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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chicago Beans

Beans! It’s all about the beans right now.

One of the last stops I made before leaving Chicago today after enjoying the Chicago Spring Fling was to go and see “the bean’. This sculpture in Millennium Park is officially known as Cloud Gate but many call it simply “the bean” because it looks like a bean seed.
I also took home some bean seeds from One Seed Chicago, given to us as we toured an urban vegetable garden planted by NeighborSpace.

According to the One Seed Chicago website,

“Each year One Seed Chicago selects one plant to be the focus of a season-long celebration. Imagine thousands of the same vegetable or flower linking community gardens, yards and window sills across the City! As One Book, One Chicago is to reading, One Seed Chicago is to urban greening.”

This year the plant to grow is ‘Blue Lake Pole’ beans so I’m going to sow these seeds in my garden, too, to grow along with people of Chicago and celebrate it in my own Indiana way. It will remind me of the fun we had at the Spring Fling, and the many gardens we toured, both public and private, including one NeighborSpace garden, the Ginkgo Organic Garden.

When I walked through the gate to that garden, I knew we had something in common, besides the use of raised beds to grow vegetables.


I’m sure their methods for keeping the rabbits out of the beds will be successful, and I wish them the best in growing food that will be shared with local food banks.

When I returned to my own garden today and removed the row cover from the green bean plot, I was relieved to see that they were indeed protected from the rabbits.

My beans seem to have grown “inches” while I was away. I’ll plant the ‘Blue Lake Pole’ beans tomorrow. They’ll catch up quickly and remind me of the fun of the Chicago Spring Fling.


Many thanks to those who organized the Chicago Spring Fling and lined up the garden tours and sponsorships. I’m sure at times getting us in the right place at the right time felt a bit like chasing a rabbit in the garden, but it all went very smoothly and a good time was had by all! Thank you!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Step Back and See the Gardens

How do you know when you've seen enough gardens for one day?

When you are standing in a beautiful Chicago garden, a Zone 5a garden which is very close to your own Zone 5b garden, and you ask no one in particular, "Can I grow that in my garden?"

And you answer your own question. Yes.

Every flower, every shrub, every tree that I saw today, except of course for those that are grown in a greenhouse and taken out just for the summer, I can grow in my own garden.

It's "horticultural overload" at its finest, this Chicago Spring Fling, from the up close inspection of flowers, like this Blue Dogbane, Amsonia sp., to the long range view of fabulous gardens like the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park, pictured below.

Plants and flowers are wonderful, but when combined as they are in gardens like the Lurie by masters of garden design, they become inspirations for the gardener.

Stepping back like this and seeing these gardens, taking them in on their grand scale, inspires at least me to put more thought into designing a garden, and not just planting flowers and plants that I like.

By tomorrow morning, I'll be all rested and ready to see more. Will someone please remind me that yes, I can grow all the plants I see in Chicago in my own garden?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

For Whom The Flower Blooms

Ask not for whom the flower blooms, the flower blooms for thee, the gardener.

Oh, how we wish that were true! Then we could command flowers to bloom whenever it pleased us for them to bloom. But we know that flowers are not for us, they are how the plants continue their species, they are for their survival. They are merely vessels designed to attract the perfect pollinator… bees, flies, moths, butterflies, even the wind. Their shape, their color, even when they bloom, are all part of the grand scheme of it all, designed, divined so that the pollinator is there when the flower blooms.

And I thought this Delphinium bloomed for me! After all, I’ve waited so long for it to bloom in my garden. I’ve been watching that bloom stalk for weeks, it seems and the other day wondered if it was actually going to bloom while I was in Chicago over the weekend. But then last night, as I was mowing, I saw that it was finally blooming. Blooming for me! I actually stopped mowing, went inside to get my camera, and then took pictures of it and admired it for a minute or two.

Later in the evening, some thunderstorms rolled through with all their wind and rain, and because I didn’t stake the Delphinium it is probably now flat on the ground.

Let’s go out and check.

Oh, well, while it lasted, for just a few hours, it was nice to see and enjoy.

I have another bloom that usually arrives just once a year, and is always eagerly anticipated and watched, the night-blooming cereus, Ephiphyllum oxypetalum. She is truly the Queen of the Night with a strong scent decided to attract who knows what as a pollinator. But she generally just attracts me, and makes me stop what I am dong and watch her bloom.

I have four very nicely rooted starts of the Queen of the Night that I am taking with me to the Chicago Spring Fling. They should be nicely rooted, since they’ve been in their little pots for two plus years. One is spoken for, but three are up for grabs. If you are going to be Chicago and have a place in your home for a night blooming cereus and a way to get it home, let me know, and I’ll give you one.

