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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On the eve of February, some crocuses

On the eve of February, the first crocus buds poked up from the ground in the back lawn and looked around for signs of Spring.

I call these early buds the scouts. They appear first and presumably, if all is well, they will sound the all clear and then crocuses will begin to pop up throughout the back lawn.

Today, the crocus scouts found it chilly but not unreasonably so.  One can be fooled by warmer days in the middle of winter so I hope they tell the other flowers to wait a bit longer.

After all, February is yet to come and she has her 28 winter demons to exorcise before March brings spring.

Our winter has been relatively mild through the end of January, with just a few spells of cold and snow. One wonders if it is enough winter to count as winter or if the worst has been saved for February? After all, isn't there a minimum amount of winter we need to endure to really enjoy spring, to earn spring with all its fits and false starts?

And I don't think we've reached that minimum amount of winter yet. We are not down and out and sick of snow and begging for a let up in the weather. Far from it. Which makes me think, as many do, that February will bring its weather demons.

The wise gardener, therefore, keeps the hatches buttoned down and watches and waits with gloves, hats, boots, and coats at the ready for daily tromps through the garden to see how it is holding up under the grip of winter.

We will hold our breaths for the next four weeks while winter decides if it will become epic or quietly relinquish its grip and let spring take hold. I'm hoping for the latter, but know to be ready for the former.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Getting ready for... February!

Snowdrop bud
I've heard some rumblings from a few people concerned about me getting bored as we begin to walk through that big valley of winter called February.

No worries. I'm all set. Ready to go. I've got plans. I've got seed catalogs and books. I've got little snowdrops I check on daily when I am out filling up the bird feeders, which I do on a near daily basis.

I've got ideas ping-ponging between my ears.

One of the ideas I had a few weeks ago was to sell my house and garden and move to a tiny garden in London. I would, of course, hope there was a comfortable house attached to it.

Where did I get such an idea? From reading Rhapsody in Green: A novelist, an Obsession, a Laughably Small Excuse for a Vegetable Garden by Charlotte Mendelson (2016).  It's funny. Mendelson gardens in, you guessed it, a tiny garden in London. She makes it sound quite appealing. She also admits, in writing, doing some of the same things other gardeners do, like obsessing over seeds and then once the seedlings are up and should be potted up or planted out, losing interest in them.

No gardener can truthfully deny that they haven't done the same thing. It happens. I've done it. I'm not proud, but I'm not alone.

I also read Lessons from Great Gardeners: Forty Gardening Icons and What They Teach Us by Matthew Biggs (2016). I got over being miffed that Elizabeth Lawrence wasn't included but I guess Biggs couldn't include everyone. I'm sure she was 41st on the list. Maybe she will be in volume 2? Will there be a volume 2?

Biggs listed the gardeners in order by age so I figured out that in all likelihood Gertrude Jekyll and Penelope Hobhouse, who were both included, probably never met because Hobhouse was only three years old when Jekyll died. I had no idea what time period Jekyll was from, because she's talked about still today. And she died in 1932.

I would like to have a timeline of garden writers so I can see who might have known whom. Now there's a February project!

One of the garden lessons from Jekyll is about having a quiet space of lawn unencumbered in the garden. That reminds me that I should take my lawn mower to the repair shop in February for a tune up and blade sharpening so it's ready when the time comes, sooner than we think.

February will fly by in just four weeks. And in those four weeks I plan to write three articles, all due in early March.  And be ready with three presentations, all to be given in March.  And work on marketing plans for my book, Potted and Pruned: Living a Gardening Life, which should be available in early March, too.

And I plan to read several more gardening books and finish watching all the Poirot episodes on Netflix. Watching Poirot solve mysteries makes me want to end all my sentences with French phrases like mon ami and n'est pas. I shall refrain from doing so as best I can, mon ami.

Instead, I will as Poirot often says "use the little gray cells" to keep my mind sharp.

See? There's plenty to do in February. I have no fear of February. I say bring it on and use it to come up with some great ideas for the garden!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dear Garden Blog...

Hellebores, what would winter be without them?
Dearest Garden Blog,

I'm writing to offer my apologies for neglecting you for over a week. It was not my intention to leave you with no new updates for such a long time but time slipped away from me.

Rest assured, of course, that I have not been blogging elsewhere. I would never do that to you, my faithful blog who has been with me for well over ten years.

