Sunday, January 30, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Sun Nods Winter Goodbye

Each time I look into my garden out back I can't help but think these sunflowers, piled high with snow, are nodding winter goodbye. The last of their leaves even wave goodbye.

Bye bye winter, bye bye.

Bark in the Park

Not much excites the senses in the stark landscape of a northern winter. But tree bark is something to bark about. Winter is the ideal time to appreciate its many forms and textures. While walking Grass Point I decided to take a closer look at the bark in this park.

Eastern Red Cedar
Eastern White Pine
Red Pine
Pin Oak
Four different barks I couldn't positively identify. Maybe you can?

This peeling bark reminds me of a Shagbark Hickory but I don't think that's what this tree is. Some older maples begin to peel. It is very difficult to identify a tree only by its bark!

This bark also appears to be that of a maple judging by the last few clinging leaves. It also appears to be well loved. Aside from these cocoons, it also hosts two bird nests.

I'm not the only one appreciating the bark in this park. This is the work of pileated woodpeckers. They seem to prefer the White Pines.

I don't think the tree directly above will live to see another winter. This is the front and back of the tree. Notice the wood chips below on the snow. (The top photo is a different tree.)

Who is that barking now? Even Mojo is taken with the bark in this park!

Consider bark when designing your garden. It will be the main attraction come winter. In my own garden I appreciate the red bark of dogwoods, especially with a back drop of blue spruce. Who doesn't love paper white or river birch trunks towering over the snow? I don't know about you, but I think the bark of the red pine is spectacular.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Going Native: Wild Grape

I'm guessing Vitis riparia, Riverbank Grape – we live by a river so that seems to be of place. Though from what research I have attempted, wild grapes can be difficult to identify. It will grow upwards of 36 - 72 ft. Yes, mine will envelope our house if I let it.

Another vine has taken over the back fence which is fine by me as it is a chain link fence and I would love to cover it up in any way I can. It climbs up into nearby trees, when I let it. Songbirds do seem to relish the fence of living grape, another characteristic of Riverbank Grape. Once it treated a small flock of Cedar Waxwings – worth the occasional reining in with the pruners. Once I spied a flying flash of orange, an Oriole, possibly an Orchid Oriole. Yellow warblers and wrens rustle behind its leaves in the summer.  Some have nested among its cover in decorative bird houses.

Though pretty and appetizing to the birds, the grapes don't taste very good to you or me ... sour. They are a beautiful dark blue, almost black and the leaves yellow in the fall. The contrast is beautiful. In the summer, the large leaves make a perfect privacy screen. In the winter its older, thick, twisted vines catch the snow.

I let this vine grow up the lattice work on our front porch. It had been cut to the ground when we moved in and the lattice was barren – a poor attempt at weeding? Lucky for me. I love the cinnamon color of its stems and the dark blue of its berries against the stark white of winter. White Christmas lights tangled in its tendrils with a sparkle of snow, brighten the season.

It takes me ten minutes to prune the top vines so that it does not jump onto the roof or the nearby electrical lines. I would call that pretty maintenance free. I appreciate this native even though some consider it a weed. The chickadees are now lured to the front porch and last spring, a Robin set up house. That makes it especially attractive to me.

If you are a grape vine guru and I have misidentified this wild grape, please, I would appreciate it if you let me know. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project: So Much More Than A Plant List

Last winter I attempted, lamely, to build a plant list using google docs. I have several spread sheets that I began but now they are ignored. I don't know about you, but I find spread sheets thoroughly boring (even if they are helpful). This may be the reason why I lost my enthusiasm for completing and updating my plant list. That, and it really is a daunting, time-consuming task!

But all is not lost! My eyes were recently treated with one word posted on our local garden club facebook page from an article featured in our local, weekly newspaper in the "zucchini lady's" column. That word is PlantJotter. PlantJotter is an online program designed exclusively for gardeners! Unlike google docs, there is a yearly fee, but so far I am thinking it is very worth it. The price to join for a year is $21 US, $45 for three years. They offer a 30 day free trial of which I have taken advantage of and eight days into it, I am already sold.

Aside from uploading all your plants complete with pictures, you can enter locations, tasks, and journal entries. This appeals to me because I can assign my own personal locations to plants, i.e. the Bird & Butterfly garden, which is how I tend to organize my growing list of plants.

And I love the journal entry feature because now instead of printing some page online, ripping out a magazine article, writing a note on a Post-it® ... I can simply add a journal entry for any ideas I have or that I come across. Do you have piles of notes, copies, articles, plant tags stashed around? Hmmm? I can even paste links (or copy) right into my journal entries.

