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Monday, February 28, 2011

Squish, squish

Squish, squish.

With each step I feel how soft the ground is, how wet it is, how fragile and unstable it feels as it shifts under my feet.

It's hard to believe that this ground is the same ground that was bone dry last fall and so hard that it took a pick axe to dig in places.

Squish, squish.

I can see water standing in the usual spots, as I walk about the garden, checking here and there for flowers. I can still count the number of open crocuses on one hand, but it is at least a start.

Squish, Squish.

I stop and look at the vegetable garden and wonder when it will be dry enough to pull out all the wood around the raised beds. I want to change the configuration of beds but remember what I was taught growing up. Don't dig in that wet ground! You'll ruin it and it will take a whole year, a whole cycle of freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw to make it right again.

Squish, squish.

No one told whoever tried to dig up this bulb that now is not the time to dig!


The nerve. No rabbit did this, which means that I have a new enemy in my garden. Chipmunks? Squirrels? I hope I am a worthy and victorious adversary over whoever it is.  And I wonder why we have to be adversaries at all. I wish I could just tell them, "Please stop digging", and they would obey me.

Squish, squish.

I see that I left a lot of perennials and grasses standing for winter interest. It doesn't look all that interesting now and I hope soon for a less busy day so I can start cutting everything back, before the first real flush of new growth.

Squish, Squish.

I look about the garden and it dawns on me that with last season's changes, which included the new design and new planting beds, I have a new garden. It will be fun to start planting in earnest to fill all these new beds.

Squish, squish.

I finish my walk around the garden, leaving behind my footsteps and taking with me a list of "to do's" and the wish for a sunny day in which to do them.

Squish, squish.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ants

When I think of spring's arrival, I like to think of crocuses, sounding the all clear to alert the other flowers in my garden that it is time to come out and bloom. "The weather is fine, come out and bloom."

But sometimes spring's beginning is announced by tiny brown ants that show up in my kitchen. "Where are the crumbs?"

I’ve never kept track of when the ants arrive each year, like I keep track of blooms, but I suspect the ants will be along in a few weeks.

Now, if one is going to have insect guests in their home early in the spring time, ants aren’t too bad to have. According to William Atherton DuPuy in “Our Insect Friends and Foes” (1925), ants are clean. (Yes, that book again.)

DuPuy wrote quite a bit about the ants' personal cleanliness and grooming and then went on to note,

“This cleanliness applies likewise to the home. Never a particle of anything unclean is to be found about the ant community. Drop anything messy in an ant hill and the sanitary squad is immediately called out to cart it away. Ant homes underground have little ventilation and are without the cleansing influence of the sun. They might easily become litters of filth, musty and unsanitary. They would if infinite care were not exercised. But these housekeepers are immaculate. Every suggestion of soil is given prompt attention. These creatures seem to know by instinct these lessons of sanitation which many human communities have not yet learned. Or, perhaps, those that did not keep clean have long since ceased to exist through the attacks of parasites and fungi.”

This weekend the priest at church told a story about an ant.

The condensed version of the tale is that an ant left home, decided to return, and got run over by a train on the railroad tracks on his way back, thus losing his tail. When he got home and his mother asked him what happened to his tail, he realized he had lost it and went running back to find it. As he crossed the railroad tracks again, another train came by and, splat, he lost his head.

The moral of the story turned out to be, “Don’t lose your head looking for your tail”. 
 
People were visibly shaking with silent laughter when the priest delivered the punch line, but somehow it all tied in with readings for the day.

It also made me continue to think about ants, which lead me to think about bloodroot flowers, and how ants are involved in dispersing their seeds, and the seeds of other plants, too, in a process called myrmecochory. It’s ingenious on the part of the plants to make their seeds attractive to the ants so they’ll cart them off, where they can germinate away from the mother plant, thus spreading the range of the plants, one ant at a time.

Of course, then I started to think about the big black ants that I see crawling all over the peony buds in late spring. I like to think they are tickling open those big fat buds, but that’s a little fanciful and hardly the case. The ants are there for the big drops of nectar and while there, probably eat a few “bad” bugs, too. (It is the garden fairies who pry open those big buds of the peonies. This line inserted by the garden fairies.)

Ants can, of course, be a big pest and nuisance about the house and garden, causing damage if left unchecked in some areas.   And there is nothing worse than to thrust your trowel into the ground and realize, as ants are immediately swarming onto your hand and up your arm, that you've just disturbed a big ant hill.

But they are still fascinating to watch.

I will finish off this trail of ant thoughts, with one more musing, a question, posed by DuPuy at the end of his chapter on ants.

“Why do they (ants) merit the praise bestowed upon them in the Biblical saying, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Garden Bloggers Watching Out For One Another


Lookie what I got in the mail a few weeks ago!

It's a Valentine's Day card featuring of all things... a hoe.

Kylee of Our Little Acre saw this 1950's Valentine's Day card for sale on Etsy and said she thought of me.

... because the little girl reminded her of me?
... because she thought that I collected Valentines?
....because she sent all the garden bloggers cards for V-day?

No, she thought of me because... look, the little girl on the card is hoeing!

What a lovely and unexpected addition to my hoe collection.

Thank you, Kylee!