What would I do without you? Where would I post my thoughts on gardening?

Sure, there are other places where I can post about gardening, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But those sites don't really let me write so freely like you do, Dear Blog.  You were my first real foray into social media and I will always remember that. I plan to be here with you for the long haul.

After all, it was you who first helped me put my thoughts on gardening out where others could read them. And gosh, did we ever work together to put those thoughts out there. Some years, we posted over 300 times.

Even though now we don't post as often, Dear Blog, rest assured, we'll still work together to put my thoughts on gardening out for others to see.

I will also be eternally grateful for all the assistance you provided in helping me put together my first book of gardening essays and letters.  It was you, Dear Blog, who saved everything I wrote and made it easy for me to find those old posts, even ones I had forgotten about, and then pot them up and prune them nicely so they would look good in the book.

Would you like to see a sneak peak of the cover the book you helped me create, Dear Blog?  I'll show it to you, though right now it is just a picture and isn't available to be ordered.

Available Early Spring 2017

But very soon, it will be available to be ordered and then I'll look to you to help me get the word out about it.

For after all, Dear Blog, I owe most of its contents to you.

With a shared love of gardening,

P.S. I would appreciate if you'd keep this just between us for now. The garden fairies have gotten word that they aren't really included in this book. I hope to provide them with their own book one day but until they see that book, they are a bit out of sorts about being left out of this one.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How I order seeds for my garden

Vegetables to enjoy in season
I try to order most of my vegetable garden seeds in the middle of January.

I've been ordering seeds for one garden or another since I was a teenager and took over ordering seeds for my dad. Back then, I spent hours studying the seeds catalogs, reading all the descriptions and making suggestions on the seeds we should order.  My dad, as I recall, usually agreed with my choices.

Now I mostly order seeds by memory, by feel, which means I don't make lists. I don't spend hours reading seed catalogs. I don't go from one catalog to the next cross referencing them to see who has which varieties and how many seeds are in a packet for what price so I can optimize my ordering.

These days, I just go to the first seed company's website and start ordering seeds for my usual vegetables and flowers. I then move on to the next seed company's site to order, again from memory, what I think I still need because none of the seed companies seem to have everything I want.

And who is the first seed company and who is the next, and the next? Ah, that is my secret...

Some years, my garden seems small and I don't order many seeds. It's not that the square footage changes. The square footage is more or less always the same. What changes is the amount of time I think I will have to tend the garden.

If I don't think I will have much time, I tend to order just the basics because that's what I think I have time for. I know there is room for the basics in the garden and I know how much time it will take me to plant those basics. I don't feel overwhelmed because it really is a small vegetable garden with a total planting around of around 500 sq. ft. When I feel like the garden is small, I decide I will skip growing my own tomatoes and peppers from seeds and buy plants at the local garden center.

This year, though, my vegetable garden seems like it will be bigger, perhaps as big as it has ever been, because I'll have more time to tend it. I will start my own pepper and tomato plants from seed, which means I'm likely to increase the number of varieties I grow. I usually stick to my limit of 13 tomato plants to correspond with the 13 curly-cue tomato stakes I use. But maybe this year, with all the time I'll have, I might experiment with tomato cages?

Perhaps I'll also add a few more varieties of peas and beans and squash while I'm at it. And more types of lettuce. And why stop at one variety of spinach for heaven's sake?

Maybe this will be the year I try once again to grow cabbage and broccoli? I've avoided them in the past because of the white cabbage butterflies whose eggs hatch and become those little green worms that can devour a cabbage in an afternoon. Yes, those little green worms that hide in the broccoli and show up dead on your dinner plate no matter how long you soak the broccoli in salt water to force them out, no matter if you inspect the broccoli under a microscrope to find them.  Perhaps I should grow red and green cabbage?

There should be room for them in my great big garden of time.

After all, I don't grow enough of any one vegetable to preserve big batches for the winter, like my grandmothers did so they would actually have food in the wintertime. So why not increase the number of varieties I grow and just enjoy them in season?  "In tempore", if you want to use a little Latin to make it sound like the chic thing to do.  "Yes, I grow vegetables to enjoy in tempore."

Oh, and in addition to seeds, I need some new strawberry plants to put in a rather narrow bed which at one time had three apple trees in it, but now has one apple tree in the center.  The other two trees succumbed to disease in their first season, in spite of being disease resistant. My harvest from those three trees after three years, maybe four years, is one apple this past fall. And it was too gnarly to even consider eating. No need to buy a bushel basket to collect that harvest. But I'll keep the tree, and the hope of an edible apple or two, and plant strawberries around it. Everbearing, I think. After all, I just want a few strawberries to eat in tempore.

