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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, Ten!

The old rabbit, Nine, or Aught Nine as some called him, peered through the garden gate looking for signs of his replacement - a young, energetic bunny named Ten.

“Where is he”, said Nine to no one in particular. “I’ve got some advice for him and it’s almost time for me to leave!” While he waited he shifted his weight from one foot to another and wondered if his fur would ever dry out after that cold, wet summer. He checked his bag again to make sure he had everything he should take to The Past. It was heavy and hard to carry.

Just then he caught a glimpse of Ten hopping toward the gate.

With the same boundless energy and enthusiasm that Nine remembered once having, Ten arrived at the gate with one last big hop and a skidding stop and greeted Nine with an exuberant, “I’m here!”

“It’s about time”, said Nine, thinking all the while that Ten seemed just a bit too new, too green, too… something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “Oh,” he remembered “Ten is the first bunny of a new decade, that’s why he seems different.”

“Ten, I’ve got just a few more hours before I turn the garden over to you. Please listen carefully as there are some lessons I learned that I want to share with you before I go. I think they will be helpful.”

“I’m all ears”, said Ten.

So Nine pulled out the list he’d made during the last few days of the year, looked it over, and decided he really didn’t have all that much advice to offer, so he would make it brief. Besides, there wasn’t much time left!

“Ten, you’ve got 365 days before your replacement shows up. My advice is to do some hoeing when you can to earn your keep around the garden, but remember that “all hoe and no play” isn’t good for anyone. Try to get out of this garden on occasion to see what other gardens are like out there. And if you see a plant or flower you want, grab it. If you wait, it might be gone if you try to go back for it. Finally, have some fun along the way.”

Ten took notes, nodding his head as though he understood. It sure sounded easy enough!

“And one other thing, when those other rabbits come to the garden for various holidays be sure to…”

In mid-sentence, Nine looked at his watch and exclaimed, “Oh dear, my time is up. I’ve got to go. Good luck, Ten. I’ll see you next year in The Past, where I’ll be from now on. Auld Lang Syne and all that and have a great year!”

And with those last words, Nine grabbed his bag and disappeared into the fog, leaving Ten at the garden gate, trying to remember the advice he’d just been given, wondering what he was supposed to be sure to do when those other rabbits showed up.

But even without knowing all that he was supposed to do, he was very excited about the new opportunities he would have, the adventures he’d go through and quite ready for the chance to show how well he could tend the garden until his own replacement arrived.

Happy New Year, Ten!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Retrospective on 2009

It’s a rare event, as rare as a blue moon, when Dr. Hortfreud, Hortense Hoelove, the garden fairies and I all meet at the same time.

I sort of forced the meeting, knowing it would be a risky encounter, if it even took place at all. I didn't know if  Dr. Hortfreud knew Hortense or if the garden fairies would actually show up, even if I implored them to do so.

But none the less, there we all were meeting together and debating over a retrospective post for 2009.

Should it be based on my favorite posts? Dr. Hortfreud felt that was a bit self-centered and suggested it be based on what appeared to be the readers’ favorite posts. Hortense offered that the posts she wrote were best and should be the only ones listed. But that didn’t sit too well with the garden fairies, who felt like their posts should get top billing.

Oh my, this meeting was not going well! I, the self-appointed president of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”), and a member in good standing of the Society of Gardeners Aged Fifty and Over (SGAFO) am used to meetings that get loud and rambunctious, but this meeting was beyond even some of those!

Finally, I took control of the meeting and told them all to pick just one favorite of the posts they wrote, and I would include them on the list and then do my own picking to finish it off.

Dr. Hortfreud chose her first post to include on the list which annoyed Hortense, who wanted to do the same but felt like it would be too "copy cat" to do that. After recovering from her little snit, she decided to go with a post in which she answers questions about flowers. Dr. Hortfreud and Hortense are quite alike in many regards, both dispensing advice, but each does so in her own way.

The garden fairies wanted to go back further than 2009, arguing that I should allow posts from the entire decade, so I picked one for them about a tiny mint flower. In choosing for them, I realized that those lazy garden fairies had only written two guest posts in all of 2009, the other one being about my new camera. They need to do way more than that in 2010!

Then I looked through all the blog posts from 2009 and began to pick some of my favorites…

Embrace Vegetable Gardens for a Happier Life and a related post Bountiful Bunny Helps a Gardener

The Theory of Hortonnection about how all gardeners are connected in some way.

Everything I Learned About Touring Gardens, I Learned at Montrose because it will always remind me of my first Garden Writer’s Association symposium.

A Gardener’s Guide to Quantities and the related posts on time and distance.

The Letters to Gardening Friends, that I wrote all through the vegetable gardening season…

At this point, Dr. Hortfreud tapped me on the shoulder and suggested that I was missing the point about a blog retrospective for the end of the year. She said it wasn’t really about the posts, wonderful as I thought they were, and that it was unlikely that many people would click through to actually read them. 

She said it should really be about how having the blog introduced me to many wonderful gardeners near and far, and opened up some other opportunities throughout the year that might never have come my way without the blog.

And of course, she was right.

Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How To Find The Gardening Books at Your Local Bookstore

I love gardening books, all kinds of gardening books. I buy them, I ask for them for gifts, I read them, I sometimes review them. I've even downloaded a few to my iPhone for "just in case" reading if I get caught somewhere and want to read about gardening.

