then Idahogardener is going to decide who gets the gold, silver, and bronze. She says she’s fair minded and since she just got back from her local fair, I’ll bet she is.

I’ve been training for this! I’m ready and have three entries to submit.

I’ve got an entry for something I grow, an entry for something I am, and an entry for something I have.

In the “something I grow” event, can any flower beat a night blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)?

When it blooms, it is a great event, watching the flower unfold in one evening. It’s a time for all to gather around and marvel at a true standout in the horticultural world.

In the “something I am” event, I need only link back to all of the gardening geek posts. You don’t think I study other gardeners to come up with all those traits of a gardening geek, do you?

Well, on some I do, but on others, I’m guilty as charged. And as I get older, apparently my geekiness is turning into outright eccentricity. I bet my family is proud of me now!

Finally, in the “something I have” category, I must submit my hoe collection. Idahoegardener’s rules call out for it!

And I have presented it as five circles to represent the five Olympic rings.

Now just having hoes, I realize, may not qualify you for a gold medal in these gardening Olympics. And so, I’ve got a treat for you…

Hoeing at May Dreams Gardens




I eagerly await the decision of the judge!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2008

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens!

The August garden seems to have a certain maturity to it here in my garden. Long gone are the sprouts and tiny flower buds of spring and in their place are mature plants, some just starting to flower and others continuing a show that started much earlier in the summer.

These blooms are what I call August Lilies, an old-time variety of Hosta that actually blooms in August. Unlike the smaller hosta blooms I see in June and July, these blooms are bigger and have a sweet scent that is lovely and heavy like a hot summer day.

They are passalong plants from my sister-in-law, but they could just have easily come from my grandmother's garden, as I remember she had hostas that flowered in late summer in her garden, too.

Late summer? I don't like the sound of that!

The surprise liles (Lycoris sp.) started blooming a week or so ago.

Some gardeners call these Resurrection Lilies because the foliage comes up in the spring and dies back, and then out of nowhere it seems, these stems come up with these big pink blooms. Others call them Naked Ladies because they lack leaves when they bloom.

Last summer, my Resurrection/Surprise Lilies were planted over by the side of the house near an air conditioning unit so I dug them up later in the fall and moved them. I think they look a lot better mixed in with other flowers. And since I moved them, it seems like I have a lot more of them.

Last fall, I also planted Hydrangrea paniculata 'Tardiva'.
It is definitely going to brighten up the area where it's planted. Those blooms seem to get whiter every day.

Another white bloom is out in the vegetable garden. This is cilantro gone to seed. I need to work on my timing so that the cilantro is ready to harvest for making salsa at the same time as the tomatoes and peppers are ready to be picked.

On the edge of the garden, the 'Concord' grapes are starting to turn to purple.

These add some color, so I'm counting them as "blooms". My garden, my rules!

It won't be long before these are ready to be picked and I can make some grape jam again.

The other day, I saw that some of the Chrysanthemums are starting to bloom. It seems too soon! Then I noticed one of the 'Autumn Joy' Sedum is starting to show some color on its bloom, too. I can see 'autumn' in these blooms, just like I hear 'autumn' arriving in the garden every time I hear the cicadas in the trees.

But let's not think too far ahead, let's just enjoy August for awhile longer.

What's blooming in your garden today? Show us with your own post for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

It's easy to participate. Just post on your own blog about what is blooming in your garden mid-August. You can include pictures and words, just pictures or just words. Botanical names are strictly optional. It's your blog, your rules!

Once you've posted about your blooms, come back here to this post and leave a comment, so we can find you and see what's blooming in your garden.

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

My list of blooms includes:

Coreopsis rosea – Pink Thresdleaf Coreopsis
Coreopsis verticillata – Threadleaf Coreopsis
Echinacea purpurea – Coneflowers
Helianthus helianthoides 'Loraine Sunshine'
Hemerocallis – Daylilies, primarily 'Stella D'Oro'
Hosta – un-named varieties, purple and white flowers
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’
Leucanthemum x superbum – Shasta daisies (barely)
Nasturtims - several varieties
Phlox paniculata – Purple, White, and Pink
Platycodon grandiflora - Balloon Flower
Rudbeckia hirta - Black-eyed Susan’s
Tagetes – Marigolds
Zinnia – Purple, pink, white, and my favorite, green
Pardancanda - Candy Lily Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Clematis integrifolia ‘Alba’
Potentilla fruticosa 'Alba'
Rose – White Flower Carpet
Spirea japonica ‘Limemound’
Lychnis - Surprise Lily
Chrysanthemum - light purple
Hydrandea paniculata 'Tardiva'
Platycodon grandiflorus - Balloon flower
Digitalis purpurea - Foxglove


Thursday, August 14, 2008

When A Gardener Goes To The State Fair

When a gardener goes to the State Fair, in this case, the Indiana State Fair...