You will of course have to listen to its history, how my Dad got a start from Louisa V., who was originally from Czechoslovakia, how he used to take it outside every summer, how when it bloomed it was a neighborhood event, how he gave my aunt a start of it, how decades later she hinted for me to come and get hers as she could no longer manage such a plant but certainly didn’t want it to die, how I went to her house to get it, and how some pieces of it broke off, and I certainly didn’t want to compost then, so I rooted seven starts of them, how I gave two of them to co-workers, and gave one to my older sister, how I waited so long for the one my Dad gave me to bloom for me because mine is inside all the time, and how once I thought it was going to bloom when I was out of town for work, and so I briefly considered asking my boss if I could cancel my trip, but it bloomed the night I got home, and how it has bloomed each year since.

And I might also tell you how I care for mine.

Anyway, if you are going to be at the Chicago Spring Fling, and you read this post, be one of the first to tell me the secret code word “night bloomer”, and I’ll give you one of these plants. The bloom looks like this, just for you...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Protect Your Beans

Every gardener discovers upon planting a vegetable garden that they are unwittingly forced into battle for sovereignty over that very garden, for control, for first rights to the harvest. They must protect their beans.

The enemy? Take your pick. Raccoons, birds, woodchucks, deer, a variety of insects, and, of course, rabbits, to name a few. Though we gardeners walk upright, presumably are smarter, and have opposable thumbs, our victory is not guaranteed. The enemy has both small size and instinct on their side, and at least the raccoons have thumbs, though not opposable thumbs like ours.

We may not have to battle all of these enemies at once, but over time, we will face one or more and be tested beyond our wildest imaginations. We have to learn to protect our beans, by any means necessary.

In my own garden, my most epic battles, my greatest tests, have been against the rabbits. I have many stories to share of battles past and present, of what has worked and what has failed, leaving me empty-handed in my own bean patch.

Fencing? There’s nothing more disheartening than to walk out to your garden, surrounded by a fence, and find a rabbit or two inside the fence, oblivious to your presence, calmly eating the last of a long row of green bean plants. I've used a variety of fencing techniques, and none has been impenetrable. Somehow, a rabbit or two figures out how to get under, over, or through the fence. I don't trust fences.

Smelly stuff? I’ve used blood meal and cayenne pepper on some individual plants to keep the rabbits from eating them. I’ve never tried a commercially prepared product because the thought of the smell of “putrid egg solids” or whatever the spray is made of, makes me gag, and besides, I don’t want to attract the attention of neighbors who perhaps already wonder what I’m doing in my garden behind the privacy fence. Anyway, these concoctions seem to work for awhile, but must be reapplied frequently, especially after it rains. I gave up on them because I can’t always be in the garden right after the rain.

Row cover? Though it isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing, row cover actually works pretty well to keep the rabbits out, at least while the plants are small. Once the plants grow to a certain size, the row cover has to be removed or a structure built to use the row cover as more of a tent. I’ve never built such a structure, so row cover has only worked for awhile for me.

Trapping? I am a poor trapper at best. For whatever reason, I have only occasionally been able to set a trap that a rabbit fell for and got caught in. The few I did catch, I took to a park about two miles away and released them, but I felt guilty about doing so. Then a few years ago, I caught a big rabbit, in the rain, and when I picked up the trap to take it to the park, the rabbit shot out of it like a cannonball out of a cannon because I had not locked down the trap door. I no longer wish to be caught standing in the rain, holding an umbrella in one hand and an empty trap in the other.

Scare tactics? I have a plastic owl mounted on a stick in the garden. Owls are supposedly a natural predator of rabbits, so the assumption is that my plastic owl will scare them away. It does no such thing, but I put it out every year, just in case a really dumb rabbit shows up. Ditto snakes. I've never seen a real snake in my garden, ever, but I have cut up old garden hoses and left sections of them in the garden as fake snakes, thinking that might scare the rabbits. It did not, so I don't do that anymore. Those rabbits are training me quite well.

A fortress? I got the idea last year to build a small fortress around the bean plants using plastic spoons. It seemed to work, though I will be the first to admit that it looked odd and whenever anyone saw it, I had to explain what I was doing. Before anyone copies this technique, please be aware that I lack actual scientific proof that it kept the rabbits away. I never saw a rabbit mosey up to the row of spoons and then leave, and without this evidence, I am hesitant to recommend this method to others, though I may try it again. But next time I will use forks.

This year's battle against the rabbits may be the most trying of all. All is quiet and I see very little evidence of rabbits eating in my garden. I have yet to even see a rabbit anywhere. I keep asking myself why? Where are they? Are they still here? If they aren’t here, what happened to them? If they are here, what are they doing, where are they eating?

Clearly, the rabbits appear to be using stealth techniques.

I feel vulnerable doing nothing. I know I must remain vigilant. I must protect my beans. But how should I protect my beans?

After considering all my past successes, and failures, I decided to at least cover the young green bean plants with row cover, for another week or so. And once I remove the row cover, yes, I might set up a perimeter defense with plastic forks.

The green bean patch in my garden. All the beans are up!

The green bean patch under row cover. Yes, that's what row cover looks like.

Last year's bean patch protected with a plastic spoon fortress.I think plastic forks might make a better fortress than spoons.

Monday, May 25, 2009

False Pelargoniums

At some point in a gardener’s education, whether through book-learnin’ or in the school-of-hard-clay-soil-and-dead-plants, a gardener will learn or be told that what they call “geraniums” are not the true geraniums, they are Pelargoniums.

But the name “geranium” is so associated with Pelargoniums, that we are all forced to go around and call the other Geraniums, the real ones, the “true geraniums”, just in case someone mistakenly thinks we are talking about Pelargoniums when we are talking about Geraniums, the real ones. Or we could call the true Geraniums false pelargoniums, but that seems to be sort of like putting plastic flowers in your garden, as does calling the Pelargoinums “false geraniums”, even though there are other flowers we call false, like false forget-me-not’s, false indigo, and false sunflowers, to name three very quickly, that have nothing to do with plastic flowers.

With me so far? We should really make an effort, start a movement, to get rid of all this true and false flower naming business and call a flower by it’s true name. Who’s with me? I suppose The Society could take up this cause. I’ll ask the president and see what she thinks. After all, when last The Society met, they were considering a name change of their own, a cause which has been abandoned because really, is there a name better than the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”).

Anyway, whatever you call them, you ought to make a little room in your garden for Geraniums, the “true geraniums”, which by the way are also known as “cranesbill”, a common name probably used by gardeners who have already decided to avoid “true and false” names.

They might be the smartest gardeners.

So out of respect for those gardeners who have abandoned all the true and false names, here are some cranesbills in my garden today.

Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Karmina’

Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’

Geranium passalongia ‘Sister Who Does Not Garden’

And finally,

Geranium notagia ‘Why Did I Buy A Plant With No Tag’.
In my defense, I did ask about this cranesbill before I bought it and they told me it was called something that sounded like it started with “sam”. But when I did some online searches, I came up with nothing. It has pretty leaves, though, don’t you think?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, May 24, 2009

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and gardening friends everywhere,

I can’t believe it, or maybe I can. We’ve gone from a light frost early last Monday morning to steady temperatures in the 80’s and my first spinach crop is starting to bolt! That’s as sure a sign of summer arriving as the peonies fading and dropping their petals. Or as sure a sign as Jim Nabor’s singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the Indy 500 race that took place out on the west side of town earlier today.

All my direct sown summer crops, sown nine days ago, are also starting to germinate. Yes, I’ve got beans, corn, squash, and cucumber seedlings in the garden, along with sunflowers, zinnias, and marigolds, and of course, weeds.

And my tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers seem to be coming out of their spring funk, too, so I don’t think I’ll need to buy too many plants, after all. My gardening therapist, Dr. Hortfreud, will be happy to know that I’ve stopped worrying about the tomatoes, kind of.

So now that everything is starting to grow, we could actually use some rain. The other evening I went out to check the garden, again, and some of the pepper plants I had purchased and planted looked pretty bad. At first I thought it might be frost damage finally showing, and I was tempted to just pull them out, but then I watered everything and the next day, they were all perky again. That’s a good lesson to remember because often the garden looks pretty wilted in the late afternoon, just like we would be if we’d spent all day out in the sun. But by morning, all is fine again.

And morning is the best time to harvest from the vegetable garden, because the water content in the plants is highest at that time.

This morning, I picked lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, pea pods, and lettuce.
I feel a certain urgency to eat the lettuce as fast as I can, every meal, because it won’t be long before those plants bolt, too, and turn bitter in the heat.

The big surprise in the garden this morning was three ripe strawberries. Don’t ask me if you can have one, I’ve already eaten them. But there will be more to eat in the days ahead, so maybe I’ll bring some to the Spring Fling later this week?

But before I think about bringing strawberries to the spring fling, I’ve got a lot to do, including preparing the garden to get along without me for a few days. I’m going to go ahead and cover the young green bean plants, because that’s a favorite food of the rabbits. No tellin’ what those rabbits will do if they find out I’m not around. I’m also going to give the garden a good soaking Wednesday evening, mow the lawn, and of course, pick any ripe strawberries to snack on while I’m driving to Chicago.

See you on Thursday!

Flowers and veggies to all,

P.S. The picture above is of another peony blooming today, but fading fast. It’s a passalong from a co-worker.

P.S.S. Here’s a picture of the garden today. Please ignore the weeds and the lack of mulch in the paths.

I clearly need to take my own advice to Embrace Weeding for a happier life, or at least to have a weed-free garden. Weed-free garden? Is there such a thing? Nah, I don’t think it exists. Another one of those myths of gardening!

Beginning of Summer at May Dreams Gardens

Do you know when summer begins?

You will probably say that it begins on June 21, 2009 at 5:45 AM, but that is not true here.

Here, summer begins much earlier, at least for me. And it is in just a few hours!

Is everyone familiar with all the pre-race festivities that take place right before they start the engines for the Indy 500 race?

If you are, then please note that I believe that summer starts precisely when Jim Nabors sings "Back Home Again in Indiana" before the start of the race.

Don't tell me about the summer solstice and how summer is still a month away.

I know better.

Summer is in just a few hours!