*******

Alert readers Nell Jean from Secrets of a Seed Scatterer and Dave from The Home Garden both sent me emails yesterday to alert me that they found a Blogger blog which contained many of my posts, copied in their entirety, with no link back to me.

I usually don't chase after unscrupulous hackers who scrape blogs and post the content as their own, but this one is pretty rich with a lot of my content and the content of other bloggers, so I reported them to Google for abuse. Plus, as Dave pointed out, one of the posts was written by the garden fairies, and by golly, they don't cotton to that kind of nonense!

Thank you, Nell Jean and Dave, for looking out for me and many other garden bloggers.
********

Speaking of guest posts, I get several emails a week from people who start off by telling me how much they love my blog and blah blah blah they can offer me a guest post on any subject I'd like them to write about.

In exchange, all I need to do is allow them to include some links to "super draperies for southern windows" or "carpet steam cleaning in five minutes", or some other such unrelated nonsense.

I'll bet they do love my blog! But if they've ever read anything on it, they would note that I don't use guest posts.  Well, except several years ago, I did talk one of my nieces into writing something but now that she's older, she's no longer interested in the fame and fortune of garden blogging.

And occasionally, the garden fairies write a post, but only when I'm not looking.

Oh, and Hortense Hoelove likes to post her advice column, if she gets enough questions.

And sometimes those dialogs from Dr. Hortfreud's notes get posted here.

But other than that, it's all me. No guest posts allowed here at May Dreams Gardens!

********

And look, on that Valentine, the little girl's arms move so it is like she is really hoeing!

Have a great Saturday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeking Direction?

Another fascinating bit of insect lore, gleaned from the pages of “Insect Friends and Foes” by William Atherton DuPuy (1925).

The mantis knows the way!

“Its very name, mantis, means diviner, or fortune-teller. The English call it a soothsayer and old-fashioned people over there believe that its long finger will point the way home to a lost child. In France young women go to the crossroads and ask the mantis from which way their lovers will come.”

Now which direction is the mantis pointing me toward, a simple gardener trying to find Spring?

Forward, I suppose, one day at a time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Surprise Meeting of SGAFO, Just For Fun

Bumblebee on a Zinnia
Welcome! You’ve come to the right place if you are looking for the SGAFO meeting.

SGAFO, you may remember, is the Society for Gardeners Aged Fifty and Over.

I was pleased to join this esteemed Society not too long ago, a little over two years ago. Two years, one month and two days ago, to be exact. Can that much time have really passed since that fateful day?

I remember the excitement I felt, the butterflies, the nervousness. Would I be accepted? Someone as young as I? And now those even younger are joining, everyday.

It is a moment that many gardeners cherish, when they can finally join this Society. Some join quite openly and but others prefer to join as secret members, not yet ready to announce their membership. That’s fine. All are welcome!

For today’s impromptu SGAFO meeting, let us first ascertain who is here. Any new members who have just turned fifty? Or turned fifty since the last meeting? Anyone?

Pause.

Wait.

Anyone less than fifty here, just interested to find out what they have to look forward to?

Pause.

Wait.

Okay, next order of business is the program!

Today’s program is…

Inspiring Garden Writers Who Published Books After They Turned Fifty.

Did you know that Ida D. Bennett was over 50 when she wrote two of her books? “The Busy Woman’s Garden Book” published by Small, Maynard & Company, 1920, and “The Making of a Flower Garden” published by Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1919. Most sources indicate Bennett was born in 1860, but at least one source indicates she may actually have been born in 1854, which means she was closer to 49 when she published her first of five books in 1903. One wonders if Bennett changed her year of birth so that she could keep her membership in SGAFO a secret for just awhile longer.

One of our favorite garden writers, Elizabeth Lawrence, was born in 1904. This means that most of her books including A Garden in Winter, The Little Bulbs, and Lob’s Wood were published well after her 50th birthday.

Fast forward to these modern times. Michele Owens, whose own passage to fifty was recorded on the popular blog, Garden Rant, just last week published her book, “Grow the Good Life”. Check out her list of the ten best things about aging as a gardener. I especially like number ten, “I will always have a community, too--the company of other gardeners, who are clearly the wisest and most wonderful people in the world.”

To that we say Amen!

(Imagine resounding applause, hoots and hollers, and a little foot stomping from all present.)

I’m sure there are many other writers and gardeners, and maybe even some non-gardeners, who can inspire us with tales of fun and frolic, meaning and moments, after fifty. Would anyone like to mention someone particularly inspiring, who accomplished something after turning fify?

Pause.

Wait.

And now a few words to conclude our meeting.

The point for all our members is that life in the garden, and out of the garden, really is just getting going at fifty. It’s a wonderful time, to be enjoyed and celebrated!

So to all members, we say go forth and show the world that we are a part of a vibrant, active, plant-buying, hoe-wielding, shovel-swinging group of gardening geeks not to be ignored, but to be celebrated and honored.

Thank you. Meeting adjourned. No creaking as you get up. Step lively now, Spring is coming!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Our Insect Friends and Foes

I recently purchased a new-to-me book on entomology, "Our Insect Friends and Foes" by William Atherton DuPuy (The John C. Winston Company, 1925). It is part of a Romance of Science series of books.