She takes note that it is the "Year of the Tree".

So they decorated the gazebo top to look like... a tree house?

In the Home & Arts building, she finds a cake that looks like it was made just for her.This is for someone's retirement.

When there is a brief rain shower, she directs everyone with her to seek shelter in the HortAg Building.No one will want to go out into the rain, so they won't realize how much time she spends looking at all the vegetables and flowers.

She sees all these tomatoes but is disappointed that there is no "ugliest tomato" category.It's just as well, she would have won.

She's proud to see a banner for her alma mater.Yes, really, the Purdue University School of Agriculture. Boiler up!

Eventually, she leaves the plants behind and goes to see the chickens.Doesn't every gardener want a couple of chickens in their backyard, especially fancy ones like these? Well, at least Robin(Bumblebee) is getting some chickens.

She tries to talk to the rabbits, but they are having nothing to do with her.Have the rabbits read about May Dreams Gardens?

In the cow barn, she eyes the beginnings of a beautiful garden.It's a cow pie!

Did that cow just say, "Moo, this poo's for you?"

A good time was had by all.

I hope you get a chance to go to your state fair. The Indiana State Fair continues until Sunday, August 17th. Go if you get the chance. Robin of Robin's Nesting Place finally went, check out her beautiful pictures!

*****

Reminder that tomorrow is the 15th, time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden now, then leave a comment on my bloom day post (which will post very early tomorrow) so we can find you. All are welcome to participate, even if you don't consider your blog a "garden blog".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Toe-Mah-Gust at May Dreams Gardens

August is the month for tomatoes at May Dreams Gardens.

What generally starts as a trickle seems to rapidly turn into a deluge of tomatoes of all shapes, sizes, and tastes.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to growing tomatoes.

I start my own seedlings indoors in mid to late March and plant them out in the garden well after the frost free date.

I’m in no rush to plant the tomatoes outside, having once lost all my seedlings to a very late frost. And somewhere along the way I learned or got the idea in my head that tomatoes won’t grow at temperatures less than 59.5 F. I don’t know it is true or not, but I go by that.

Of course I stake my tomatoes and try to grow them like my Dad grew his tomatoes.

And I spend a lot of time waiting for the first tomato to ripen. While, I wait, I like to give my tomato plants the best care possible.

Once the first tomato does ripen, I pull out all the stops and think of elaborate rituals to commemorate the day and the tomato. If you aren’t familiar with the ritual of the first tomato, I recommend, you right-click on that link, view in a new window, and let me know what you think. I assume all tomato-growers make sort of a big deal out of the first ripe tomato.

There are rumors that I am competitive tomato grower. I think that rumor started last year when I claimed I had grown the smallest tomato possible.

Or maybe it was this year when I decided I had grown the World’s Ugliest Tomato.

Last year, a few gardeners did post pictures of smaller tomatoes than mine, but this year, no one has come forward with an uglier tomato than mine!

I try to plant a variety of tomatoes, so I have some to eat for every occasion throughout the month of August, and all the way up to the first frost.

Some of the tomatoes I've been harvesting this week include...

'Red Currant'It's very good on salads.

'Black Cherry'Though these are 'cherry' tomatoes, they taste more like a big tomato.


'Sun Gold'These are very sweet, like candy.

'German Johnson'This is my favorite "big" tomato.

And my favorite way to eat tomatoes? On a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, of course. And that 'German Johnson' looks like it is the perfect size to make the perfect sandwich.

For more posts about tomatoes, visit A Way To Garden, where we are celebrating all things tomato on Thursday, August 14th.

Then don’t forget to post your blooms on the 15th for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Yes it’s been a month all ready! I'm looking forward to finding out what’s blooming in your garden.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Don't Eat Your Seed Corn

Right before I went to sleep last night, I was thinking about how the raccoons had ravaged my sweet corn. And then I suddenly realized I had made a tactical error in what appears to be a new battle against a new foe.

I realized that I had left the remaining sweet corn out in the garden, so when the raccoons returned, and I knew they would, they would find more to eat.

When I checked the garden earlier this evening, I was right. The raccoons had returned and I could see evidence that they had eaten more sweet corn.

So I picked all the remaining shattered ears off the stalks and off the ground and added them to the compost tumbler. This will serve two purposes.