Whenever I go to a bookstore, I seek out the gardening books first. Most of the time, I have to go up and down the aisles trying to find the gardening section, especially at my local Borders bookstore, which seems to transplant -- I mean move them --more often than a indecisive gardener moves plants around. I always end up having to ask where they are.

But at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore, it was easy to see the sign for "Gardening", right there next to the bigger sign for restrooms. Could there be any worse spot for gardening books or any books than on either side of the entrance to the restrooms? And a survey of some of my garden blogging friends indicates that this is a common store layout across the country.

I tried to look at the gardening books there, I really did. But I gave up after a few minutes because of all the people who were waddling back to the restroom, slamming one door, then another. Then there were the flushing noises. Plus, there was no place to sit to look at a couple of books more closely.

By the way, the cook books are all in another section of the store with a nearby big comfy sofa and two arm chairs. Isn't that nice?  If the gardening books had been in that section, I would still be there trying to decide which dozen I should get!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reading John Wooden, Our Thoughts Turn To Gardening

The famous college basketball coach, John Wooden, once wrote that he started out each season by showing the new players how to properly put on their shoes and socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters. He said blisters were a common problem that kept players from being able to play their best. At first players thought he was nuts to go over something as simple as putting on socks and shoes, but then they realized that making sure to do that seemingly simple task properly did make a difference in how they played overall.

As usual, when reading this, our thoughts turn to gardening and one of the simplest tasks in caring for house plants – watering.

It seems so simple, just pour water in the pot with the plant and all is good, right?

Yes, sometimes, all is good if you just add water, but if you pay a little bit more attention to this simplest of tasks, you can avoid a few problems and your plants will be healthier in the long run.

Water when the plant needs it, which you can figure out by sticking your finger down in the dirt up to about your first knuckle. Then when you water, water until the water comes out the bottom of the container, and then discard that excess water. (Whew, that’s four waters in one sentence.)

Of course if a plant is wilting, water it. And look at the plant as you water it to see if it has any signs of disease or insects, or needs a little trim here and there. Maybe you’ll even find a flower bud! Or a bloom!

Finally, try to avoid watering with water straight from your water faucet. But if you must, let the water sit overnight and get to room temperature.

Watering, like putting on your shoes and socks, is such a simple task, but doing that simple task well could make a big difference!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


When I was a kid, part of the fun of Christmas was calling up friends on the day after asking “WhajagetforChristmas?” all in one excited breath, and then interrupting one another exclaiming over what we got for Christmas.


I got some antique seed packets!

Aren’t they beautiful!

And on the back of each is some wonderful garden advice!

Like on the Dwarf German Kale, it says, “…on a moist day after the plants are three or four inches high, transplant to two or three feet apart…” Of course, transplanting is best done on a “moist day”!

On the Early Red Turnip Radishes, it says to “use invariably when young and brittle”. I love that though I’m not sure what they meant by “invariably”. Oh well, radishes are best when smaller.

On the Black Wax Beans, I found this good advice “Never work among the vines when wet, as it induces rust”. That is good advice and I've tried to follow that for years.

And on the Long Green Cucumbers it says “When all danger from insects is past, thin out the plants…” I wonder how one knows when the danger of insects is past? That seems like a good thing to know even today.

I don’t know the age of these seed packets because they aren’t dated, but I did find some information on collecting antique seed packets on The Labelman's website and see some on that site that are similar to what I got for Christmas.

Many thanks to my sister-in-law who thought to buy these seed packets way back last spring, then rigged the Christmas name drawing so she would get my name. Wasn’t that nice of her? How in the world did she know that I would like antique seed packets? Hey, this might lead to a new collection for me!

But enough about me and my antique seed packets, now it’s your turn…


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at May Dreams Gardens

It's a magical Christmas when you catch the garden fairies in the midst of their Christmas preparations!  I don't mind a bit that they borrowed one of my Christmas tree ornaments for their own use for the day.  It's Christmas! They can borrow whatever they'd like to make their day a festive one.

They can even borrow this Nativity set.

It's life size to them.  Made of pipe cleaners and felt, this little Nativity set was a gift from my Uncle Albert to my mom at least sixty years ago, I'd guess. Now it is mine to keep safe and secure, though apparently it wasn't that secure because the garden fairies found it. I guess it just shows that they, too, know the true Gift of the Christmas Season.

To you and yours, from all of us at May Dreams Gardens...

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When A Gardener Wraps Christmas Presents

When a gardener wraps Christmas presents, she starts out with her stash of wrapping paper accumulated over several years.

She lays it out and notices that it has a decidely green and floral look to it. How did that happen?

She likes this one because it has amaryllis, holly, pine and roses on it.

She's had this roll for several years.

She likes this paper because it has poinsettias on it and even says "Poinsettia" all over it.

She hopes the people she gives gifts to like it, too, because it is one of those mega rolls that you can buy at the warehouse stores. There is enough paper in this roll to wrap every hoe she has every year for the next decade, and then some.

She was really excited to find this paper because it has botanical names printed on it.

And the botanical names appear to be pretty accurate, like Abies concolor.

For a more vintage, traditional Christmas look, she also has paper with Christmas trees.

This is a stiff wrapping paper, good for books and other heavier gifts because it won't tear.

While she's wrapping all the gifts she thinks about cutting some of the branches in the back of the Christmas tree, where no one would notice if  a few branches were shorter, to use for package decorations.

But then she realizes the only reason she wants to do this is to get to use her Felco pruners which she hasn't had a chance to use in almost a month, so she decides not to do it.