Tasks will be very helpful. I have already entered that I want to cut back my sedums and heleniums in late spring so they are not so floppy this year. Now I have a reminder right in front of me with a due date! I will be able to put in tasks for succession planting as well.

For all of these features just mentioned, I can assign tags so essentially I am creating my own little garden database.

I have faith that PlantJotter will store all my data safely but they do offer an option to back up all your information. You can even export information into a spread sheet program like excel. (But why? Yawn.)

A couple of other things I will mention is that your uploaded photo files cannot exceed 5 MB. For those of you with those super duper digital cameras that I long for, I am not sure if this might be an issue. The majority of my photos are under 5 MB so this works for me. Plant entries allow you to search their already existing database for plants you may own, but you may also put in your specific cultivar. You can enter the size of your plants in inches, feet or meters but those are the only available units of measurement for now. However, for each plant entry there is a place for notes. You can put PlantJotter on your wish list – gift certificates are available.

I think I may be able to put my box of plant tags to rest. Although well organized, I still have to shuffle through everything to find what I'm looking for.

If you have been meaning to start an official plant list or master plan, consider PlantJotter. Click here to go to their website if you are interested in learning more. There is a facebook page for PlantJotter as well. Happy planning. I think I will finally finish my plant list so yay, I'm happy!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's Growing: Lessons Learned

I try to post what's growing here in my northern potager (kitchen) garden once a month. This month obviously not much is growing, aside from bigger and bigger plans, so I thought I would pre-plan by first outlining my mistakes from last year. (Oh, remember there is always something going on in the soil! So, the soil is growing this month and I / we just can't see it.)

This post is also in response to Fer's call for a World Garden Blog Carnival, Gardening for the New Year. So, be sure to stop by her blog, My Little Garden in Japan, to see what gardeners are planning for the new year all around the world!

Back to lessons learned ...

The Good
Here are my sketches for my plans for the potager last season.

This is good because now I can rotate my families of plants this year. I haven't been growing vegetables for very long so my experience is limited, but I have practiced crop rotation from the beginning and problems with pests and diseases have been very minor. I also like to companion plant where I can. Also great is that I wrote down some of my planting dates!

The Bad
I should have written down ALL of my planting AND harvest dates. My resolution is to successfully succession plant this year (say that five times fast). But now I am not sure of when my lettuce bolted or when I ripped it out. Although I tried to reseed during the heat of summer, the lettuce never took off again, or the spinach. I guess I can plant at the same time this year because it did do well at first, but I will only plant a little at a time. I'll plant every week. Last year I wound up with a huge crop of spinach that I couldn't possibly eat all at once. Lesson learned.

In fact, I'm going to plant less of everything but more variety. New plants to try on my mind? Artichoke, broccoli raab, cayenne peppers, chinese napa cabbage, mustard greens, purple dragon carrots, romanesco broccoflower ... less is more!

The Ugly
Root vegetables that were planted in brand new beds last year turned out quite ugly. Although amended, the predominately clay soil is a tough cookie to crack. Those poor "roots" contorted into amazing shapes as they tried to grow down. Root vegetables this year are reserved for the raised beds with the nice, soft, easy going dirt.

Butt crack carrot – ugly!
Even uglier is how the neighborhood cats think of my raised beds as their own personal outdoor litter boxes! It is difficult to start seedlings. Once things are grown in, it is no longer a problem. A new fence on the other side of our property line should help, but I will be stocking up on cayenne pepper just the same. This year I am also going to try to plant some garden rue along the edges of my beds. Supposedly a plant that nearly all animals turn their noses up at – deer, dogs, cats, rabbits ... (Hey, some of this planted near the front sidewalk might not be a bad idea, either!) I now affectionately refer to Mojo as "my little bear." One stomp of his paw could mean disaster for a tender seedling. Maybe the rue will also make for a natural boundary for him as well.

My little bear

Now that I have a good idea of how to improve last year's plantings, I can really begin planning. I will start with a new sketch. Oh, and I also resolve to plant blueberry bushes this year!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's Blooming

Another month of scrounging for blooms ... this crown of thorns is just beginning to bloom.

This rosemary is blooming (and dusty – eek – but sort of appropriate to be dusting off blooms this time of year).

This shamrock is still blooming like spring is here. The shot is a little blurred but I sort of like it. The flowers are on such delicate whisps of stems that they dance in the slightest poof of air.

Hmmm, hardly worth your visit here ... winter is when I paint the most. Watercolor blooms open up when the surface of the paper is wet and dry, or in varying degrees of wetness. The paint is naturally drawn to the drier parts of the paper. Some think of watercolor blooms as a mistake, but I like them. I think they reveal the very nature of watercolor and I believe them to enhance paintings, just as blooms enhance the garden.