So if by chance you are watching the Indy 500 or listening to it on the radio like we do here in Indianapolis (because the race is blacked out on television here), please pause for a moment when you hear Jim Nabor's sing and think of the beginning of summer at May Dreams Gardens and in your garden, too.

Then pause for another moment to look at the entire pre-race schedule and note that it includes some solemn moments, too, moments to remember that this is Memorial Day weekend, a time to remember and honor those who gave their lives in military service to preserve our freedoms.

Thank you, and have an enjoyable Memorial Day in and out of your garden.

(False Indigo, Baptisia 'Purple Smoke', pictured above)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Let Us Weed With The Let-Us Weeder!

Where would you try out a new hoe called the Let-Us Weeder®?

It's not a trick question! Of course you would want to try it out in a patch of lettuce, and that's just what I did this evening.

Lowell's Tools, who also sent me the Deck Digger®, sent me a second hoe called the Let-Us Weeder® to try out in my garden.

I took it out to my lettuce patch and gave it try. I hoed between the rows of lettuce, around the flowering pea vines, and next to my tiny little tomato plants.

I broke through the crusted earth with it and knocked out a variety of weeds.

My conclusion? Let-Us Keep this one close at hand!

This is a well designed hoe. It's got a nice sharp edge on both side of the hoe head and the point.

If room allows, you can hoe with the wide part, cutting down the weeds and cultivating the soil. Or if it is a tight fit, you can use just the point to do the same thing.

Lowell, of Lowell's Tools, included a nice note with the two hoes he sent with some good hoe maintenance and hoeing info, some of it specific to the Let-Us Weeder®, and some that replies to all hoeing.

If I might paraphrase and add my own thoughts...

- "The Let-Us Weeder® is designed for maintenance weeding." (That's true of most of the hoes in my collection other than the grub hoe.)

- "It works best on the pull stroke and also can be used in a chopping motion with the pointed tip." (This is not true of all hoes. Not all of them chop. This dual use is a great feature of this one.)

- "The tool comes in various handle lengths to match someone's height. It is best to let the length of the tool work for you by working with one hand on the grip and the other 12 - 15" down the shaft. This will keep your back straighter while you weed with your shoulder muscles and not your lower back muscles... The handle grip is not glued on so someone can shorten the handle if they wish." (I think I will cut this handle down a bit to make it more customized to my height. I know that some of my favorite hoes have shorter handles. Those with longer handles can't generally be cut down like this one, another nice feature.)

- "The tool is forged and tempered meaning it is very durable steel. To sharpen the tool, just file parallel with the edge. Take any nicks out as soon as you see them; maintain the existing angle and that will lessen damage when you hit a rock. If you sharpen the edge at a 45-degree angle, it will nick more severely". (I wonder if Lowell knows about the ginormous rock in my vegetable garden? I do appreciate this info on how to sharpen my new hoe, which I think applies to all tools. Keep the edge at the same angle!)

- "Always weed off to the side at about a 45 degree angle from directly in front of you. This, too, will help with your posture, keeping you straighter." (That's a good reminder for me. I don't want to end up all stooped over in my old age, which isn't just around the corner like some would think. It is decades and decades in the future.)

I would like to thank Lowell of Lowell's Tools for sending me this hoe to review and add to my hoe collection.

It is definitely not going to spend a lot of time "hanging around", it's going to be put to work in my garden!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Therapy with Dr. Hortfreud: Tomatoes & Rabbits

Another session with Dr. Hortfreud...

Carol, welcome back. I’m pleased you decided to continue your hort therapy sessions. What’s on your mind this week?

Well, Dr. Hortfreud, I’m worried about my tomato plants.

So I heard. What are you worried about?

Well, they are kind of small, but I planted them anyway and then a few mornings ago we had a light frost.

I see. If you think the seedlings are too small, why don’t you just buy new ones?

I thought about that, but I picked these varieties out special and started them all from seed and now I’ve bonded with them.

Hmmmm… but what’s that one really tall tomato plant that I saw in your garden all about?

Well, I did buy one tomato plant because it had a few blooms on it, and I wanted to get a tomato earlier than August this year. But I don’t think it will form a tomato from those particular buds because of the frost.

Isn’t that cheating if you are going to compete with your tomatoes?

Cheating? I don’t think so, Dr. Hortfreud, not according to the International Rules Committee for Tomato Growing Contests and Rituals (IRCTGCR).

I’ve never heard of this committee. Who’s on it?

Well, I am, so far.

I should have known. Anyway, this seedling problem is a challenging problem you have. I recommend a few more days of “wait and see” and if doesn’t appear like the seedlings are going to do much, we’ll have to go through some intense therapy to break your bond with the seedlings so you can buy some more tomato plants.

But, Dr. Hortfreud, won’t that be expensive to buy seedlings?

Carol, suddenly you're worried about spending money on plants? After all that money you spent last week buying plants? I’ve never known you to have a dollar that you weren’t willing to spend on a plant!

Can we switch subjects?