When all the gifts are wrapped, she puts some of them in this bag which even has the word "botanical" on it.

And the word "flora". These gifts are supposed to be stocking stuffers. Oops, some of them are bigger than the stockings.

When she is all done wrapping everything, the gardener ends up with this one odd gift amongst the Christmas presents.

This isn't a Christmas present, it's a birthday present for her sister who is turning 50 - FIFTY - on January 1st. Her sister will have to be an auxiliary member of the Society of Gardeners Age Fifty and Over (SGAFO) because she doesn't actually garden, though she likes gardens and pretty flowers. But she will be 50, so she'll be eligible to join if  someday she does decide she would like to garden.

Then when the gardener is all done wrapping presents, she admires the flowers and trees and botanical words on the packages. It all makes her very happy and puts her in the Christmas spirit. It makes her want to start a Christmas tree farm. It makes her wish she had more amaryllis plants. It makes her think of the Christmas Cottontail and she can hardly wait for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There Will Still Be Time To Buy Seeds After All The Holiday Festivities

I saw the first seed display of the season a week and a half ago at a big hardware store, the one that starts with "L". It was sandwiched in between some sorry looking poinsettias and those cardboard boxes full of Christmas wrapping paper.

My first instinct was to buy some seeds, of course, but then I remembered that we hadn't even celebrated Christmas yet. So I started a little chant in my head.

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities." 

Three more seed catalogs showed up in the mail yesterday. My first instinct was to skip the holidays and begin reading those seed catalogs. Then I remembered that I have Christmas gifts to wrap and I repeated my little chant.

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

In fact, there will be plenty of time after the holiday festivities to buy seeds, to read through the catalogs, to dream about the garden. After all, today  is just now the first full day of winter. I won't be planting peas until March 17th. And I haven't made my big seed catalog announcement yet!

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

Repeat after me, as you arrange those seed catalogs in a nice little stack next to your favorite chair for reading later...

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

Repeat after me, as you wrap gifts, finish all the cooking, clean the house up for company, and shovel snow (where nececessary)...

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

And repeat it one more time, just for good measure...

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

Once more for the truly seed addicted gardeners out there...

"There will still be time to buy seeds after all the holiday festivities."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice: Our Thoughts Turn To Gardening

I found this rare nest on my front porch and I'm watching it to see what or who hatches.

Could it be the nest of a partridge or a turtle dove? Maybe it is French hens or calling birds? Oh, wait, it has to be GEESE! Because the six geese are a-laying.

But if that is the case then one of the geese is holding out on me because I only see five eggs. I guess I should ask some of the maids to check these eggs occasionally when they aren't out milking cows, just to see if anything hatches.

I myself simply do not have time to watch a nest with funny eggs in it today because  it is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. There won't be enough daylight for all the more productive activities of the day, like thinking about gardening, so this nest may just have to remain unwatched if the maids are also busy. 

You would think I could watch this nest AND think about gardening at the same time, but I simply can't do it all.  I am busy! GADS! I also have to wrap Christmas gifts, go to the grocery story, make several calls,  and go to work. Plus now that it is winter, I really should make sure that all is ready in the garden for the arrival of the Christmas Cottontail.  I don't want to risk him not leaving some seeds and bulbs here!

And in between all of these holiday preparations and funny egg watching, I am putting the finishing touches on a major announcement regarding seed catalogs. You will not want to miss it, so stay tuned to channel "May Dreams Gardens" for further details as they become available. Major media outlets will also be notified when this major announcment regarding seed catalogs (MARSC) is ready. 

There isn't enough time in a day, is there? Especially on the shortest day of the year.  Make every minute count! 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Green

Show of hands - who got some snow yesterday?

I hear that out on the East cost they didn't get "some" snow, they got a bunch of snow.  And even saying "a bunch of snow" is probably an understatement as different garden bloggers are starting to shovel out and post pictures like the ones that Robin at Bumblebee posted.  They got a lot of snow. Over a foot of snow.  An impressive amount of snow. Snow.

Here in my garden the temperatures hovered around 33 F - 34 F all day, which meant that all the "precipitation" just made everything wet, but not terribly icy or dangerous.  That's a good thing when one is out and about running errands and shopping and taking pictures of plants that are still green in the garden.

Pictured above from the top left we have a variety of Veronica repens, a sedum, the lawn, silver Lamium, and Helleborus sp.  The first four are ground covers, which generally do stay green longer, providing a break from the brown and tans of mulch.  I love ground covers in the garden, but sometimes as a gardener I hate ground cover in the garden.

Ground cover can be tricky.

Ground cover can turn on you and take over an area and then look for more places to grow.

Ground cover can sulk and just look like little blobs going nowhere if it isn't happy with where you planted it.

Ground cover can make it hard to add plants to an area, if it has a firmly rooted there.

I once had a long, difficult break up with the ground cover  English Ivy, Hedera nelix 'Thorndale'. It was so cheap and easy, just four plants for one dollar, when I first planted it. But then it took over where it was and started looking to grow elsewhere, so I had to stop it. I had to kick it out of my garden. It took a few shrubs with it, but I did manage to get rid of it for the most part. Occasionally, I still see a piece of it trying to grow its way back into my life and garden, but I'm quick to pull it out and put it in the trash.

My advice on ground covers for any gardener is to think about them before you plant them. Be ready to show them "tough love" - be ready to pull them out or cut them back if they grow where you don't want them to grow. 