I truly want to be able to sit in my garden and paint, and this summer I am going to make a go at it. I have been practicing painting flowers but find them a very difficult subject! I am not really happy with my paintings so far, but you stopped by here to see blooms and that is what I am going to offer.

Hopefully you will see my paintings of flowers improve this summer! Garden bloggers' bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month. Stop by and add your blog to the list – it's blooming somewhere.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bird & Butterfly Garden

This was the first section, or bed, of my garden I created. I still call it the bird and butterfly garden although most of the beds I have added on my property are planted with wildlife in mind. Here is a time line from beginning to date of this section of my garden in the making.

We moved into our house in October of 2007. Directly above is a "before" photo in the early Spring of 2008 followed by the early stages of this bed in the making. The middle and top view show the plantings around mid-to-late Summer of 2008.

Directly above is the same bed in the early Spring of 2009. The views above that, showing the bed in June and July of 2009.

And here, above, is the bed in the late Spring of 2010. It is really filling in and now there is sprouting, unfurling, stretching, growing, and colors blooming each month of the summer from early spring into fall.

Summer of 2010 (above). The mason bee house hanging on the garage wall is finally active. The plants have outgrown the original bird bath I had in place. I have added a tall driftwood "sculpture" that I interpret to be a Blue Heron as they are common here along the river.

Late Summer/Fall 2010 (above). The joe-pye and perennial sunflowers are as tall as the top of the window. Now we have strong skeletons to stand through the winter and add interest, many seeds to feed the winter birds, many stalks to house and protect insects.

This is the first section of my garden I have featured in a time line. I will be featuring my entire garden. I hope to have these posts remain in my sidebar for visitors to view my garden at a glance. I also plan to keep them updated as my garden grows. You may remember my older slide show "In the Making," but I've found as my garden continues to expand, the slide show to be too long and not load fast enough. Thank you for joining me in my garden in the making!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Gardener in the Making

I began this blog as a means of journaling the progress of my "garden in the making." (Oh, and to "vent" my obsession with gardening so that friends and family would no longer have to hear my continuous gardening blabber – though I still blabber away.) Three years later, I am reflecting on how my garden has evolved.

As I reflect and plan, I realize that maybe
I am not making the garden so much as the garden is making me.

For instance, I decided I was going to use only organic means to create and grow my garden. So, now I am composting and this one process has led to more sustainable processes. Now I am recycling religiously and viewing each "object de trash" in a landfill. I have stopped buying sandwich bags and only use glass containers for storing food. I have stopped buying paper napkins and now use cloth – much more elegant at dinner I have to say. Even dryer lint is saved for nesting materials for the birds. And if I won't use chemicals to treat my garden and lawn, why should I continue to use them in my household? Now I am using only vinegar, baking soda and essential oils to clean and maintain my house. I make my own laundry detergent. And why wouldn't I use only natural ingredients on my face, skin, hair? Now I make my own shampoo. Now I rarely wear make-up. Now I only buy beauty products that are organic and preferably from a company with an enlightened business plan.

I decided that I was going to focus on native plantings as sources of food and shelter for wildlife and insects. Now I am a citizen scientist. I watch the birds. I watch the bees. Now I am a supportive member of Wild Ones and consider leading a new Wild Ones chapter right here in my town. Now my yard is a certified wildlife habitat. Now birds not only eat from my feeders but from my garden (which will be comforting if I decide to migrate south with some of the others come winter!). Now I have bees nesting in my garden. I never tire reading about, learning about, and observing these plants and creatures. It is so rewarding to take what I have learned and witness all these natural processes right in my own backyard!

And now I am writing about it here on my blog. Now I am taking more pictures than I ever have in my life. Now I am interested in photography and cameras and taking better pictures.

I decided to really practice watercolor painting and my growing garden is becoming my main subject ... buds, blades, petals, leaves, berries, feathers, wings.

I decided to expand my gardening horizon and grow some of my own food. Now I am in love with my potager and homegrown, unbelievably fresh food. When I cannot harvest my own, I consciously purchase organic foods. Now my eggs are bought from the Amish farm, meat from the local farmers. Now I read every food label. Now I bake and cook most of my own foods. Now I am interested in prolonging the harvest with a hoop house, sprouting, preserving and canning.

Perhaps a better summary of my blog would be  
"A colorful tale of a garden and gardener in the making" 

You may see more posts on the making of the gardener as well as the garden in the future.

What about you? How has gardening changed you?


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