Certainly, Carol, this is your hort therapy session, but eventually you’ll have to deal with your tomato issues. What else is bothering you?


Rabbits? But you haven’t seen any rabbits this spring.

I know, that’s what’s bothering me. I don’t know where they are, if they are here and just not eating in the garden, or if they’ve actually left.

That actually sounds like good news. I don't understand what the issue is?

Well, after my success last year with building mini plastic spoon fortresses around the bean plants to keep the rabbits away, I bought a box of 600 plastic forks, thinking they would work even better. And now I don’t know if I should set them up or not.

I see. Well, your time is up for today. We need to schedule another long session to go in-depth on this rabbit issue.

Thank you, Dr. Hortfreud, I’ll do that. And may I ask how it is going for you?

Well, business is kind of slow. I’d appreciate some referrals.

Okay, if someone wants a hort therapy consult with you, they can just send me an email and I’ll send it along to you.

Thanks, Carol, I appreciate it. Now before our next session, please re-read the tomato lessons from your Dad and then go check those tomato seedlings for the 100th time to see if they are growing!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Garden Blues

My garden is singing the blues.

From these tiny blooms on Brunnera macrophylla, False Forget-me-not, to the comparately large iris flower which was labeled simply Iris 'Variegated', I have blue flowers throughout my garden.

But these aren't depressing, mournful, sad blues, as in "woe is me and the weeds in my garden".

These are happy, sky-reflecting blues, as in "take a minute and reflect on the flowers".

When I see them, they make me smile.

I'm reminded of the blues song, "Royal Garden Blues"...

Here's why I'm ravin',
here's why I'm ravin'
If it's blues you are cravin' just come on down.
You'll hear 'em playin',
you'll hear 'em playin'
Soon you'll be sayin',
"Hon jazz me 'round"
Because your feet they can't refuse.

Change playin' to growin' and you've got a nice little bit of jazz blues to hum to yourself as you check out even more blue flowers like...

...these flowers. Even if I hold my breath until I turn blue, I can't remember the name of them.

It's kind of embarrasing to not know their name or have a tag for them, since I planted them. Fortunately, there are some nomenclature rules we can apply to come up with the temporary botanical name Forgetia azure to use until I figure out the real one.

I remember the name of this blue flower! This is the lovely Blue Dogbane, Amsonia tabernaemontana. Each litte flower looks like it was cut out of the perfectly blue skies of a spring day in May, just for me to enjoy.

Other bluesy flowers in my garden this week include Aquilegia vulgaris 'Tower Blue', the first spiderworts, Tradescantia sp., and False Indigo, Baptisia sp. And, I'm on the lookout for more as a visit garden centers when I'm out and about.

The blues don't seem to last long in my garden, so I'll enjoy them while I can, humming along to this old blues tune.

"No other blues I'd care to choose, but Royal Garden Blues."

What color is your garden singing these days?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

String Trimmer Review

You have to give credit to Troy-Bilt® for their willingness to send products out to people like me to use and review, no strings attached.

Like several other garden bloggers, I also got a TB57 Lithium Ion Battery Cordless String Trimmer / Weed Trimmer from them earlier this spring.

One fine Sunday afternoon, not too long ago, I went out to the garage to put it together. It took me about twenty minutes, and most of that time I was messing around getting the handle attached. That takes four screws, and they are kind of odd screws, not really meant for a Phillips or slotted screwdriver, I think, though I’m not sure. The other problem, mostly my own, I’ll admit, was the print on the instructions was kind of small and I tried to read them without my glasses. I think that all instructions should be large-print regardless.

Once I put the trimmer together and charged up the battery, I gave it a test run and well, um, let me get to the point… I didn’t like it, at least for me. Here were my issues:

- I like to use string trimmers for edging along the driveway and sidewalk, and this one is not made for that. (Edging is different from trimming; with edging you run the trimmer at a right angle to the drive or sidewalk versus trimming, when you keep the trimmer flat to the ground.)
- I had trouble holding down the on/off trigger and if you let up on it a bit, the trimmer doesn’t stop, like with a corded electric trimmer, it just slows down.
- I started to get an ache in my upper arm and neck, probably due to the weight of the battery and how I was holding the trimmer.

So, I put the trimmer back in the garage and thought about what I might write about it.

Then it occurred to me that maybe my nephew, who is a new homeowner, might like a new string trimmer!

He would indeed, and so I give it to him to try out. I showed him the basics of how to use it, even though he used to work at a golf course and has a lot of experience with trimmers. In doing so, I used my middle two fingers to hold down the trigger, and that seemed to work better. Then I proceeded to use it to demonstrate how it trims and maybe I was holding it differently, because it didn’t seem that bad. Then I started to think maybe it wasn’t such a bad trimmer after all, and should I really give it up so quickly?

But I did give it up and my nephew has used it and reports that it is a pretty good trimmer.