And then on a winter's day when everyone else seems to have snow, and lots of it, enjoy those ground covers, for they may well be all that is green in your garden - a beautiful color in winter or anytime of year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Society Meets Again: A Gardener's Christmas Ornaments

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

Following is a recap of the recent annual Society Christmas party, a festive gathering for all who attended. I, your self-appointed president, took some minutes so that those who were not in attendance could note the jolly fun had by all and make it a point to not miss next year’s meeting.

After dispensing with the usual Society business, which included a recap of the last Society meeting, a motion was made, seconded and approved by general affirmation to elect me, your self-appointed president, as president for an unspecified period of time.

As a thank you for time already served as President, new member Joseph T. of Greensparrow Garden presented me with a very nice portrait he drew of me. It’s actually of Hortense Hoelove but you all know that’s me who writes those letters and answers, right? Right!

We then moved on to various discussions about the weather, a popular topic whenever gardeners gather.

Cindy from My Corner of Katy, which is way down in Texas that way, could not wait for everyone to see the snow in her garden! Then Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening reminded us all what real snowfall records are like. There’s nothing like snow to put everyone in a holiday frame of mind!

Keeping with the winter cold theme, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter promised to be sympathetic toward those in the south who are dealing with their own version of cold, even while she is dealing with hers. Then Dee of Red Dirt Rambling taught us all how to accept cold weather and other inconveniences with good grace and gratitude.

Brrr… all this talk of winter weather! To warm us up, all members of the Society were treated to some actual, useful gardening and holiday information. The Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen, provided us with some information on which holiday plants are poisonous. Then Mary Ann of Gardens of the Wild Wild West showed us a good way to provide support for amaryllis flowers.

After delicious refreshments, everyone gathered around for the final program, a presentation of A Gardener’s Christmas Ornaments, all 60 plus, presented by yours truly, your self-appointed president.

All past, present, and future members of The Society are encouraged to also present about their gardening-themed Christmas ornaments, as time permits during this busy, festive season of good will and good cheer.

At this point, your self-appointed president was going to conclude the meeting with another reading of The Christmas Cottontail, but mercifully we ran out of time. Then all gathered up their coats and headed out into the cold winter’s night with promises to return for the next Society meeting. The topic will be…

...decided at a later time by your self-appointed president.

Merry Christmas to all members of the Society!

Minutes submitted by
President, SPPOTGWLS

(For anyone counting, there are 64 ornaments in the video plus the stocking hanger. After taking the pictures, I realized I missed several ornaments, including a shovel, a rake, a trowel, a digging fork and oh, yes, another hoe.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shhh... The Chickweed Is Sleeping

It’s nighttime here at May Dreams Gardens, just a few days before winter officially arrives.

Shhh… if you decide to venture outside where it is a cold 20 F, please don’t wake up the chickweed, Stellaria media.

Apparently, it’s sleeping the ‘sleep of plants’. According to, at night the leaves of chickweed fold over the tender buds to protect them. Isn’t that sweet? This ‘sleep of plants’ isn’t something all plants do, but apparently chickweeds do it and so do many legumes.

Don’t tell anyone, but I think chickweed is a cute little plant. With a little “reform work” and some good PR, I think it could be a decent enough ground cover or perhaps a cute little house plant. It is edible, too, as are other common weeds like purslane and dandelions.

I wonder what happened to chickweed, purslane, and dandelions that they became weeds instead of vegetables we cultivate in our gardens. What wrong turn did they take? How did they become so uncivilized?

Or are they all that uncivilized? Maybe we, the gardeners, are the ones who are uncivilized, not appreciating the qualities of these plants?

Think on that, and discuss amongst yourselves how this happens that some plants end up as weeds and others end up as cultivated plants. But keep your voices down, the chickweed is sleeping right outside.


Many thanks to all who showed us their December blooms for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th. Winter has certainly reduced our blooms significantly, but there are still many flowers to be found. If you get a few minutes, check out some of the links on Mr. Linky, and visit a few of them to see how they compare to your garden this month!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2009

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for December 2009!

Like many areas of the United States, we were hit with a blast of frigid air last week which brought low temperatures in the teens to my garden. Those temperatures caught these roses by surprise, judging by the state of these rosebuds.

These are the last of the bloom on the three Sunny Knock Out® roses (Rosa ‘Radsunny’) that I planted this past spring.

Around the corner from the roses, I found a lone blue flower on a stem of Vinca minor growing up close to the foundation of the house. Yes, that is chickweed growing with it!

Here the radiant heat comes off the brick to warm that spot up and fool that poor plant into blooming in December. But it isn’t truly a plant that is supposed to flower in December in Zone 5. Is there such a plant? One that blooms on purpose in December, because that’s its season of bloom?

If there is such a plant, I’d love to plant it in my garden, because I think that would be more true to the Elizabeth Lawrence quote, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year”.

Elsewhere in the garden I was pleasantly surprised to finally see some berries on the variegated coralberry, Symphricarpos orbiculatus ‘Taff’s Silver Edge’.
This is the coralberry that I almost dug out last summer because it is mostly just variegated foliage with tiny flowers that no one would notice. Admittedly, not many people will notice these berries unless they get right up next to the plant, but that’s okay if the birds like them.

I also have purple berries on some hardy beauty berry shrubs, Callicarpa dichotoma 'Issai'.
Eventually the birds should eat these berries, too, right after they dine on all the Viburnums.