I've always advocated for gardeners to learn to like insects, or at least learn enough about them so that when they see them, they don't scream, drop their Felco's and run the other direction as fast as they can. No doubt, even running the other direction, or any direction, in a garden, one is going to encounter insects... bugs... creepy crawlies...

One must get used to and appreciate insects to be a successful gardener.

This looks like a fascinating book, if you discount that it is 85 years old and remember that it lacks several decades of advances in the study of entomology. That might be good, or it might be bad, but I'm sure it will be interesting, if the first few paragraphs of the Preface are any indication.

"This is not a book on entomology, but a travelog of insect land.

It is not intended to add to the knowledge of the scientist, but to show the general reader the vastly important relationship which exists between insects and human beings.

Its purpose is not to set forth weighty information in an impressive manner, but simple facts in such a way that the story of them will be easy to read.

It is not written for the occasional student who delights in dry tomes, but for the multitude whom it would help to discover that there is romance among these small neighbors that is as enthralling as that encountered by sailors shipwrecked in an outlandish, far-away island."

Romance? Sailors ship-wrecked on an outlandish, far-away island? A travel log to insect land?

And it's illustrated!

I'll keep you posted on the good parts...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Grow the Good Life

Oh, the angst! I put down the book and looked out the window. Still winter! I checked the calendar. Still winter! I picked up the book again and continued reading. I put it down again and gazed out the window across the garden to where I grow vegetables. Still winter!

What book has lead me to this state of agitation, impatience, and sheer longing to go out and plant my peas, lettuce, onion sets, and radishes a month before I should?

Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens (2011, Rodale, $24.95), subtitled “Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, and Wise”.

In ten chapters of easy to read prose, Michele tells us the story of her own garden and takes us down her path to becoming a vegetable gardener, along the way laying out a compelling case for why everyone should plant some kind of vegetable garden.

My own experience is different from Michele’s, namely because I grew up with a Dad who always had a vegetable garden in the backyard.  I always knew I’d have my own vegetable garden as soon as I had a place to plant it. But I applaud her for telling her story, which is more like that of many people who grew up amidst an expanse of lawn and no vegetable garden.

This is not your typical "how to" book on vegetable gardening. You'll find no lists of what to grow, when to plant, or when to harvest. Instead, Michele mixes in her own personal experience of growing vegetables with information from various studies and experts to present a compelling case for the vegetable garden. She helps us all understand not only why we should want to grow vegetables, but also how easy it can be to do so and how doing so nourishes us in many ways.

Read it to gain the confidence to grab a shovel and start your own garden. Or read it to be re-inspired if you already grow vegetables. Regardless of whether you agree with all of the political views expressed, after reading this book, you’ll find it hard not to agree that anyone can grow vegetables and everyone should try to. 

To quote Michele, “No matter how different from me they may be, I find that I can always talk to gardeners. Yes, we share an interest, but the sense of community among gardeners runs deeper than the common topic of conversation and transcends vastly different ways of living. The respect for nature and the confidence that comes from shaping a piece of earth make gardeners at bottom alike. And even the most worldly gardeners recognize a sense of the miraculous in each other.”

There is a sense of miraculous in this book, too, and I think more than one non-gardener will read it and decide to try to grow a few vegetables and many a gardener will read it and decide to grow more.

(Yes, the publisher sent me this book to read and hoped for a review. I was not obligated to review the book, but I liked it, so I did.)

(Yes, I noticed that Michele only uses a shovel to garden. She and I will one day have to talk about how much a hoe would add to her gardening experience.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crocuses Bring Questions

The garden is beginning to stir a bit after several days of well above average temperatures. Here and there, the tips of leaves are beginning to break through the surface.
The ground is squishy, saturated from the melted snow and ice. As I walk about trying to not to leave giant footprints in the mud, the memory of the garden encased in ice just two weeks and a few days ago is fading.

The witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, planted last fall, is finally, truly blooming.
I’ve wanted to add a witch hazel to the garden for several years now, so that I could have something with some scent that would bloom in February. It does have a nice scent, which you can smell if you tip toe through the mud over to it and get up close. As the witch hazel grows and the number of blooms increases, I hope to be able to stand away from it and smell it.

Elsewhere in the garden, there are more signs of the end of winter, including the common weed henbit, showing up in odd places here and there.
The best time to pull henbit is now, while the ground is soft and the weeds are small.

But I had no time for weeding yesterday. I merely had time to find the first hint of a crocus bloom.
This bloom brings a flood of questions to mind.

Did I do enough over the winter to be ready for spring? Are my seeds ordered? Did I exercise enough so that the first day I spend in the garden won’t be followed by aches and pains from bending, reaching, and gardening? When will I find the time to do all I want to do in the garden? Why is life so busy? What was it I was going to get done over the winter?

So much to do… good-bye lazy days of ice encased gardens... the garden is calling…the crocuses are asking questions...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Troy-Bilt Snow Thrower Review Part II - Throwing Snow

After every snowfall this winter, friends and co-workers have asked me, "Did you use your new snow thrower?

My answer was always the same, "No, not yet because...".

Sometimes it was dark when I got home, and I really wanted to use it for the first time when it was light out. Other times, I didn't think there was quite enough snow to justify using such a large snow thrower, so I used my smaller snow blower instead.

But truth be told, I was just a little bit afraid of such a large gas-powered machine.

Finally, it snowed enough sometime in January that I decided I would use the Troy-Bilt Storm 3090 XP Deluxe Two-Stage Snow Thrower they sent me in November to review.

Short version of the review - It sure can throw snow. If you get a lot of snow, this is the snow thrower for you.

Long version of the review -- Finally, we had enough snow that I decided to try out the snow thrower. I left my car on the street, because my driveway is steep enough that I knew I wouldn't get it up the driveway with the six inches of fresh snow on it. This also ensured I had enough room to get the snow thrower, which is 30 inches wide, out of the garage.

I reviewed the directions one last time, filled the tank with gas, plugged in the electric starter, did all the other pre-start things required and fired it up. It started easily, and was quieter than I though it would be.

Slowly I pushed down on the handle-thingie to make it "go" and wheeled it to the edge of the driveway, sure that its bright headlight was probably now serving as a beacon to make everyone in the neighborhood out shoveling their driveways turn and look in my direction.

Then I pushed down on the other handle-thingie to engage the snow throwing parts and took off in the slowest of the six speeds. Down the driveway I went, throwing snow high up into the air and off the driveway. At the foot of the driveway, I pulled up on the lever to make it turn right and headed back up the driveway, still throwing snow in a high arc as I went.

After a few more passes, I was beginning to feel more confident in my ability to steer the snow thrower and more or less keep it going in a straight line. I moved on to the sidewalk, which is not much wider than the 30 inch wide snow thrower. I managed it okay as well and in no time at all I had my driveway cleared, along with my sidewalks, and put the big machine away.

A few days later, I noticed some scratches in my driveway, almost exactly the width of the snow thrower. Hmmm... something must not have been adjusted quite right. After a few emails back and forth, Troy-Bilt suggested I lower the skid shoes just a little bit so that the "scoop part" of the snow thrower doesn't rest on the ground, but clears it just barely. I can do that by loosening four bolts.

My overall assessment is that this is an awesome, powerful snow thrower, but it is bigger than I care to use or probably should use, and so soon I'll be looking for a local charity who has the need of such a machine, and will donate it to them. I figure if we get so much snow that using this big snow thrower is the only way out, I probably have no business going out anyway.

I'll continue to make do with my single stage snow blower, also a Troy-Bilt, that I purchased three or four years ago. It also has an electric start (which I highly recommend for any gas-powered anything, including lawn mowers) and does a good job of handling the snows we are likely to get.

Thank you to Troy-Bilt for sending me this snow thrower to review. It was a lot of fun to try out.  If you are interested in what it takes to set it up when you first get it, I wrote about that in Part I, Putting it Together

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dear Hortense: Does A Watched Bud Ever Bloom?

Dear Hortense Hoelove,


Does a watched Witch-Hazel ever bloom?


Signed,
Hazel Watching in Indiana

Dear Hazel,

If you are referring to the Vernal or Ozark Witch-Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, I have good news for you. Yes, it will bloom regardless of whether or not you watch it.

I would guess by the nature of your question, that you are watching your witch-hazel buds and impatiently waiting for them to slowly open.

Stop doing that and instead go organize your seeds.

Hortifully,
Hortense

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Look Over My Shoulder As I Order Seeds

Got my seeds ordered.

Ordered them all this evening, from five different seed companies.

My first order was confirmed with an email at 9:44 pm EST. I'd guess I started ordering at 9:15 pm or so. The last order was confirmed at 11:15 pm. Other order confirmation times in between were 10:17 pm, 10:35 pm, and 10:58 pm.

(Fascinating information, isn't it?)

As you can see, the amount of time I spent on each website did vary a little bit, depending on what I was there for.

I pulled up the first seed company's website and just started ordering seeds, going through a mental list of what I needed/wanted, and writing down the varieties as I added them to my online cart. This is what I call the base order. 

Then I moved on to the second seed company and started filling in with varieties that the first seed company didn't have, then on to the third company and the fourth company. 

I ordered from the fifth and last company simply because they had variegated corn.  But I couldn't stop at just one packet of variegated corn seed -- I also ordered two kinds of columbine (Aquilegia), Cleome, and a white balloon flower (Platycodon)

My next order of seed business will be to sort through the seeds I already have and figure out which ones I can use this year. (Someone is going to suggest that perhaps I should have organized the seeds I have first, then ordered new seeds to fill in the blanks. Maybe I should have, but I didn't, partly because I have a pretty good idea of what's left from last year, and or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

One other task to do before I feel like I've got my seeds under control for the 2011 season is to list all my seeds in a spreadsheet that I can print and carry around with me. Then when I see seeds I want to buy, I can check to make sure I'm not buying any duplicates. Oh wait! I have an iPhone. I should store my seed list on my iPhone. That would really solidify my reputation as a seedy gardening geek!

Anyway...

There are two questions people ask me about buying seeds.

Where do I buy my seeds? From several different sources, for different reasons. Nature's Crossroads, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interests and for the first time, Summerhill.

How do I know what to order?  I've been gardening for decades (there, I said it - decades) so I have some tried and true varieties I always order, and then I just read through the descriptions and order what sounds good without being over hyped.  I'm a sucker for any seed with a story that goes with it.  And I'm pretty quick about deciding to hit the "add to cart" button because a packet of seeds is a small investment with the potential for a big payoff.  I worry about the time and space problems later.

If you are a new gardener, don't despair, if you keep at it, someday you'll be ordering seeds this way, too.

By the way, if you haven't ordered seeds yet, or you've spent all your seed money and still want more seeds, you can enter a giveaway to seed your seed stash with six packets of seeds from Nature's Crossroads. Hurry, giveaway ends at 9:00 pm EST, Thursday, Feb. 17th.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2011

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for February 2011!

Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 5b garden in central Indiana, we are enjoying several days with temperatures above freezing after days and days of ice and snow and temperatures well below freezing.

These warmer days gave me hope that I would find blooms outside for this bloom day, unlike my first bloom day in February 2007 and again in February 2010 when the garden was snow covered.

So I went outside and began to look in all the usual places. You can picture me leaning over with my hands on my knees to steady myself, peering through the tops of my glasses and through the bottoms of my glasses, and sometimes over my glasses, looking over every inch of the garden before finally spying some little sprouts of crocuses, as seen above.

I also spied these little sprouts from a mixture of bulbs newly planted last fall.
I'll have to check my notes to see what these bulbs might be.

I must have gone outside at least a dozen times on Sunday and again late Monday to see if the witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, had started to bloom.
Not yet, but any day now, as the warm up continues, I'm sure this witch hazel, which is rapidly becoming the world's most watched witch hazel, will bloom.

I had hoped to have a few snowdrops blooming mid-month, as I did in February 2009 or a crocus blooming like in February 2008, but with the garden redesign last spring, I think those particular areas might have gotten dug up and the bulbs lost.

Note to self -- plant snowdrops next fall.

While looking for tiny bulbs blooming, I stumbled upon a Viola, with two little blooms on it.

This little viola got moved twice last spring, suffered through the drought and heat of last summer, didn't get weeded out last fall, made it through winter and now has two blooms on it.

Note to self -- plant more violas and let them grow in the garden as long as they want.

And that's what's blooming outside in my garden on this fine February day.

Inside, just like every year at this time, I'm enjoying hyacinths "on vase".
It wouldn't be February without them.

What’s blooming in your garden on this wintry February day?

We would love to have you join in for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and tell us. It’s easy to participate and all are invited! Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and leave a comment to tell us what you have waiting for us to see so we can pay you a virtual visit. Then put your name and the url to your post on the Mr. Linky widget below to make it easy to find you.

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seed Giveaway for St. Valentine's Day

On this St. Valentine's Day, when all our thoughts turn to love, I'm excited to pass along my love of gardening and seed sowing by teaming up with Nature's Crossroads, Earth-Friendly Seeds for Midwest Gardeners, to give away six packets of seeds to one reader, chosen by random drawing.

After all, there is no better way to share one's love of gardening than to give someone a little plant or a packet of seeds so they can start their own garden.

You may be moved by this holiday of love to select seeds for...

Love-lies-bleeding, whose red strings of flowers will attract butterflies,

Hearts of Gold melons, an old classic of the garden,

Indiana Red tomato, an ox-heart shaped tomato,

Dwarf Jewel nasturtiums, a real gem of an edible flower,

Or any number of other vegetable and flower seeds.

It's easy to enter to win six packets of seeds from Nature's Crossroads, your choice! Just leave a comment about what you'd love to grow from seed.

That's it! Deadline to enter is Thursday, February 17, 2011, 9:00 pm,  and please make sure your comment includes your email address or leads me to it. Open to U.S. Residents over the age of 18.

Thank you to Nature's Crossroads for providing the seeds for this giveaway.

Feb. 18 -- And the winner is random comment number 27 -- "T from Coldwater"! Congrats, T, and watch for an email on how to get your free seeds and thank you to everyone who entered.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"There ain't no such animule"

In The Busy Woman's Garden Book by Ida D. Bennett (Small, Maynard & Company, 1920), Bennett included chapters on groups of vegetables including early spring vegetables, mid-season vegetables, vegetables of the vine family, and vegetables less commonly grown.

But she gave asparagus its own chapter.

In the asparagus chapter, Bennett concludes with, "Salt was formerly considered essential to successful asparagus culture and certainly does no harm, but its chief value is in keeping down weeds and this can be quite as successfully done by hand cultivation; this is better than to form the habit of depending on some quick, laborless road to clean beds -- in the annals of gardening "There ain't no such animule.""

I now feel somewhat chastised at even the slightest thought of considering the idea that I might "form the habit of depending on some quick, laborless road..." to anything in the garden.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ice Quakes and Ice Melts

New word -- cryoseism!

Apparently, here in Indianapolis we may have experienced a cryoseism, also known as an ice quake, in the early morning hours of Thursday, February 10th. I seemed to have slept right through it and missed it, but it's still interesting to know that it might have happened.

The information I read on cryoseisms makes me think that the earth experienced an involuntary shiver, accompanied by a booming noise so people would realize it happened.

Another new word -- cryofundo!

I just made this word up by combing cryo, which means ice, with the Latin word for "melt" - fundo.  We will be experiencing a lot of cryofundo beginning this weekend and going on in to next week as temperatures go well above freezing for several days in a row.  As the ice melts, we'll get to see what damage it really caused in our gardens.

This ice melt is just in time because I went to a program on perennials yesterday at the Indianapolis Art Museum, and I'm very eager now for winter to be over and spring to begin.

Not to mention all this cold weather is affecting my mind and causing me to think of sentences likes this one describing the program:

Images of Echninacea of every color and Agastache that might be hardy here made our gardening hearts melt, while pictures of Heuchera and Helleborus made our knees quake at the thought of planting them in our gardens.

I have just written the worst sentence in the history of garden blogging. Is anyone having a contest?

It really was an excellent program and I'll post more about it in the days to come.  For now, just know that if you garden anywhere near Indianapolis and you missed it, you are a dumb bunny.  Oops, that's just winter talking. I didn't mean to imply that anyone who missed it was not a very smart rabbit or anything like that.  But when you hear about the program and the speakers and you weren't there, you'll be more disappointed than a gardener who opens a packet of seeds and finds it is empty.

Which may be the second worst sentence in the history of garden blogging.

Really, we should have a contest for the worst sentence on a garden blog. I'm on a roll, like a tumbleweed tumbling aimlessly about a garden flattened by the ice and snow, with nary a shrub or tree to stop it.

Which may be the third worst sentence...

Some people may quit while they are ahead, others quit so the hole doesn't get any deeper.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Origin of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

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

Four years ago, on February 10, 2007, I posted that little quote from Elizabeth Lawrence,  prattled on about what blooms through the year in my garden and invited anyone who wanted to join me to post about what was blooming in their gardens on the 15th of the month.

I decided to call this designated day "Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day".

Five days later, on February 15, 2007, I had absolutely nothing blooming outside under a blanket of snow, but I posted anyway and 36 other bloggers joined me by either commenting or posting about what was blooming in their gardens on that day.

Fast forward to today.  I now have four years of history on my blog about what is blooming on the 15th of every month in my garden and  I've met  many other garden bloggers who have joined in at various times, sharing what is blooming in their gardens.

In the beginning, I tried to look at every blog that had a bloom day post and leave a comment, but once we got to a hundred or so a month, I couldn't do that anymore. But I still try to look at new blogs and have found some great blogs through this meme. And I've discovered several new plants that I've added to my garden after seeing their blooms featured on someone's bloom day post.

In five days, on February 15th, I'll once again be posting on my blog about what's blooming in my garden as I begin a fifth year of bloom day posts. Like most of my February bloom day posts, it won't be a long list, but with a warm up in the weather forecast for this weekend, there might be a surprise bloom out there. I hold out hope, having once had a crocus bloom in my front flower bed on January 28th!

Thank you to all those who have participated, whether from the beginning or starting with last month. You've all enriched my gardening life, expanded my knowledge of plants and hardiness zones, and made me realize that, yes, in some places you really can have flowers nearly every month of the year.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Knight's Star Lily Cultivation According to Dreer's Hints on the Growing of Bulbs

Hippeastrum 'Ambiance'
Quickly now, do you know another common name for Amaryllis also known as Hippeastrum?

Did you just answer Knight's Star Lily?

Correct! How did you know that?

I didn't know it until I began reading through Dreer's Hints on the Growing of Bulbs, published by Henry A. Dreer, Incorporated, Seeds, Plants and Bulbs, 714-716 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, copyright 1914.  Reprinted and Enlarged, 1915. Reprinted 1916. Reprinted 1919. Reprinted 1920. "Written by our experts and including a number of cultural notes by the well known Horticultural Writer Miss Ida D. Bennett and Others.

Cost when published -- 50 cents.  

Now you know how I came to acquire this guide, having searched the Internet to find good copies of all the gardening books written by Ida D. Bennett.

It's a paperback book, just 80 pages.  When I got it, I was excited to find that someone had tucked a   newspaper clipping in it, along with several small pamphlets, two on planting, one on pruning. The newspaper clipping has no date on it but is a column written by George Abraham titled "Trim Shrubs Now to Bring Fresh Flowers in Your Home". There is  no hint about which newspaper it was in or when it was published other than a note that you could send a self-addressed envelope to George in care of The Star... hey, they call our local paper, The Indianapolis Star, "the Star". I wonder if that's a rabbit hole I should go down now?

Back to Knight's Star Lily...

Even in 1920, they referred to it as (Amaryllis) or (Hippeastrum), so not much has changed, except somewhere along the way, I believe we lost the common name of Knight's Star Lily. Or, I should, say that I never heard this flower referred to as that.

The cultural instructions in 1920 are just about the same as they are today.  Plant the bulb in winter when received, leaving most of the neck of the bulb uncovered. Water, let it flower, then keep watering it through spring and summer. You can take it outside if you wish and put it "in a sunny border". Stop watering it in early fall so it goes dormant, and bring it back inside. Start watering again in the winter time, about the time you would have planted the new bulb and wait for it to flower again. It is not necessary to re-pot it each year, but if you do repot it, the best time, according to Dreer's, is in the early summer when you take it outside.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Lure of the Vegetable Garden

Lure of the Vegetable Garden (New York Times, July 11, 1908)

"The last word in vegetable gardening has surely been said by Miss Ida D. Bennett in her book, "The Vegetable Garden," (the McClure Company.) Every sort of information required to run a home garden lies within these pages, full of enthusiasm and delightful detail, enlivened by photographs of various delicious products, and further enriched by a number of excellent receipts (recipes) for the cooking of all the better-known vegetables. The chapter on hotbeds, pits, and cold frames is thoroughly scientific and exhaustive, and the descriptions of the various pests with the necessary information for circumventing their ravages are excellent.