Here’s his assessment:

- He likes it better than a gas powered trimmer because when you let go of the trigger the string stops right away.
- It does slow down as the battery runs low, but that is to be expected.
- He thinks it is almost big enough to have a shoulder strap, like some of the bigger gas powered trimmers, and that might make it easier to hold
- He would like it to be just a few inches longer when fully extended. He’s an even six feet tall.

But it works well for him, and he’s going to keep it.

As for me, I had a basic Troy-Bilt® corded electric string trimmer that I loved and used for several years, but they don’t last forever and late last fall, it had one too many parts go kaput, so I bought a new one this spring. Guess what I bought?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Through The Garden Gate: A Simpler Time

To pass through the garden gate, I must pass by my peonies in bloom.

The peonies remind me of a simpler time, when all I knew of “pennies” was that they grew in a bed on the garage side of our house. My peonies are those same peonies, transplanted from that simpler time and place to my own garden.

I remember how my Dad taught us to how to pinch out the side buds and leave the main flower buds so the blooms would be bigger. I don’t do that myself, but sometimes think that I should, just to remember how big those blooms could get.

My Dad often cut the peony blooms early in the morning and gave us bunches of them to give to our teachers. Or sometimes he would cut them and place them in jars of water to take with us on a visit to my grandparents on Memorial Day weekend. Once we arrived at their house, we would spend half the day driving from one little cemetery to another, leaving a few peonies on the graves of great, great-great, and even great-great-great grandparents, learning our family history along the way.

Those were simpler times, when daisies were used to determine “he loves me, he loves me not” or make some other important decision of childhood.
It was a time when I was happy to plant anything, digging in the dirt with a kitchen spoon, dreaming of what my own garden might be like some day.

It was a time when driving out to a nearby woods to hunt for morel mushrooms meant we would return with bags of wild violets to plant, because we knew those were Mom’s favorite flowers.
I want those simpler times in my own garden, to always have a few peonies, a clump or two of daisies, and violets interspersed amongst the flowers. I want to go through my garden gate and be happy with my garden…

And I am.

(Visit My Corner of Katy to see what she and others have going on through their garden gates today.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, May 17, 2009

Dear Dee and Mary Ann, and gardening friends everywhere,

As you read this letter, I’ll be enjoying the last few hours of my gardening vacation week, most likely frantically trying to return the house to order after spending most of the week outside.

It’s a good sign of progress that most of the plants sitting on my patio not yet planted are for my sister’s container garden. I managed to somehow plant everything I bought for my own garden, for the most part.

But vacations are never long enough for us to do all that we want to do, are they?

I still have a long list of things I want to do, including re-mulching the paths in the raised bed vegetable garden. I buy a mulch called “PlaySoft” which is easy to walk on and is often used for playgrounds. I can go buy a cubic yard of it, unload it a wheelbarrow full at a time, and then spread it around the garden paths in about 90 minutes or so, if I just get to it. It is the “just getting to it” part that is proving to be more difficult than you would imagine, or maybe you can imagine. I hope the mulch store has some extended spring hours so I can pick up a load after work one day this week. Then if I get another load or two on Saturday, it should be all done. It’s just a matter of doing it.

One big thing checked off my “to do” list was planting up the vegetable garden with the warm season crops. I got that done on Friday, even after we had two inches of rain on Wednesday. That's one of the advantages of raised bed gardens; they have good drainage so you can often plant the day after a rain.

When I gathered up all my seed packets and seedlings to take them out to the garden, I was a little concerned that I would not find room for everything. Mary Ann, I could just imagine you chortling at me for all the seeds I bought this spring if I told you I didn’t have room for everything!

But somehow I made it all fit into the 492 square feet of planting area I have, though it was “iffy” for the sweet corn for awhile. You need a nice “block” of sweet corn to get good pollination and ear formation and I’m planting the minimum amount to do that, one 4’ x 8’ block of it. But I’ve done that for several years, following many of the recommendations in an article in the April/May 1999 issue of the no-longer-published Kitchen Gardener (Taunton Press) magazine. (I loved that magazine, and still have all my back issues.) I don’t get bushel baskets full of sweet corn out of my little plot, but I get a few good ears and they are oh-so-sweet when you pick them out of your own garden and immediately cook them.

I do have to confess that as I looked at my pathetic little runt tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings, I almost decided they were too small to mess with, and considered throwing them into the compost bin and buying some bigger plants at the garden center. Dee, I know you can sympathize with me. I’m not sure why they all ended up so small. I started the seeds at the same time as I always do, same lightening, same everything…

Anyway, I did throw out the eggplant seedlings and replaced those with some nice big seedlings from my local favorite place to buy plants. The little flea beetles would have found mine in about two seconds and devoured them.

I went ahead and planted the tomato and pepper seedlings. I planted the tomato plants nice and deep because roots will form along the stem underground, further strengthening the plants. They’ll grow on just fine, though I may have a later tomato harvest than I’d like. But I’m still not too happy with the pepper seedlings, so I bought a few more pepper plants yesterday, “just in case” my seedlings don’t make it. I’m giving them a week and then I’ll decide if I will keep them. In either case, I now have to find room for my new pepper plants, don’t I?! It’s all kind of crazy, because I’ll also confess that I’m not a big fan of peppers anyway. I mostly grow them to give them away to others.

Since I seem to be confessing everything today, let me also confess that I did buy one ‘Early Girl’ tomato plant which is about two feet tall and has blossoms on it already. Surely there is a spot for it out in the garden?

Elsewhere in the garden, the early spring crops are all doing very well. The ‘Snowbird’ peas are blooming like crazy and the ‘Green Arrow’ peas should start blooming any time. My lettuce is also looking and tasting wonderful. I’ll be harvesting lettuce all week long and packing big salads of it to take to work for lunch.

Speaking of work, I need to close this letter and see what I can frantically get done today before going back to work tomorrow. I’ll try to stop occasionally to enjoy the garden, which includes that little iris pictured above. It’s got variegated leaves and yes, it does smell just like grape Kool-aid®.

Flowers and veggies for all,


P.S. Here’s a picture of the vegetable garden that I took earlier this morning.
I’ll try to include a picture each week so you can see how it grows.

P.S.S. I still haven’t seen any rabbits this year, and there is no sign of them eating in my garden. It’s very odd, and a bit scary. I did, however, see a chipmunk dart across the patio yesterday and noticed that someone, probably the chipmunk, has been digging in a newly planted container. Time to get out my trap.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Have You Ever Hoed A Deck?

Have you ever hoed a deck?

I hadn't until Lowell's Tools sent me two new hoes to try out and review, including the Deck Digger.

Since I don't have a deck, I went looking for one that looked like it needed to be hoed and ended up at my sister's house with the Deck Digger in hand.

My brother-in-law had commented on Mother's Day that he was trying to get his kids to help remove the debris from between the boards of their deck and gazebo so they can seal the wood. With kids, dogs, cats, and nearby trees dropping leaves, flowers, and other debris, their deck gets a lot of good use.

They eat out there, play out there, sit out there, cook out there. They are "out there" on the deck and gazebo all through the summer.

Over time, with all that use, the cracks between the boards do fill up with crud.

So I took the Deck Digger in hand and proceeded to "hoe" those cracks between the boards.
Yuck, look at all the crud it dug up! That is actually stuff that I hoed up from between those boards. No additional crud was brought it to make it a better picture, I promise!

The working end of this hoe is this flat curved shaped blade.It fits in between the boards so you can dig up all the crud that gets stuck in there. And as you can see above, it did a good job.

The only problem I had, which isn't a problem with the tool per se, is that where boards on the deck were spaced too closely together, the tool can't get in between the boards. Proper spacing between boards, according to several sites I checked, is about one-eighth of an inch. My brother-in-law did say that the guy who built their deck didn't pay attention to that like he should have, so some boards are too close together.

After I tried out the Deck Digger for awhile, I was nice enough to leave it with my brother-in-law to finish hoeing the deck. After all, why should I have all the fun?

Thank you again to Lowell's Tools for sending me this specialized hoe to try out.I'll be adding it to my hoe collection post in the next day or so, along with the other hoe they sent me to review, the Let-Us Weeder. I'll be reviewing it the next few weeks.

And now, should someone ask me if I've ever hoed a deck, I can say "Why, yes I have, matter of fact!"

If you are interested in The Deck Digger, you can contact Lowell's Tools via their website for more information.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2009

As the lilacs fade, the first peonies begin to bloom in my garden.

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for May 2009.

Though summer seems not too far off, the garden in the middle of May still has a fresh feeling to it here in USDA hardiness zone 5b. The mornings are still cool, and the weeds seem easy to pull after more than enough rainfall in April and now May. I measured over two inches of rain just yesterday.

But in spite of the rain, we've had enough sunny days that blooms are opening as fast as I can notice them.

Clematis 'Pink Fantasy', newly planted late last summer, just started blooming a few days ago, and now greets visitors as they come up the front walk.
I hope it continues to bloom throughout the summer.

In the back garden, the shrub clematis, Clematis integrifolia ‘Alba’ has also just started to bloom.It's never been so full and fresh as it is this year. Must be all that rain!

Nearby, the blue flowering C. integrifolia 'Rooguchi' is still too small to bloom but I'm happy it came back this spring since I didn't give it the best care after I planted it last summer.

It should go well with these double columbines, Aquilegia 'Tower Blue' and 'Tower Pink'

I started these from seed years ago and they've come back reliably every year. They even self sow themselves a bit, coming true from seed. For that reason, I have them scattered throughout the garden.

Another blue flower of spring is the Blue Dogbane, Amsonia tabernaemontana.

It only blooms for a few weeks, but then it stays about three feet tall and three feet wide and is a good backdrop for other flowers. It does self sow a bit so I think I'm going to start cutting off the seed heads before they mature.

Out in the front garden, this slow growing vine, Woodbine Variegated Honeysuckle Vine, Lonicera periclymenum ‘Harlequin’, is blooming, but the bloom gets lost in the foliage.That's okay, I bought it for the foliage.