And that’s pretty much all there is to show in my garden on this cold, dreary December day. I’ll save the few blooming indoor plants for January's bloom day when presumably there will be even less outside in my garden.

What's blooming in your garden on this fine December day? We'd love to see and hope you'll join in for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day by posting about what's blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month.

It's easy to participate! Just post about what's blooming in your garden, then leave a link to your post in the Mr. Linky widget below so we can find you. As a back up to Mr. Linky, you can also leave a comment to tell us a little about what we'll find in your December garden.

All are welcome to participate!

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Can Tell It's Winter...

Fortunately, I don't need a calendar to know that the official start of winter is just a week or so away. I'm a gardener! I can just step right out into my garden and know right away that it is winter.

I can tell it's winter because I have a blooming poinsettia in my sunroom.

I can tell it's winter because a squirrel has found my bird feeder. I caught him out there earlier today when I went out to scout for blooms for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I've successfully battled rabbits and voles; I'm confident I can beat these squirrels, too.

I can tell it's winter because most days of the week, I don't see my garden in daylight. I leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark. That's why I had to scout for blooms today, two days before bloom day. And I found some by the way. Yes, outside. Blooms. Or rather "a bloom".

I can tell it's winter because I saw the first seed display of the new gardening season at the local big box hardware store today. I even checked a few seed packets to see what year they were for, just to make sure it wasn't a leftover display from last season. Seeing this seed display made me want to drop everything, rush home, and start looking through seed catalogs. But then I remembered that it is just starting to be winter, and I have inches of snow to shovel before spring.

I can tell it's winter because it was in the mid 40's today but last week it was only in the teens for some days. This is just the kind of see-saw winter weather we can have that results in all that freezing and thawing, which causes some plants to heave out of the soil.

I can tell it's winter because my hands are looking less like those of a gardener and more like those of someone who sits around reading books and seed catalogs.

I can tell it's winter because someone will ask me this week what to do about all those bulbs they bought and never planted this fall.

I can tell it's winter because it has been over two weeks since the last lawn mowing of the season and I won't get to mow the lawn again for at least three months or more.

I can tell it's winter because I'm writing posts like this one, that provide very little useful gardening information. I promise to try to do better, after bloom day. In fact, I may let Dr. Hortfreud write a post, or maybe leave the laptop on and see if the garden fairies have something to say while my back is turned.

I can tell it's winter... can you tell?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Putting It All In Perspective

Years ago, when I was looking at various houses deciding what type of house I would like, a realtor took me through a house where the owners had a thing for...

... pigs.

Everywhere in the house, there were pig figurines, pig pictures, pig cups and plates, pig blankets and maybe even pigs in a blanket in the oven.

I have never seen so many pig-related items in one place before or since. I half expected a pot bellied pig to come wandering through at any moment.

In a word, it was porcine decor at its finest, if porcine decor can be considered fine.

And I suspect that if I had walked through that home at Christmas time, I would have seen pig ornaments on their Christmas tree, like this one that I saw in a store earlier today.

At least one person who lived in that house was a pig lover of the highest order. Oink!

Contrast that with my house, where there is nary a pig ornament on my tree, and no pig decor to be found anywhere else, unless you count the little flying pig outside my front door. But I do have some tell-tale signs throughout the house that might suggest to guests that I enjoy gardening.

Year round, there are hoes and watering cans everywhere, plus a sunroom full of plants.

Then at Christmas time, I decorate my Christmas tree with ornaments that relate to gardening in some way, like this snowman tangled up in a garden hose.
But to put it all in perspective, I don't think it is nearly as odd as those people with the pigs.

Is it?

(Sometime after Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (the 15th, this Tuesday!) and before Christmas, I will post about a few of my favorite gardening-theme ornaments. I'll at least post about the top 10, or maybe my favorite 25. And I'll probably post it as a slide show so you don't have to scroll down, and scroll down some more, and then some more. I'd love to see the gardening related ornaments that others have, too!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Christmas Cottontail Hard at Work

If you follow the winding path from Santa’s castle down past the stables where the reindeer live, then walk toward a little grove of pine and fir trees, you’ll find a tiny potting shed with an attached greenhouse nestled amongst the trees. Inside it's warm and bright and full of activity because this is where the Christmas Cottontail lives and works!

He and his helpers are quite busy these days preparing for his Christmas Eve responsibilities.

Some of his helpers are as busy as bees, because they actually are bees, helping to gather up seeds of all kinds of flowers for the Christmas Cottontail to sow in the gardens of the good gardeners. The bees have to watch out as they work, lest they be run over by little critters scurrying frantically back and forth like chipmunks, because they actually are chipmunks, helping organize all the flower bulbs for the Christmas Cottontail to plant.

In the midst of all this buzzing and scurrying about, the Christmas Cottontail is sitting at his potting bench, reviewing his list of good gardeners and bad gardeners. Once he has that list sorted out, he has to cross-reference it to a list of different gardening zones so that when the time comes he knows exactly which seeds to sow and which bulbs to plant in each good gardener’s garden. He is also deciding which gardeners have been especially good and putting those names on a list for the under-bunnies to take up to the main house to add to Santa’s list. Then Santa and his gardening elves will decide which gardening books and tools those gardeners should receive.

And it all has to be done in just two weeks!