Miss Bennett, in her enthusiastic studies of these annoying insects from eggs to maturity, rather encroaches on the modern nature school. "The worms lose much of their repulsiveness when studied at close range," she says, "and in captivity soon come to know one and to show none of those signs of irritation displayed by wild worms or tame ones in the presence of strangers."

It gives one rather a turn to think of entering a garden full of wild worms after reading that sentence, but it is the only one in the book to produce that effect. On the contrary, one's chief desire is to get to work immediately, with this excellent volume as a guide, and make a vegetable garden of one's own."

I'm pleased to have this book in my library, in spite of or maybe because of the passage on worms, which did not give me "rather a turn" at all.

Read it again...

The worms lose much of their repulsiveness when studied at close range, and in captivity soon come to know one and to show none of those signs of irritation displayed by wild worms or tame ones in the presence of strangers."

And carry that thought with you, to warm your gardening heart on a cold winter's day. There will be a vegetable garden this spring, full of wild worms, which apparently can also be tamed.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Seed Buying Advice

Have you ordered your seeds yet? Or are you still pondering upon a stack of seed catalogs, asking yourself questions like…

How many milligrams are in an ounce, as you try to compare two packets of seeds that aren’t labeled with the same unit of measure, so you can figure out which one is the better deal?

Is ‘French Breakfast’ a better radish then ‘Cherry Belle’, as you try to choose the one variety of radish you will grow in your garden this year?

Will you be able to find all those tomato varieties at the garden center in the spring, as you nearly hyperventilate over dozens, if not hundreds, of tomato varieties, spread across all those seed catalogs, and almost get teary-eyed thinking about how delicious that first ripe tomato from your very own garden is going to taste?

If you are asking yourself questions like those – just stop. Stop right now. You are going about this seed buying business all wrong.

Price comparisons? There are too many seed companies offering too many of the same varieties to spend the time comparing prices across all of them. Just pick a few seed companies that you really like and order from them. What you might lose by spending a tiny bit more on one seed packet, you’ll probably make up in reduced postage.

One variety of radishes? Or one variety of anything? What? Why not throw all caution to the wind and plant more than one variety of radish, or lettuce, or peas, or green beans or whatever it is you are going to grow in your garden. I’m all for buying the tried and true varieties for my garden, but I also like to try new varieties each year. After all, how much room does it take to plant a few extra radish varieties? And who knows what new variety will do quite well and become a new tried and true variety for you?

Wait until spring to buy some tomato plants? You can take your chances that there may be a few more of those varieties available, but if you have your heart set on one tomato variety in particular, you’d better order the seeds for it and grow your own. It’s not that hard to do, I promise.

I’ll be ordering my seeds by next weekend and following my own advice – picking a few seed companies to order from, ordering extra varieties along with the tried and true, and not passing up that variety of tomato that I definitely must have.  

(And who just said, "Watch for an up-tick in seed company stocks -- Carol's ordering her seeds"?  I do not order that many seeds. Okay, maybe I order that many seeds, but I'm not the only one!)

Friday, February 04, 2011

Guest Post: Garden Fairies On Ice

Garden fairies here!

Woo hoo! Carol has gone outside to chop more ice off the driveway and she left the laptop on.  Our turn!  We can hardly wait to tell you about our newest endeavor -- Garden Fairies On Ice.

"Endeavor" might not be the right word for what we are doing because that sounds like we are putting a lot of effort into it and we are garden fairies, we do not put much effort into anything except maybe making sure there is enough "fairy water", as in alcoholic beverages, to get us through the winter, and the spring, summer, and fall, but that's another story.

Anyway with all the garden fairy children being out of school so many days because of the ice, we've been doing our best to come up with ways to entertain them and keep them physically active. After all, they are much too young... wait. That's not quite true, garden fairies don't go to school. (Makes you wonder how we have the where with all to post on this here blog, doesn't it? Well, we are garden fairies, we have our ways.)

Anyway, regarding Garden Fairies on Ice, we garden fairies are having the best time with all of this ice around here. Carol's back yard doesn't have any hills or even big slopes to speak of, but with this ice, who needs a hill? We garden fairies just grab a leaf to sit on and then with one big push we can go ice sailing across the lawn in the back yard. Oh, gosh that is a fun rush of adrenalin!

The real daredevils amongst us garden fairies have been thinking about going around to the front yard where there is a slope but we are afraid we would go down the slope, across the street, up into the neighbor's yard and run smack dab into their house. Ouch! Not only that, but they have two big dogs over there. You know we garden fairies don't like dogs and puppies much because they will eat just about anything -- including garden fairies! Oh my!