First, when the raccoons return tonight, and I know they will, they won’t find any more sweet corn to eat. Hopefully, that’s all the encouragement they will need to move on to someplace else, anyplace else. Second, I can see how long it takes for corn cobs to break down in the compost tumbler.

I read somewhere that the Native Americans used to set up “viewing stands” around their fields and gardens of corn, beans and squash and then stand guard over them all day and all night.

This ensured they wouldn’t lose a crop to raccoons, rabbits, deer, and anyone or anything else that tried to get it.

They were also extremely protective of their seed corn. The seed corn was their future, they needed it for survival. They knew that no matter how hungry they got in the winter, if they ate their seed corn, they would surely starve by the next fall as there would be no more crops.

I’m not much of a seed saver, relying instead on the many companies that send me their seed catalogs every winter to provide me with all the seed I need each spring.

But I do believe gardeners shouldn’t eat their seed corn, whatever that is for them.

How do we avoid eating our ‘seed corn’ and actually increase our seed corn?

- By reading about gardening and getting good new ideas, and trying them out in our gardens.

- By taking care of ourselves so we have the strength and stamina to plant a new crop each spring and tend our gardens all year.

- By sharing passalong plants with others so that if a plant dies in our own garden, we have someone who can give us a fresh start of it from their garden.

- By sharing our knowledge of gardening with others, so they can learn to garden, too, and learn new things that they can in turn share with us.

- By practicing sustainable gardening methods, so we improve the garden each year and leave it whole for whoever gardens there after us.

No matter how desperate you get as a gardener, please don’t eat your ‘seed corn’.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Are Gardeners Naturally Eccentric?

Do you think most gardeners are a bit… eccentric?

Are we that different from those who don’t garden?

I’ve been browsing through the 1961 edition of How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method, edited by J. I. Rodale and staff. It’s funny to read it now, nearly 50 years after it was first published. They were so excited about organic gardening and mulch and compost!

Just like we are today.

If you’d like to read about some eccentric gardeners, this book would be a good place to start. There’s a write up starting on page 25 about Mrs. H. R. Leversee of Kalamazoo, Michigan who was quoted as saying “I like to work with plain dirt.”

And she did! According to the write up, nearly every day she set out with her wheelbarrow and shovel and walked up and down her street scooping up the dirt that “lines the gutters”. They estimated she transported 100 tons of dirt from the street to her garden over the course of 17 years and wore out three wheelbarrows.

An eccentric gardener? I’d say so. Her final quote… “Working is like walking. If you enjoy it you never notice it. I like to work with plain dirt. I like to see things grow in it. Every shovelful I take from along the curbs will produce food some day. I’ll never get tired of watching that happen.”

I bet her neighbor’s wondered what she was doing out there, nearly every day of the year, year after year. Maybe after awhile they got used to seeing her with her wheelbarrow and shovel, scooping up dirt? Maybe they thought she was just trying to keep the streets clean? Maybe she shared with them some of the vegetables from her garden, grown in their dirt?

One of my sisters, who shall remain nameless, once told me she thought I was the most likely in the family to become eccentric. I’ll have to ask her if she remembers saying that and if it is because I garden.

You might have thought me a bit odd, but hardly eccentric, this evening when I was out in the garden, seeing for the first time that all the rest of my sweet corn, which wasn’t a lot but was greatly anticipated, had been ruined by raccoons. They scratched and clawed at nearly every remaining ear out there! Mostly I was just muttering and looking at the destruction with disgust. Later I took pictures.
Or the other day, if you had watched over the fence as I made another video, this one called simply ‘The Gardener’, you might have wondered what was going on. After all, it took me two ‘takes’ to get this “triumph of video recording with a digital camera” recorded.



But I don’t know if I’ve reached the level of an ‘eccentric’ in her garden. Aren’t eccentrics old? I’m still too young!

Do you consider yourself a bit eccentric as a gardener? Do gardeners tend to be more eccentric than others?

(So, in wrapping up this post, I checked on the definition of eccentric. Why did they choose THAT clipart to show an eccentric person? I think I’ve just answered the question about “are gardeners considered eccentric”. Discuss amongst yourselves…)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Art of Taking Breaks

Sometimes, the most important thing you can do when you are out working in your garden is… take a break.

I think I’ve perfected the art of taking breaks, and it shows in my garden! There are areas that could use a little more attention, be cleaned up a bit more, be better planted.

But I don’t let all that “undone stuff” interfere with my break times!

I believe a gardener should take breaks when needed and then take a few more breaks beyond those because what is the point of gardening to exhaustion, to the point where you wonder if the symptoms you have are the same as heat stroke? If that is the case, maybe you do have heat stroke!