What happened to my other strawberries, you ask? Well, they did okay for a season or two but then started to look a bit diseased. I grubbed them out this fall and planted a hardy fig, the variety 'Brown Turkey', in their place. I think a few strawberry plants may still show up around the base of my Brown Turkey fig. That's fine, I won't take them out. I just want some new strawberries, a better variety, way on the other side of the garden.

Last summer, I planted sunflowers where the strawberries will now be, so I'll need to find a new home for the sunflowers, if I'm going to grow them again, and I most certainly am. Several types. I'll figure out where to plant them in the spring by doing a dance around the garden, the dance where I'm holding a packet of sunflower seeds and waltzing from border to border to see if any of them will provide a suitable home for some currently homeless sunflowers.

I'm a good dancer when I wear my best gardening clogs.

Zinnias? I must make room for more zinnias, too. Last season, I grew them in a bed along the back of  the vegetable garden and at the ends of some of the other beds. They were gorgeous and exotic and colorful and I could not have loved them more. I will grow them again, and add more marigold varieties, too. After all, is one variety of anything enough for a garden?  For a garden as large as my time will allow this summer? I think not.

And sweet corn? Last year, I skipped growing sweet corn and I and the raccoons missed it. Who minds the space it takes? Who cares if I get just a few ears of corn to eat? Those will be the best ears of corn I will eat all summer, in tempore.

Yes, suddenly, it seems like this year's garden, which hasn't really changed in size, is going to be a much larger garden. A garden of greater variety. A garden to feed me in tempore, a garden that will be the best one yet.

Where are those seed catalogs? Perhaps I will browse through them before I hit the first website to order.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2017

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for January 2017.

Many people think of January as the beginning of another year of bloom day posts. Actually January is the end of a year of bloom day posts since we started this tradition back in February 2007.

That's right. February 2007. That means those who have joined in from the beginning now have ten years of bloom day posts. Ten years.

And many of you said you were terrible at keeping records of  what is going on in your gardens. Now you can no longer make that claim. Now you have up to ten years of records, depending on when you joined in.

Wrapping up this tenth year of bloom day posts, here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6a garden in central Indiana, we are so far being spared the ice and snow that is gripping much of the U.S. to the west of us and to the north of us.

So far.

I am actually writing this post on the 13th, just to be sure there is a bloom day post on schedule. I realize that by the 15th, I, too, could have ice on my garden. I hope if there is ice, there isn't a lot of it.

I walked around my garden and saw many shoots poking up out of the ground. "Is it time yet?" Not for many of them. Above is a snowdrop sprout.  It could bloom at any time and likely will bloom before the next bloom day posts.

I'd prefer these crocuses wait a bit.
For those concerned with the corm being exposed, rest assured I threw a handful of dirt and mulch on it after I took the picture.

I think these reticulated irises seem a bit rambunctious for this time of year.
At least I think those are the reticulated irises. If not, well, it will be a nice surprise to see whatever they are once they are blooming.

Nearby the witch hazel's buds (Hamamelis vernalis) are puffing up.
Not too exciting yet, but in a few weeks perhaps we'll see some color on them.

We might also see a few of these Helleborus niger open up, too.

I think I've shown these buds in previous bloom day posts. I hope for a sunny day soon when they will actually open up.

In the meantime, there are always the plants in the sunroom.

The amaryllis buds are taking their time.

I've forgotten what color they are going to be but will soon find out.

I also don't know what color these hyacinths "on vase" will be.
But I do know from looking at past bloom day posts that they are pretty much the same at this point every year.

But where are the blooms, you ask?

Here they are!
Once again I've purchased pre-chilled pips of Lily of the Valley to force into bloom. I'm happy to have them now, in the middle of January when little else is blooming.  They remind me that spring is really not that far off.

What's blooming in your garden and home on this January day? Please join in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and show us by posting about your blooms on your blog. All are welcome, whether it is your first time or your 120th time. Then leave a link in the Mr. Linky widget below  and a comment to let us know what you have for us to see.

And to commemorate the conclusion of 10 years of bloom day posts, please also let us know in your comment how long you've been joining in.

