Sunday, August 29, 2010

Front Row

You've seen them, front row borders. A straight line that mirrors the front foundation of a house. Usually 1-3 feet wide. Most of the time accentuated with a row of shrubs. Maybe punctuated with an arborvitae at the entrance or corner. Well, I inherited a front row, minus the shrubs, with the exception of what's now one mother of a barberry. Again, I ask what is there to do on a patch of lawn this size? Aside from mowing it, I mean.

I started with the tiny patch of lawn between the sidewalk entrance and driveway (Spiced Up Sidewalk). Then carried on through to the other side. I threw some curves into the front row. Our porch curves outward and I thought it would be nice to mimic this. I added sambucus black lace next to the barberry. I like the burgundy and dark foliage shades against the stucco of our house. (Hopefully the white paint on the stucco in front will wear off in a few more years - it came that way.)

The front of our house receives full sun all day into the evening. The soil is true clay - rock hard cement that literally cracks when dry, muck that you can literally sculpt when wet. I then connected the other side of the sidewalk entrance to the main bed. I added a little stone shortcut. It has taken me several seasons to get to this point. The soil is still not great but is improving. Silver brocade, snow in summer, lamb's ear, sea holly and russian sage standout against the dark foliage. A number of different sedums and thymes do well here.

Originally I had planted a cornelian cherry tree here but it just did not like this spot. It is much happier out back. So, I have continued the tapestry of dark, silver / blue, and chartreuse foliages with karl forester grass, blue star juniper, iris, agastache golden jubilee and sedum maestro. There is a wildlife friendly cherry tree seedling in the cornelian cherry's place that will either "make it or not."

The plants are now beginning to fill in and weave together. I will continue expanding this bed over time right up to the sidewalk. I envision more sedums, groundcovers, and hardy low growing evergreens but would like to incorporate natives. Not to worry, the inukshuk will show me the way.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Project: Apple Gourd Birdhouse

Last fall I picked up this green pumpkin-like thing at the farm along with some traditional pumpkins for our front porch. It reminded me of a green Frankenstein head.

When I went to add these pumpkins to the compost pile before the snow (eek!) began falling, the Frankenstein head seemed to have partially dried and was not rotten or squishy at all so I thought, "Hey, I'll just leave this out to dry some more and see what happens." I stored it among our wood pile behind the shed. It dried very nicely.

Well, now I know that it was an apple gourd and this summer I decided I would make it into a birdhouse for my dad for Father's Day.

I had my "contractor" drill a 1 1/8" hole into the side of the gourd. This size is ideal for chickadees. There are many sources online to help you determine what size entrance hole to make for specific species of birds. We also drilled some small drainage holes in the bottom of the gourd.

I slightly sanded the gourd with some fine steel wool to rub off any flakes of skin that were peeling. I prefer "au natural" so I simply coated the gourd with some spar varnish to protect it from weather. You could also paint the house or paint a design on it. I then drilled a hole slightly below the entrance hole to add a perch. I used a small branch. I added some wire to the stem for extra support and formed a loop on the end for hanging. You could also use copper wire.

I was really pleased with the way this turned out and it was easy. This fall, I'll be picking up some more of these "Frankenstein heads" from the farm (hmm, it would also be fun to grow my own), and they will spend the winter on the wood pile. I imagine these would also dry well in a garage. Hopefully, one of these will be hanging in my yard next spring! Maybe in yours, too?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's Growing

The carrots are just about ready. I can't wait to try this 'Sunshine Mix.' 

The cabbage is ready to go into the kraut crock. If you suffer from frequent heartburn, try adding more fermented foods to your diet, i.e. homemade sauerkraut - works wonders.

The cucumbers have climbed their tower.


The garlic has been drying in the shed but is now ready for eating.

Add a lots of basil ... and yum, fresh pesto! Or on top of spaghetti, in a salad, sauteed with ...

cherry tomatoes! I've been snacking on these every time I walk in the garden.

And there's plenty for snacking!

The tiki tomatoes are climbing their torches.

These should ripen soon enough for one of my favorite breakfasts - a bagel with goat cheese, a big slice of tomato, some fresh basil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and cracked pepper.

The garlic chives are blooming.