When it gets a little too hectic, as it does most afternoons, the Christmas Cottontail likes to take a break and reflect on just how he had the good fortune to end up with such a wonderful life. Munching on some carrot and green bean cookies and sipping some green clover tea, he gathers all the bees, chipmunks, and under-bunnies around him and tells his story…

A distant relative of the sweet little Easter Bunny, the Thankful Thumper, Bountiful Bunny, and the devious Halloween Hare, the Christmas Cottontail was discovered by Santa Claus on one of the earliest Christmas Eve’s. He was just a tiny little bunny back then, nearly starving, trying to get to some of the carrots that someone had left out for Santa's reindeer.

Taking pity on the poor bunny, Santa took him back to the North Pole and named him the Christmas Cottontail.

Of course everyone knows that no one at the North Pole gets to just sit around eating carrots all day long, so over the next spring, summer, and fall, Santa and his gardening elves trained the bunny how to properly scatter seeds and plant bulbs in the flick of a whisker.

Now every year, the Christmas Cottontail checks his list of good gardeners and bad gardeners, packs his seeds and bulbs, and flies off with Santa Claus and his reindeer.

At the good gardeners’ houses, he scatters the seeds and plants the bulbs to bloom at Easter time. At the bad gardeners' houses, he stays in the sleigh and waits for Santa. At every house he looks for carrots left for the reindeer and sneaks a bite or two for himself and then gives the rest to the reindeer.

Gardeners then have to wait until spring to find out if the Christmas Cottontail visited their garden on Christmas Eve. If there are blooms in early spring it means the gardener was good and the Christmas Cottontail worked his magic. If there are no blooms in the springtime, it means the Christmas Cottontail decided the gardener was bad and stayed in the sleigh.

By the end of the storytelling, the bees are nodding off and the chipmunks and under-bunnies can barely keep their eyes open. They’ve all heard this story many times, but they love to hear it again and again and when it's over, they are refreshed and ready to get back to work.

And as they work they discuss how they’ve never been busier. Apparently many people are taking up gardening these days! Many have been good, and some have been so good that Santa will need some extra Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, to deliver all those gardening books and tools to everyone in one night!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Amaryllis Vase: Take Two!

When I first spotted the amaryllis vase at the now defunct Frank’s Nursery and Crafts, over ten years ago, I thought, “what a great idea”.

I immediately wanted it. I already had several hyacinth vases and every winter used them to force hyacinth bulbs into bloom, so why not branch out into amaryllis bulb forcing with a vase?

Why not indeed?

So I bought the vase and an amaryllis bulb and set it up just like I set up hyacinths. I filled the vase with water - just enough so that when I set the bulb on top, it was almost touching the water, but not in the water – and set the bulb on the vase.

The bulb grew roots and a shoot and soon there was a tall flower stalk just about ready to bloom. Everything seemed to be working out, just like with hyacinths, when without warning…

The bulb and flower stalk fell over sideways.

I set it upright again. It fell over. I pushed the bulb down further into the vase. It fell over. I leaned it up against a wall. It fell over.

I realized then that I had no way to support the flower stalk in the vase and it was too top heavy to stand upright on its own. So I let the bulb bloom sideways and then put the vase up on a high shelf, never too be used again.

Then the other day, I noticed that Mary Ann of Gardens of the Wild, Wild West, was setting up little scaffolds made out of sticks and raffia to support her amaryllis bloom stalks. Eureka! That’s what I needed to do! I needed to put sticks in the vase sort of “teepee style” before I set the bulb on it and use those to support the bloom!

So that’s what I just did. I put some sticks in the vase and will add some raffia later to keep the bloom stalk upright.
Already, after just 24 hours, the amaryllis bulb is starting to grow some new roots and the tip seems to have grown some, too. It’s eager to bloom, and I’m eager to see if I can keep it supported this time.

Amaryllis in a vase, just like hyacinth, suddenly seems like a good idea again.

~~~~ A Few Miscellaneous Notes ~~~~

(Note 1: Some of you will wonder why I kept an amaryllis vase for well over ten years if I didn’t think it was going to really work as designed. Fellow gardeners, please tell those who are wondering why I kept this vase just how difficult it is to get rid of anything related to gardening, anything that might be useful in the garden, or anything with any connection to gardening, if you are a gardener. Thank you.)

(Note 2: Somewhere I have a Christmas table cloth for the sunroom table. I meant to find it and put it on the table before I took pictures of the amaryllis vase, but I didn’t. Let’s all pretend I did.)

(Note 3: The amaryllis vase has been on a high shelf in the sun room for, um, at least ten years, and I obviously haven’t dusted it in at least, well, let’s say five years. I did clean it out before I added water this time.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Gardener at Christmas Time

I am a gardener and it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

I willingly admit…

… that I am tempted to buy poinsettias, Norfolk Island pines, Christmas cactus, amaryllis bulbs, and rosemary topiaries whenever I see them. But I try to avoid buying them on days like today when it is 36 F, the wind is howling and it is steadily raining. It’s not that good for the indoor plants to be exposed to this kind of weather.

… that my “gift suggestion list” is loaded down with new gardening books and gardening tools, even though I have a lot of gardening books and tools already, including all those hoes. But I think I can always use more.

… that when I think about the gifts of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the only one I’m really interested in is the “partridge in a pear tree”, mostly for the pear tree.

… that most many of the ornaments on my Christmas tree relate directly to gardening or a nature theme of some kind and some are actually little hoes.

… that one of my favorite Christmas carols is “The Holly and the Ivy”.

... that when I see one of those holiday commercials for the expensive car with the big red bow on top, I think it would be better if it was a new truck for gardening with a big green bow on top.

… that I will check on Christmas morning for the tell-tale tracks of the Christmas Cottontail in my garden.

Are you willing to admit how being a gardener affects your Christmas season?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

After All...

The garden looks calm and restful now, just waiting for the first snowfall. I hope it comes soon because there are some of those late fall-winter weeds coming up in a few places and a little snow would cover those weeds right up. Then I could move “weed out henbit” to my spring to-do list.

After all, you can’t really pull weeds out of frozen ground.

There are still a few blooms suspended in a sort of “frozen state” right now since it has turned cold, even if it isn’t snowing. When it turns cold like this, and gardeners have very few blooms outside in their gardens, I get a few comments asking if we post for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day in the winter months. Yes, we do.

After all, the idea is to find blooms, somewhere, every month of the year.

I lit a candle this evening that is supposed to smell like “greenhouse”. I kind of expected it would smell like good dirt, mixed with the tropical scent of orchids and other mysterious blooms like those I found at our local Garfield Park Conservatory. It smells more like pine and rosemary, which are both good scents, just not what I was expecting for a scent called “greenhouse”. I once had a candle with a scent called “Cut Grass”, which smelled exactly like a freshly cut lawn. Someone gave it to me for Christmas, which didn’t surprise me in the least.

After all, I do make a big deal about mowing my lawn.

I’m really looking forward to this “dreaming season” that we are just starting. It’s a good time to relax and reflect, and reminisce and recall the garden of this past season. I’m hoping to make this next dreaming season more of an actual “planning season” by writing down some of my dreams for my garden.

After all, what gets written down is often what gets done.

And even though I plan to take full advantage of these next few months to rest up for spring, I’m already looking at seed catalogs, thinking about what varieties to get for next year. I’m looking at the almanac, trying to decipher their weather predictions for the coming year. And I’m already looking longingly out the window at the garden because…

After all, I’m a gardener.

(Pictured above, Bird of Paradise blooming at Garfield Park Conservatory.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Plant Purchase Personality Test

‘Tis the season to check out the wide variety of indoor plants and blooms that we use to decorate our homes for the holidays.

Whether cut flowers, blooming plants, or bulbs like amaryllis that can be forced into bloom in just a few weeks, there is something for gardeners of all skill levels.

And what you prefer can tell a lot about you and your personality!

The Plant Purchase Personality Test

Endorsed by Dr. V. Q. Hortfreud

Please choose which type of plant you prefer to buy to decorate your home.

a) cut flowers
b) blooming plants
c) bulbs for forcing
d) a, b, and c and lots of them
e) fake plants

Here is what that choice says about you:

If you prefer cut flowers, you like immediate gratification but aren’t interested in a long-term commitment. However, if you tend to keep the cut flowers after they’ve dried up, you may be conflicted and really want a long-term plant relationship.

If you prefer to buy potted blooming plants, you like immediate gratification, but are willing to also invest in a long-term commitment. You are optimistic that once your blooming plant becomes a foliage plant, you have the skills or maybe just the good luck needed to get it to flower again.

If you prefer bulbs for forcing, you are patient and a nurturer and are willing to wait for the gratification of a blooming plant. You are in this plant relationship for the long haul. You have confidence that if you provide the light, soil, and water, the plant will reward you with a bloom.

If you prefer all three of the above, you are a gardener.

If you prefer fake plants, then you want to be a gardener, but are afraid of real plants, afraid of commitment, of getting your hands a little dirty.

What’s your preference?

(Source for this test: Me, from a post in 2008, though it might seem more valid if I said the source was the Institute for Gardenetics Research and Other Work (iGrow) which is also me when I want to sound more official.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Hortense Answers Questions of the Season

Hortense Hoelove has returned just in time to answer a few questions of the season!

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

I recently sent some flowers to someone to cheer them up. While deciding what to order, I looked at some arrangements which included lovely foliage plants with cut flowers mixed in and thought how if I ordered those, I might be asked to take the foliage plants at some point. You see, the recipient isn’t one to have a bunch of houseplants, so she would be looking for someone to take the plants off her hands once the cut flowers had wilted. Thus, ordering a planter seemed like it would give me something, too, eventually.

Is it wrong to think this way?

Flora Giver

Dear Flora,

I can certainly understand your desire to put yourself in a position to get some “free” foliage plants. However, this kind of plant lust could backfire on you. After all, what if the recipient decided to give the plants to someone else instead of you? I would stick with giving flowers that you think the giver would want to receive and go buy your own houseplants.

Florally yours,

A flower arrangement without live plants.

