Thursday, March 31, 2011

Project: Nature Journal

I bought a wonderful book last year with the intention of starting a nature journal. This spring I am going to make it happen. Though I love journaling my garden on this blog and sharing it with all of you, I find a deeper connection sitting immersed in nature with only sketchbook and pencil (or paints) in hand. Last year I tried a brief session observing this bug on a solidago cultivar, Little Lemon.

Let me try to explain the difference between taking a picture of the bug versus studying it without the lens and sketching it instead. I recorded the date, time and weather. I noted the bug had six legs, three to each side. I noted its markings and colors. I noted how large it was and that it had long antennae. I noted what it was doing. Instead of walking away with a "picture of a cool bug" on my solidago, I walked away with a full, 3D moving memory stored in my mind – which is not an easy feat these days as I tend to forget just about everything. I would never remember it had six legs with just a photo. I would not really know its size. I couldn't be sure of what it was doing on the flower. From this picture I cannot tell the antennae were long or that the underside of the bug had opposite colored markings. Later, I was able to look this bug up and know for certain it is a locust borer. It was the first I had seen in my garden.

By the way, the sketches and/or drawings are supposed to improve with practice over time. If I were to come across this borer again, I might do a close up sketch of his legs or mouth, or a drawing comparing the markings on its underside to the markings top side. This would capture even more detail. I would also add color with colored pencils or watercolor paints.

I have been collecting leaves, seeds, nuts, feathers, etc. for some time and I hope to gain a much better insight into the nature of their nature by sketching them into my journal. I will force myself to see more.

To begin, I plan to focus mostly on the plants and creatures stirring in my garden. To be sure this project gets going, I am going to include a monthly post on this blog "From My Nature Journal" from now on – a journal by hand to enhance the digital journal. I hope you will enjoy these future posts and that maybe you'll try a bit of nature journaling yourself!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Going Native: Cat Nipped

Once again I have been misled, this time by a grinning sprig of cat mint! What I thought was wild mint is actually cat mint and its origins belong to Europe. This may possibly explain my run ins with so many neighborhood cats! Do I feel like the mouse in this game? Sheesh.

I am sensing a common theme here among the "wild flower volunteers" that I let grow in my garden – most of them are not actually native! This is becoming a very good educational experience for me as I research and identify what tends to pop up on its own in my yard and garden. I hope you are benefiting from my enlightenment as well. I think I will be replacing this plant, especially around my potager. I find the bees enjoy this cat mint almost as much as the cats so I would want to replace it. Hairy wood mint would be a worthy, aromatic, native alternative.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's Growing

I admit, I have never had much luck with seeds but last year a friend asked me to grow some seeds for her family cabin garden and handed me a "Jiffy" seed starting kit. How could I refuse? It was so much fun and all the seeds sprouted and she had some flowers that even I didn't manage to keep in my garden! So, this year I picked up a couple of those "Jiffy" starters for myself. So far, I have a couple of seeds starting but germination days are nearing over the average. Last year I didn't really keep track and had more fun with it so I am just going to try to relax about it. Every year, no matter my luck, I start seeds indoors because well, winter just drags on and on and ON and I feel I need to do some type of gardening! So, here is my makeshift set up this year. Of course, two of the starter kits were not enough once I began to get into it and I created some mini starter kits of my own from salad containers.

This is the best window in the house, facing south. Even so, I think I have the same problem I have every year – not enough light. I am using this old clip on light I found in the cellar with a plant bulb in it for extra light. I should really just make a plant stand and use shop lights but I don't really have a lot of room and then I would have to store it the rest of the year. This is the other end of our kitchen (and dining) table. I have all the mini green houses on large plastic trays so I can move them easily if I need to. This also makes it convenient to harden off the seedlings. The tray by the window is sitting directly above a heating vent – very convenient. I have a heating pad under the tray on the table.

There is something so hopeful in seeing a tiny sprout!

I marked a "top" to each Jiffy greenhouse and then made a chart so I know what the plants are. I, of course, planted about ten different things in each one which isn't really very smart because each plant germinates at a different rate. Then again, the hyssop which was supposed to germinate in 10-14 days, came up right away! And only one pot of Scarlet O'Hara Morning Glory germinated quickly, very quickly. I had to take it out.