And I hope this means that I'll have fingerling potatoes to dig up!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What's Blooming

August's colors in the butterfly garden include coneflowers, black-eyed susans and false aster 'Jim Crockett.'

False aster 'Jim Crockett.'

Purple coneflowers.

This year the joe-pye weed has reached towering heights in the butterfly border.

Butterfly bush 'Black Knight' is also in bloom. Its deep purple wands stand out against the yellow verbascum spikes.

Globe thistle, echinops ritro, ready to burst into bloom.

Perennial sunflower helianthus microcephalus. The bees seem to enjoy this more than the butterflies.

The border along the drive is full of autumn color. Oxeye 'Summer Nights' against ninebark 'Coppertina.'

California poppies pop against ajuga.

Sneezeweed, helenium autumnale.

Rudbeckia maxima. I planted three of these in spring. One has decided to bloom already. Mature, these will reach a height of 5 to 7 feet. The seed cones can be 4 to 6 inches tall.

This cutleaf coneflower was planted among the sunflowers in the border along the potager. I bought it at a local plant sale and it was labeled as a perennial sunflower.

The seeds planted in the pollinator garden along the potager are now fully grown and in bloom.

Zinnia and rose mallow.

The monarchs seem to prefer the joe-pye weed and swamp milkweed.

Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month. Visit Carol's blog and if you'd like, add your blog to the list so we can visit your blog blooms.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

August's Featured Bee

The month of August in my North American Native Bee Calendar purchased from the Great Sunflower Project, features the Squash Bee, genus Peponapis. These bees emerge in late summer and nest in the ground.

They are about 1/2 inch in length. Both the males and females are fuzzy and golden. Males have a yellow spot on their face and particularly long antennae. Clusters of males can be found sleeping in squash flowers in the afternoon. Females forage for pollen and nectar in early morning. To see a picture of the squash bee, click here. (To see the image in a new window, control or apple click.)

Pollen and nectar sources are limited to the Cucurbita genus – i.e. blossoms of pumpkins, squash and gourds. Research suggests that these bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of our cultivated squashes.

I'll be sure to keep checking my cucumber blossoms for any napping bees!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Going Native: Jewelweed

Maybe you have seen this "weed" growing along a roadside or the edge of the woods. It volunteered in my garden and its leaves were sort of pretty so I left it to see what it might grow into. It has returned for two years now, but I did not know what it was until I saw it bloom for the first time this year. Its flowers are very distinctive - drops of golden orange speckled with spots. It is native to the eastern US and parts of Canada and considered an annual. It belongs to the Balsaminaceae (Touch-Me-Not Family). It is commonly called touch-me-not because of its ripened seed pods that explode when touched - this I will just have to try. Better yet, it is a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds which I have witnessed in the past few weeks. And even better yet, if you are prone to poison ivy, just crush the stems of this plant and smear it on - supposedly very effective. (This, I hope I do not have to try.) I will encourage this beautiful native to continue to grow in my garden.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

I plant sunflowers every year and I am hooked! There are so many kinds in amazing colors and a range of sizes. Some branch and offer more than a single bloom. Though I do make sure to always plant sunflowers that have pollen - for the bees. I have even taken to growing perennial sunflowers though their blooms are much smaller - like tiny sunbursts. I usually plant the annual seeds directly into the ground come Spring. I cannot convey how awesome it is to watch those tiny sprouts grow into big, towering tree-like stalks with their large heart-shaped leaves - and this even before flowering. You must try it for yourself if you have never planted sunflowers - they are easy going just like a sunny day. And even after the sun sets, the birds enjoy their seeds. It is fun to watch the antics of chickadees, finches, black birds and even woodpeckers snacking among their stems into the fall and winter.

I thought, being such a fan, I should know the origin of sunflowers. Sunflowers are native to North America, first cultivated by Native Americans. Sunflowers were a valuable staple in the Native American diet when the first European explorers arrived and were also used for medicinal purposes. Explorers introduced Sunflowers to other parts of the world. Sunflowers will lean and stretch towards the sun, a unique behavior known as phototropism. They are appropriately named because of their resemblance to the sun - their petals like rays of sunshine. They certainly cheer me up, brighten even a cloudy day, and offer sunny sentiments. Just see for yourself ...


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