Anyway, shudder, and put that right out of your minds! We garden fairies didn't grab control of this computer to tell you about dogs and puppies. It's all Garden Fairies on Ice over here. We are slipping and sliding, skating and dancing on the ice, admiring the beautify of this most unusual winter landscape. Why, yesterday the sun came out and the world was just one giant sparkle! We garden fairies live for pretty days like that and might have enjoyed it more had most of us not been sleeping off a night of  Garden Fairies on Ice.

But most of us roused ourselves enough to enjoy it. After all, they'll be time for sleeping later on after the ice melts and before the spring flowers start peaking up through the mulch.

In the meantime -- Garden Fairies on Ice -- the greatest winter spectacle you'll ever seen in a garden.

Signed,
Thorn Goblinfly,
Chief Scribe for the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens
Head Choreographer of Garden Fairies on Ice - the greatest winter spectacle you'll ever see in a garden

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Hortense Hoelove Answers Questions About Snow and Ice

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

What do you think is going on in this picture?

Simply,
Snow White

Dear Snow,

Oh, that's an easy one. The snow is alive and those are its varicose veins. Actually, I'm kidding and hopefully you knew that. The snow is not alive. I suspect those are the trails of meadow voles frolicking under the snow while eating all the roots they can get to. I'm so very glad you sent me this picture and I didn't take it in my own yard!

Hortifully,
Hortense



Dear Hortense,

Which garden tools are the best for chipping away at ice? Is it acceptable to put your garden hoes to work on such a job?

Wondering,
Iced In In Indianapolis

Dear Iced In,

I can not support the use of hoes and other garden tools for ice chopping and general removal of whatever wintry mix you are dealing with. They simply are not made for that and many are not strong enough. Please put those hoes away and get yourself some proper snow removal equipment. That said, Hortense herself used a sod lifter to remove ice from her driveway that had been partially thawed with some ice thaw crystals of some kind. The bag said that the ice thaw crystals were environmentally safe, and she truly hopes that is the case. Though she was careful to keep the stuff off the lawn and planting beds, she still doesn't want it to foul up the creeks which is where the storm sewers carry whatever gets thrown into them off to. Hortense also wonders why she is referring to herself in the third person in this answer. She suspects it is because she has been trapped inside for two days.

One really has to be careful out there and inside one's mind, too.

Hortifully,
Hortense Hoelove


Dear Hortense,

If I see one more picture of snow or ice on any more blogs or news websites or if I open one more email from someone who wants to show me their snow drifts, backyards looking like ice rinks, any plant parts encased in ice or other winter type pictures, I think I will go mad.

Snow and Ice Weary,
Carol

Dear Carol,

Here is a picture taken in my backyard, which is, of course, your backyard.



Isn't it interesting? The snow is not that deep but it is as hard as a piece of Styrofoam. Very interesting, indeed.

Hortifully,
Hortense


P.S. As soon as our amaryllis blooms, you should post a picture of that!


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Ice Storm Edition

You might be a gardening geek in an ice storm if...

You decide to venture out in the afternoon to get the mail and go out to the garage to select a hoe to use as a walking stick.  However, once you look over all the hoes you decide instead to take a long handled dandelion digger with you because you never used it for digging dandelions and it turns out to be just the right length to be a good walking stick, plus the forked end is perfect for stabbing into the ice as you walk.

You decide to risk going outside to get the mail because you watched as the mail lady repeatedly beat the mailbox with a wooden stick to knock off the ice so she could open it and then you saw her put a book package in it, and even though you already have hundreds of gardening books, you knew there was another one waiting for you in the mailbox and you just had to go retrieve it.

Your mail that you ventured out into the ice storm  to get also included a thank you note and two packets of lettuce seeds from the local seed company, Nature's Crossroads and your 10% discount card from State by State Gardening which was part of the deal when you subscribed to Indiana Gardening and will be good at several local garden centers. Bonus points if you stopped by the State by State Gardening booth at the Indianapolis Home Show over the past weekend and met Kevin, the marketing manager who is from Louisiana, and possibly scared him a teensy bit when you mentioned that even the locals were nervous about the ice storm predication.

The first thing you notice when you look outside in the early light of morning is a newly planted oak tree bent over by the ice...

but you don't panic because you are pretty sure it will straighten up when the ice melts.

You read about some of your southern gardening friends like Gail at Clay and Limestone already finding blooms on their fragrant witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis, and decide to check yours, too,
but see no evidence of blooms, even when you blow up the picture on your computer to examine every ice encased branch.

You remind yourself that it is because of the cold weather that you can enjoy lilacs, which some of your Texas gardening friends, like Annie in Austin, really miss.

You wonder if the garden fairies have found shelter from the ice and wind, or if they are hanging out with the tree fairies amongst the house plants in the sun room.

You notice that the grass...
does not need to be cut yet, but note that you will probably need to mow in approximately 60 days or so, maybe more, and remember that last fall one of your mowers wouldn't start so as soon as the weather clears up and the roads are nice and dry, you will have to take that mower in for repair. Bonus points if you looked in your gardening journal to find out when it is that you usually start mowing the lawn in the spring.

Finally, you might be a gardening geek in an ice storm if you are sitting in your own little corner near a nice fire in the fireplace, surrounded by seed catalogs and gardening books, and listening to the sound of ice hitting the skylight while you are dreaming of the days of May...