I strive to find a good balance between taking breaks and still getting stuff done in the garden. I don’t know if I’ve found the right balance, but I do find time for breaks.

Sometimes I’ll set little mini-goals for myself and treat myself to a break when I’ve accomplished the goal. “When I’ve filled up this bushel basket twice with weeds, I can take a break and eat a piece of chocolate and drink some iced tea.”

Or maybe if it’s summertime, I’ll eat a few cherry tomatoes, like those ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes pictured above, straight out of the garden for a little break-time snack. (Those ‘Black Cherry’ tomatoes are very good, by the way, and will be included in my garden next year.)

Always when I mow the lawn, I take a break between mowing the front lawn and mowing the back lawn. If it’s a nice cool day, I wouldn’t necessarily need the break, but on hot days I absolutely need the break.

It’s all part of my ritual of mowing. I park the mower in the same spot when I’m done with the front, go in and get some iced tea and maybe a little treat to eat, and take a break. Sometimes while on my mowing break, I check Twitter and leave a message about how I’m ‘sweating like an Austin Garden Blogger’. Sometimes I check Plurk or email.

And sometimes, if I’ve thought about something I want to post about while I was out there mowing (because we all know mowing is great thinking time), I’ll use the break to write up a first draft.

Then when I’m cooled down, I go out and finish mowing the back. Oddly enough, after I’ve mowed the back, I don’t always take another break right away. I clean under the deck of the mower and put it away, and then putter around in the garden for a bit before I go back inside and get something to drink.

Always when it is hot outside, and I have to garden for whatever reason, be it giving in to the gardening compulsion or having to do some Important Garden Task That Can’t Wait, I give myself time for plenty of breaks, good long, cool down breaks with lots of water and green iced tea.

Overall, I think I do a pretty good job of taking breaks. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t have to leave it all out there in the garden like an athlete competing in the Olympics. There is time to take it a bit slower, enjoy the actual gardening a bit more and take a few more breaks.

I’ve figured out that learning the art of taking breaks and giving yourself permission to take as many breaks as you need or want is key to being a better gardener!

So, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being, “I work in the garden until I collapse” to 10 being “oh, we are supposed to garden in between these breaks”, how good are you at the Art of Taking Breaks?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Join Me In Reading A Gardening Book!

I'm a bit late in announcing the August-September selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, but there is still plenty of time! How about reading Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich with me?

Why did I pick this one? Because I've got a great big area along my fence that I want to prepare for planting, and the methods outlined in Reich's book should help me build up my soil from the top down, instead of using the traditional method of digging it all up.

If I like his methods, and they seem to make sense, I'm going to try them.

I picked Reich's book after Dee from Red Dirt Rambling sent me a list of some books on her own bookshelf, which included How to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back by Ruth Stout.

As soon as I saw this book on Dee's list, I was instantly drawn to it. Who hasn't heard of Ruth Stout and her no-till method of gardening? I have. Who wants an aching back? Not me.

But there was just one tiny fifty-dollar problem... I like to choose books for the book club that are likely to be in a public library or readily available on Amazon, even if all the copies there are used or "like new".

I don't know if Stout's book is readily available at the library, but I do know it is scare on Amazon. I saw just one used copy for sale on Amazon for $49.

I could buy a couple cubic yards of mulch or a new hoe for $49! So this will be an alternate choice in case someone besides Dee has it. And if you do have this one on your shelf, I'd love to read what you think about it. Would it be worth $50 to have your own copy? Did you know your copy might be worth that much?

Or, if you have Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza you can read and review it as your contribution to the Garden Bloggers' Book Club. I know a few of you have this one and have written about it before, including Colleen at In The Garden Online.

Whether or not you have new beds to prepare for planting now, you are a gardener, so you naturally want to have the best dirt with the fewest weeds. And wouldn't it be nice to feel more confident about using these no-till methods to get to that good dirt? Sure it would be! And it will be more fun to read and learn about them with other gardeners. So I hope you'll join me in reading Weedless Gardening or one of these other books in August and September.

It's easy to participate in the Garden Bloggers' Book Club. Just read the selected book or one of the alternate choices, post about it on your blog, and then let me know you've posted. Then on the last day of the second month for the book, I'll post a "virtual meeting" post with a link back to all the various review posts.

So put down your shovel, stop the tiller, and pick up one of these books. Let's all figure out how to make this bed prep thing just a little bit easier, maybe.

All are welcome to join in!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Embrace Never Finished For A Happier Life

A happy gardener is one who admits that she (or he) is never finished in the garden.

We talk about being finished all the time, but we know, deep down inside, that there is no “finish” in a garden, no real end to what needs to be done.

Just like it appears like there is no end, no bottom, to this swirl of leaves of one of my Red Banana plants, Ensete maurelii.

We must embrace “never finished” for a happier life.

We say, “I’m finished weeding”, and indeed we might look back down a row in the vegetable garden or across a flower bed and see nary a weed left standing, we were so thorough in our weeding.

But then the next morning, we slip out to the garden in the first light of day, still in our night clothes, wearing little bunny slippers, tea cup in hand, and run smack dab into a giant weed in that very bed!

How did we miss such a big weed? Did it grow overnight? It must have. And all around we see more little weed sprouts. Weeding, we all know, is an ongoing activity. We are never finished with weeding.

*****

We buy dozens of bags of mulch or have a large truckload of the finest mulch we can afford dumped on the driveway. Then we proceed to sweat and toil with shovel and wheelbarrow to move all that mulch to various flower beds and shrub borders. And when we’ve spread it all, we say “We’ve finished mulching!”

But the laws of nature decree that no matter how much mulch we buy, we’ll always end up one wheelbarrow load short of what we need, and there will be that one out of the way corner, or furthest section of the garden, that didn’t quite get enough mulch.

So we aren’t finished mulching, really, we’ve just run out of mulch. So we add to our “to do” list to get that last bag or two or ten of mulch that we need to finish mulching and then weeks later wonder when we’ll get that done.

*****

In the spring, we stand proudly in our vegetable gardens, leaning on our hoes, and announce to anyone nearby “I’ve finished planting the vegetable garden!” And for a little while, maybe even a few days or a week, we really believe we have finished that rite of spring, the planting of the vegetable garden.

But then we go out to the garden after work one day and stare in horror at all the pepper plants that have been bitten off by something, someone, in our absence. With total disgust because that someone didn’t even eat the plant after he bit it off, we go to the garden center and buy more pepper plants and plant again.

Or maybe the corn came up very sparsely, so we decide the seed was bad and we go buy more seed and plant more corn.

And so it continues in the garden, both vegetable and flower. We see a blank spot of earth and think we must fill it with more plants. We are never finished planting.

*****

If we really want to be finished with something, we should have chosen other hobbies.

We could have chosen to make miniature dollhouses. Once you’ve finished one, it’s done. There is no more to do. You can put it on a shelf or give it to someone and start over with a new dollhouse.

Or we could have chosen to sew quilts. You can finish making a quilt. When it's finished, you can wrap yourself up in it, lay it across the foot of the bed, or give it away and start a new one.

But we chose gardening, or gardening chose us.

With gardening, “finished” never means “done”. It means we got as far as we could before we wore ourselves out or we ran out of dirt or plants or seed. Or maybe it got too hot or rained a bunch so we had to stop for a bit.

But it never means “the end”, “finished”, “no more”.

We are gardeners. We should embrace “never finished” for a happier life.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Anatomy of the World's Ugliest Tomato

It's an historic and proud day at May Dreams Gardens, the day I confirm that indeed, I have grown the Worlds' Ugliest Tomato, the "WUT", pronounced "what", as in "what is that?"

Earlier this evening, the WUT, a 'German Johnson' variety, hung from the vine, absorbing the last rays of sun on a glorious August day.


Even as the ugliest tomato, it has a certain beauty to it, hiding beneath the leaves.

The WUT is no ordinary tomato, clearly. Look how it is attached to the vine.It took me a few minutes of study and close scrutiny to determine that to remove the WUT, I would also need to cut off a fair amount of the tomato vine and another green tomato attched to it.

Here's the WUT, showing the vine and attached green tomato.
You can also see that the tomato vine is green and free of disease.

Once inside, I removed the vine and the green tomato and weighed the WUT.
That's 1 lb. 8 oz. of pure tomato, making it also a big WUT!

Then the moment of truth... I sliced through the WUT to see what it was like inside. The WUT appears to be compromised of at least four tomatoes that grew together to form the World's Ugliest Tomato.

That's teamwork!

And it tasted pretty good, too.

It will long be remembered here at May Dreams Gardens.
This is the picture I'll use as proof of the WUT, should anyone come forth with a challenger for the World's Ugliest Tomato. Feel free to try, but I think you'd be wasting your time.

Yes, I did eat part of it, that's a requirement for it be the WUT, and it tasted good, like a tomato should.

And now as a special bonus, the first video filmed at May Dreams Gardens...

The World's Ugliest Tomato.