Dear Hortense,

Is there a holiday decorating scheme or occasion for which painted poinsettias would be appropriate? I’ve seen some for sale this past week and have been trying to think how or when to use them, and I keep drawing a blank. I figured if anyone would know where and how to use painted poinsettias, it would be you, dear Hortense.

Holly Plant

Dear Holly,

No, there is no decorating scheme or holiday occasion for which a painted poinsettia is appropriate. Poinsettias should be enjoyed in their natural colors, which basically are anything in the “red” color spectrum, ranging from red to pink to cream.

Seeing red over painted poinsettias,

Those darn painted poinsettias again!

Dearest Hortense,

Real or fake?

Bee Brevity

Dear Bee

Real or fake what? I can only assume that you are referring to Christmas trees when you ask that question at this time of the year. While I generally like to see real trees, I understand the convenience of artificial (the term I prefer over fake) trees and I admit that I have one. They do have some advantages – they don’t dry out, don’t require you to keep them watered, and often come with the lights already attached. However, what do you do with them when you grow tired of them? You throw them out and then forever more, they exist in a landfill.

Real trees, on the other hand, are a renewable resource that can be composted after the holiday season. However, they can dry out prematurely, becoming a fire hazard, and require watering for as long as they are inside. They also never come with lights installed. In addition, some people with allergies may not be able to enjoy a real tree indoors.

In the end, each person needs to weigh these factors for themselves. If you do decide on a real tree, follow the Christmas tree buying advice from the Hoosier Gardener, and remember…

Whether real or fake, a Christmas tree isn’t fully decorated until it has a little hoe on it.

Happy Hoelidays,

A little hoe on a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Games for Current and Future Gardeners

Remember when you were a baby boomer kid and you got a new board game? First thing you did was find the instructions and read them from beginning to end to see how to actually play the game.

And remember how complete those instructions were? They covered everything you could think of, including how to decide who should go first and whether to go clockwise or counter clockwise to figure out who went second.

Today, I own two such board games. Any guesses as to which ones? I’ll give you a hint… one of them ends with “opoly” and the other ends with “game”.

Need another hint?

Both start with “garden”.

Yes, that’s right, here at May Dreams Gardens, the only two board games in the house are “The Garden Game” and “Garden-opoly". (Yet more clues that there might be a gardening geek around here…)

Both games are in mint condition, too, because I have yet to find anyone who really wants to play them with me. But they are nice to have just in case.

Now, have you ever seen kids get a new computer game to play in this day and age? The first thing they do is load it up on the computer and then start clicking on different parts of the screen to see what happens. They might click on a “?” in the upper right hand corner if they can’t figure something out right away, and that usually produces a screen showing key combinations that cause different things to happen. But they don’t stop to read any instructions, per se.

Yet somehow, kids figure the game out. I’ve seen it for myself.

A few weeks ago, I got a copy of the computer game Bugfarm™ to review. It’s geared toward ages 7 – 12 so I immediately thought of enlisting the help of my eight year old nephew to try this game out. He said he'd be happy to help! So on Thanksgiving, I loaded Bugfarm™ on to my laptop and took it with me to the family dinner.

After eating a huge big plate of turkey and all the fixin's and topping it over with some chocolate cream pie, my nephew took over my laptop and proceeded to start playing Bugfarm™.

“Hey, do you think we ought to look at the website first and watch a demo of the game before you just start clicking on stuff”, I asked.

“Cool”, he said, not actually in response to my question, but because he had just encountered the first insect, a spined soldier bug.

The next thing I knew he was in the virtual potting shed loading up a virtual wheelbarrow with seeds, fertilizer and water and taking it all out to plant in a virtual garden patch. I don’t remember too much else, because at that point I wandered off to do something else, as clearly he didn't need my help to read any instructions. I checked back later because he had drained the battery on the laptop and needed the power cord, and there was a giant spider and a bird on the screen that we all thought might try to eat the spined soldier bug.

Since he seemed to like the game, I gave him the DVD to take home and load on one of his family’s computers. Then a few days later I called over there to ask him if he still liked it. His older brother answered and said he’d go get him, but he wasn't sure he could get him to come to the phone becuase was playing that game I gave him at Thanksgiving.

Finally my nephew came to the phone and said he was working on harvesting his vegetables and taking them to the market to sell. And he’d gotten the spined soldier bug to fly.

Yes, it appears that as he plays this game, he is actually learning something about insects, gardens and plants.

Overall, he gave Bugfarm™ a very solid four out of five stars. His only other comment was he wished it came in a version that he could play on his Nintendo DS.

Yeah, me, too, because then I would know exactly what to get him for Christmas.

As for me and my two board games, well, once I find a couple people who would like to play them, I’ll get out the instructions…

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Is My Calendar Right?

I woke up this morning dreaming that it was December and the gardening season was more or less over here in my USDA Zone 5b garden.

Then I realized that it was December and the gardening season is more or less over here in my USDA Zone 5b garden.

Wow, that was sure a fast spring and summer. Is my calendar right?

Didn’t I just get back from seeing other garden bloggers in Chicago in May? Wasn’t I just out in the garden gently planting my little tomato seedlings? Where’s my garden to-do list? Have I really mowed for the last time this season?!

It all seemed to happen so fast.

And now we are expecting the first snowfall of the season sometime late tomorrow night, I think.

I hope winter goes just as fast as spring and summer. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. After all, I just have to get through December, January, February and March until I can plant peas. And once I do that, I’ll have May, June, July, August, September, and October to be out in the garden.

You ask what happened to November? November! You can’t trust November. It might be like this past November, when every weekend seemed to be sunny and nice, giving me lots of good time in the garden. Or it might be cold and dreary and rainy and not worth anything to anyone. Don’t trust November.

And don’t trust April either. April?! Or is it Hate-pril? April is closely related to November and might be very cold and winter like, making both you and the plants suffer. Or it could be just as nice as can be and lure you into planting frost-tender plants too soon. Don’t trust April.

Anyway, while I wait for spring and the first crocus, I’ll keep busy. I might read a few gardening books, order up some seeds, tend to my houseplants, make sure the worms have plenty to eat, set a few goals for my garden for next year, and see if I can coax the garden fairies, or Dr. Hortfreud or Hortense Hoelove to write a few posts for me while I rest up and get ready for next spring.

Yep, if I keep busy, hopefully winter will be enjoyable, and before I know it, it will be spring once again.