Meet Super Scarlet! My salad greenhouses seem to be working quite well. Most of my veggies have already sprouted.

I just rotate these around each day hoping to create strong stems. I think the top may have to come off of this one. This year I am starting all of my vegetables from seed including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, brandy wine and cherry tomatoes. I sure hope to see them growing strong in the potager come summer.

Outdoors I have made some mini greenhouses from water jugs and club soda containers. In these I have planted perennial seeds. They're on my covered front porch where I can keep a close eye on them.

So far nothing (sigh), but it is still quite cold here. I figure a few warm days ... These won't have to be hardened off and I want to compare them to seeds started indoors. Hopefully soon, I will not have to buy salad in containers!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Bloom of Spring

It's the first day of spring and I have spent the day in the garden cleaning up. I have crocus blooming! I spotted this crocus bloom on March 18, one day later than last year. Today I noticed more crocus blooming in the back.

Spring has officially arrived! Daffodils, species tulips, and reticulated iris are also sprouting. So far no sign of the snow drops I planted last year but they are in a shadier spot. Still, I wonder if they have made it.

I have only just begun spring clean up, but here is what is already starting to come up in my garden so far:

Achillea 'Coronation Gold'
Black-eyed Susan
Bee Balm
Bleeding Heart
Campanula 'Blue Clips'
Cerastium 'Silver Carpet'
Feather Reed Grass 'Karl Foerster'
Lamb's Ears
Penstemon 'Jingle Bells'
Obedient Plant
Rudbeckia Maxima
Sea Holly
Sedum 'Angelina'
Sedum 'Blue Spruce'
Sedum 'Maestro'
Solidago 'Fireworks'
Viola (actually blooming!)

I have to add this little note: I apologize for not visiting some of you in awhile. I have taken a part time job at our local library (in addition to our business), to better fund my artwork and garden. I am still adjusting to my new schedule and hope to stop by and visit with you soon. I meant to do a little catch up this weekend but the sun was out and well, I couldn't resist being in the garden. I hope you are seeing signs of spring in your garden, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's Blooming

Sadly, my orchids have not bloomed this year. Last year I had very few blooms. I hadn't fertilized regularly and so I thought this year I would be good about it to see if they would produce more blooms, but zilch! I have to conclude they just don't like the spot they're in. It is time to move them. I have another spot chosen but it will take a little work to get them set up. Hopefully next year we will see some beautiful orchid blooms.

The snow has finally melted and today we have sun just in time for garden bloggers bloom day! It has been a long stretch of gloomy days with snow and rain. The sun is very welcome and lights up the windowsills.

I just love the little drops of leaves on the first plant above. The leaves of the second plant blush with pinks and purples – they are like blooms themselves, although this plant does have tiny white flowers. I am not sure what type of plant either of these are. They were in a basket outside last summer and I had to bring them in because I liked them so much. My rosemary has survived the winter on my kitchen windowsill and continues to bloom among these little birds. One is a bird call.

My African violet continues to bloom and the other violets I transplanted are finally coming around. The crown of thorns flowers are yellow and are just beginning to bloom. I think this plant will spend summer on the porch. The shamrock is really blooming now with spring at the door. Lucky shamrock always spends summers outdoors.

And even though my garden beds look like a winter wreck, look what's starting to come up. We will have blooms in the garden in just a few short weeks! The robins are back in town, and the red-winged black birds and grackles have arrived with spring.

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 so we can see what's springing up in your garden.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


When I was a little girl my grandmother took me to a local fair. I threw a ping pong ball into a fish bowl and won a gold fish. Since then I have always kept fish. The bowl graduated into an aquarium – ten gallons at first, then twenty, then fifty five which I still have today.

I have kept many different kinds of fish over the years. I began with a typical community of freshwater tropical fish then dove into African cichlids and then, finding them much too territorial, to African cichlids specific only to Lake Tanganyika who were somewhat less aggressive. I have always kept freshwater fish feeling that up North, saltwater is a bit out of place. My passion for this hobby admittedly waned for awhile but then I discovered Takashi Amano and my passion was renewed. If you have not heard of him, as gardeners, I am certain you will appreciate his exceptional talents in "aquascaping" and photography. Just take a look:

Photo by Takashi Amano
Photo by Takashi Amano
Photo by Takashi Amano
Photo by Takashi Amano
Photo by Takashi Amano
Photo by Takashi Amano
I was completely awestruck when I first viewed Takashi's photos of his heavily planted freshwater tank designs. How about you?

My tank is now inspired by Takashi. My choice of fish has come full circle and now includes many peaceful community fish such as tetras and loaches (who don't typically eat or disturb the plantings). My meager tank cannot compare to his creations but I am not as dedicated as Takashi. I do not add CO2. I am certain I do not have ideal lighting. I do fertilize but probably not as regularly as I should. However, I do change my tank water fairly religiously and this is perhaps most important. (In the summer it makes a great garden fertilizer!) In spite of my shortcomings, I still find my tank rewarding. I had other plants but the java fern has taken over and that's okay. This is an underwater garden and as you all know, gardens sometimes have a will of their own. Best to go with the flow. I love the way the ferns have adhered to the driftwood and sway in the water. I could watch my tank for hours. (The driftwood pieces are replicas molded from real tree roots because the real stuff will rot –  I speak from experience – and affect water quality.) Of course, my photos are not of the expert quality of Takashi's. Fish are about as easy to photograph as birds, ha, but at the very least you should have a sense of my set up.

My tank.
Congo tetras and young java fern before taking over.
Streak of emperor tetra.
Diamond tetra – doesn't he sparkle just like diamonds?
Growth of java ferns.
This is I suppose is "my pond." Please be aware that if you are inspired by the works of Takashi, he has designed aquascapes as small as five gallons! No need to start big. He does have several published books and you can find out more about him and aquascaping with a "google."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nice Driveway

Nostrovia or na zdrowie, misinterpreted by some ears as "nice driveway", is a polish cheer to your health. This is how I came to name the bed I created along my driveway. (This is also now, humorously, a toast we frequently use among friends and family.) The driveway area between us and our neighbor is the third area I focused on in creating my garden. This post is a time line of this area of my garden from the very beginning until now. The bird & butterfly garden being the first and the potager (kitchen garden), being the second. Our property actually goes right to the very edge of our neighbor's house, but we left a pathway to be, well, neighborly. From this "before" picture, you might guess as to why I created this bed. It is wide open – hello neighbor, what are we grilling this evening?

You can see our back deck railing in the very foreground of the above picture in the spring of 2009. This picture also shows the very beginning of the bed – dirt. Those boards are actually covering fence post holes for a trellis that my favorite contractor built (once again, amazing husband), to add some privacy between us and our neighbors. My instructions were simply to build a trellis as high as zoning laws would allow. Here's his design:

I'm glad I left it up to him. He did a beautiful job. Here is the bed planted by late summer of 2009.

The vine on the trellis is morning glory 'Heavenly Blue.' In this bed I've planted an arborvitae 'Emerald Green,' and a ninebark 'Coppertina.' Below is the bed in early spring of 2010.

I extended the bed further down the drive and planted a second arborvitae. In the space between the arborvitaes I planted rudbeckia maxima, indian grass and solidago 'fireworks.' They filled in quite nicely their first year. I cannot wait for the indian grass and rudbeckia to grow to their full heights.

I also have liatris, coreopsis varieties, achilia 'Coronation Gold, obedient plant and meadow sage 'May Night' planted in this space. The soil is well drained and I think of this area of my garden as my "mini prairie." The sunflowers are a temporary screen until the arborvitaes grow in. I also have a dutchman's pipe vine growing along the trellis. This will be its third year, and if it doesn't take off I think I will need to move it. The soil may be too dry here. I've been planting annual vines temporarily hoping the dutchman's pipe vine will begin to take over. This year I will plant purple hyacinth bean.

I did add a clematis, 'Comtesse de Bouchard' thinking it would be pretty weaving in and out of the dutchman's pipe. Last year moonflower also did well on the trellis. Helenium and indian grass were great fall focals. I was surprised the indian grass bloomed its first year.

Last summer 2010, above. The bed is filling in nicely. Now we have a nice privacy buffer instead of a barren strip of grass. But that's not all, this bed attracted many pollinators last summer and every day I was able to take time to look, I was rewarded.

This year I will extend the bed further down to the sidewalk and add a third arborvitae. I haven't planned the rest but hope to keep this post updated with my progress. Thank you for joining me in my garden in the making.


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