I bought these Deutzia shrubs last year because I had to pull out some ivy choked Deutzia the fall before and I missed their white blooms.This one is Deutzia gracilis 'Duncan', sold by Proven Winners as 'Chardonnay Pearls'. I still think more gardeners should plant Deutzia in their gardens.

Finally, out in the vegetable garden, the 'Snowbird' peas are starting to bloom. And I see blooms on the strawberries and grapes, and tiny apples forming on the lone apple tree.
Looking back on previous bloom day posts, I think the list of what is blooming now is more like 2007 than 2008. I still need to finish my complete bloom day list, but promised some other garden bloggers that I would provide a list of the perennials I've purchased and planted this spring. Here it is:

Newly Purchased Perennials and Roses

Agastache 'Summer Glow' (Hummingbird Mint, a bit of a risk since it is listed as hardy to zone 6, I hope it isn't a self-sower.)
Anchusa azurea (Italian Bugloss, I don't know much about it, but don't think it is a thug.)
Aquilegia 'McKana Hybrids' (A light, clear yellow and white bloom.)
Aquilegia vulgaris 'Clementine' (A salmon rose colored double flower.)
Bletilla striata (Hardy Orchid, I also this bought last year, but one didn't return.)
Callirhoe involucrata (Poppy Mallow, I bought it because "Call-ir-hoe", get it? It's really pronounced "kal-ir-OH-ee", and yes, it is a self-sower that I hope I don't regret!)
Campanula carpatica 'Blue Clips' (Bellflower)
Campanula carpatica 'White Clips' (Another Bellflower)
Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold' (Yet another Bellflower)
Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Tiny Rubies' (Big name for a little dwarf Dianthus)
Digitalis 'Waldigone' (An unusual peachy yellow foxglove)
Digitalis 'Mertonensis' (A pink foxglove.)
Geranium (Still figuring out the variety.)
Iris 'Mister Roberts' (Another dwarf iris to go with my other dwarf irises)
Knockout Rose 'Radsunny' (Bought 3 of them)
Lagerstroemia indica 'Coral Filli' (Only gets 18" tall, hardy to zone 4. I probably need to explain why I decided to plant a crape myrtle in my garden. )
Oenothera 'Cold Crick' (Sundrops, I hope I don't regret it)
Phlox paniculata 'Laura' (I should have bought this years ago)
Phlox paniculata 'Orange Perfection' (Why not?)
Salvia x sylvestris 'Mainacht' (May Night, I've wanted this one for awhile, bought 3)

What's blooming in your garden this month of May?

We'd love to have you share your blooms with us on the 15th of each month by joining us with your own Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post. Just post on your blog about what is blooming this month in your garden and then come back here and leave a link to your blog post in the Mr. Linky widget below along with a brief comment to let us know you've posted.

The rules are simple... no rules! You can include pictures, lists, no lists, common names, botanical names, whatever you’d like to do to showcase your blooms. All are welcome!

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Budding Rosarian

In one day, I’ve increased my rose collection by 150 percent!

Yes, I’ve gone from two roses to five roses. Does that make me a rosarian? How many roses do you need to grow to be considered a rosarian? And do some of those roses have to have French sounding names?

What possessed me, after all these years of gardening, all these years of avoiding roses, to suddenly have so many roses? Five of them! But perhaps the more appropriate question was why did I avoid roses for all these years?

I had two reasons, maybe three. The first two reasons… diseases and bugs, led to the third reason… chemicals. I just didn’t want to have sickly rose shrubs de-leafed by black spot, rose buds covered with aphids and roses full of Japanese beetles. And I didn’t want to have to resort to chemicals to keep the roses looking nice.

So I just said “No thank you!” for the most part to roses.

But lately I’ve been conferring with rosarians like Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings and many readers who’ve left helpful comments when I previously posted about roses, and this spring decided to get some of the newer, disease resistant roses.

So now my rose collection includes:

A white flowering Flower Carpet® rose. It’s never given me a bit of trouble, but half the year it is hidden under some rampant growing Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, or hidden behind a self-sown clump of Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia sp. I ought to fix that.

A passalong rose rooted from one my Aunt has. This un-named pink rose suffered for nearly two years in a small container before I finally planted out in a corner somewhere. Since it is un-named, perhaps I should give a French name? It is one of those "bloom once and done" roses. It hasn't bloomed yet, but might by Friday for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Three Knockout® roses. These are my new roses! I pulled out three hacked-back Potentilla shrubs last night to make room for these three roses, the yellow blooming Knockout® ‘Radsunny’. Their bonus feature, besides the disease resistance, is that the blooms start out yellow and then fade to pink. Their one drawback? No scent.

Is this the beginning of a new rose era at May Dreams Gardens? Perhaps some scented roses are in my future? Maybe some roses with French names?

In fact, what I would like to have is a good disease resistant shrub rose with a wonderful scent that blooms from June through fall, is hardy in USDA hardines zone 5b and stays to a manageable size, say three to four feet tall, and has a French name. Any color but red. Any ideas?