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

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Enga: Enemy of the Garden

The other day, I had a close up encounter with Enga, short for ENemy of the GArden.

Enga a fat squirrel who hangs out around the bird feeders, trying to steal the peanuts I've been putting out for the blue jays.

The blue jays love the peanuts. At times I've counted six or more blue jays hanging around the crabapple tree, waiting for their chance to get a peanut from the peanut wreath.

Then I saw Enga climb down to the wreath and grab a peanut for herself. One day, she actually knocked the peanut wreath to the ground. I'm sure she then proceeded to gorge herself on peanuts because when I found the wreath, it was empty.

And she is fat.

I did the only thing I could do after that happened. I used two wire hooks to lower the wreath even further from the branch it hangs on. Now to get to it, Fat Enga has to carefully, gingerly climb down almost two feet of a skinny wire hook...

Which I watched her do a few times.

Finally, fed up, I threw a few peanuts on the nearby porch. I told myself they were for the blue jays, but I guess I secretly hoped Enga would see them and eat those instead of messing with the peanut wreath.

Then I watched as the blue jays took all those peanuts, one by one, in what seemed like a matter of minutes.

Enga is now on her own.

Or is she? I've seen a squirrel devouring the sunflower seeds I put in the back garden feeders. Could it be one and the same fat squirrel? I don't mind if Enga eats from those feeders as I mostly watch the birds in the front garden, where the good seed is.

The good seed has attracted cardinals, finches, chicadees, blue jays, woodpeckers, and at least one bluebird that I know of. Plus a few grackles and a mourning dove or two. It's been fun watching all these birds out the window as I sit at my desk and work on whatever it is I am working on. Some days an article, some days my book, some days mindless social media, and soon some presentations for upcoming speaking opportunities.

I can look up from whatever is on my screen at any anytime and see at least a few birds, and occasionally Enga.

I hope Enga is the only squirrel hanging around my garden. And I hope she stays in the back garden where there are two feeders full of sunflower seeds. Hopefully, she's eating that seed and has stopped digging up crocus corms.

Time and spring will tell.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Garden fairies take umbrage

Patiently waiting for helleborus buds to open
Garden fairies here.

We are garden fairies and we take umbrage! We are beside ourselves after taking a look through this book that Carol is getting ready to publish.

Please sit down and hold tight as we tell you...

There is just one mention of garden fairies in the entire book.

We are garden fairies so we will just take a moment and let that sink in.  We did a search of the entire book and found just one place where she even mentions garden fairies, and it is only a mention, not a focal point.

I am sure others will agree that taking umbrage is called for at this time.  We took such umbrage that we had to call a meeting of all the garden fairies to discuss it.  We are garden fairies. We hate meetings. But in times like these...

At the meeting, everyone spoke, clamored, shouted, and talked at the same time. Our minute taker, Sweetpea MorningGlory, finally gave up on trying to write anything down except when the wise Granny 'Gus' McGarden finally spoke up. Granny runs The Vegetable Garden Cathedral and is wiser than the owls we hear across the way, so when she speaks, we listen.

What Granny said was that perhaps the reason Carol only mentioned fairies once in her book is because she is planning another book that will only be about garden fairies.

That thought hadn't occurred to any of the rest of us, but it made sense when Granny said it. Of course. There has to be a book just about us garden fairies. It would be best-seller. It would be one-of-a-kind. It would reveal all of our secrets...

Wait. We are garden fairies and perhaps we do not want all of our secrets revealed!  Perhaps we only want to reveal secrets about Carol, like the fact that here it is four days after the New Year has started and she hasn't taken down her Christmas tree.

Apparently when one works at home as a writer whenever one wants, one doesn't need to rush to take down the tree before going back to work after the holidays.

The tree fairies are of course delighted. Why wouldn't they be? "Keep turning on those pretty lights," they say. "We'll hang here till spring if that's what Carol decides," they declare.

We are garden fairies and so we would be re-miss if we didn't say in Carol's defense that she did take down the outdoor decorations so the neighbors don't know she has slacked off indoors. But they don't know that the outdoor lights are in a heap in the garage, waiting to be wound up nicely on spools.  Nope. We will not tell those secrets, we are garden fairies.

We will just bide our time, waiting for Carol to write a book that is just about us. After all, we are garden fairies, time is on our side.

Submitted by
Violet GreenPea Maydreams, Chief Scribe of the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens