Saturday, March 31, 2012

Three In A Dozen For Diana

I am joining Diana of Elephant's Eye in choosing twelve months of my favorite garden plants. In this month of March, I am all about green. Each Spring, I look forward to the fresh, crinkly leaves of Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis. Lady's Mantle is native to Europe but has become traditional in many American gardens. I cannot imagine a garden without the ruffled skirt of Lady's Mantle edging its borders and so must include it in my dozen for Diana.

Lady’s Mantle, a perennial herb belonging to the Rose family, has a long history of curative and magical powers. I mostly admire Lady's Mantle for its leaves and the way they catch the rain and dew. Apparently so have many others before me. Throughout history, these dainty drops adorning the leaves of Lady's Mantle were considered mystical and constituted the part of many potions. Considered by alchemists to be the purest form of water, they used them in their quest to turn base metal into gold – hence the name "Alchemilla". (The generic name Alchemilla is derived from the Arabic word, Alkemelych – alchemy.)  In earlier times, it was also believed the dew that collected on the leaves was thought to preserve a lady’s complexion and took on extra magical powers if collected by the light of a full moon. Lady's Mantle also been used in traditional medicine as an astringent tonic for skin conditions, as a tea in the treatment of menstrual and digestive problems, and to dress wounds so that they may heal faster.

Lady's Mantle is said to be named after the Virgin Mary's cloak because the lobes of the leaves were thought to resemble the scalloped edges of a mantle. Its tiny chartreuse to yellow flowers dance above its frilly foliage like lace. Lady's Mantle prefers to grow in partial shade. Mine grows in sun as well, in moist soil, but I am in a cooler zone. Aside from an elegant edging, it also makes a graceful groundcover.

To read about my previous choices for a dozen for Diana, click below.
January: Sunflowers
February: Wild Roses

Hmmm, if I scratch myself training the wild roses, I could try applying some Lady's Mantle to my scrapes!

Sources: BotanicalGlobal Garden, Live and Feel

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jeepers Peepers!

I love the sound of Spring Peepers. I frequently heard their evening song at our old house in Maine which was surrounded by woods with many running creeks and a neighboring man-made pond, but I was surprised (and thrilled) one evening to hear them here at our village home in Clayton, New York as we are no longer surrounded by woods but by sidewalks. Now I listen for them each Spring evening.

It is the forest floor close to swamp, marsh or ephemeral wetland where Peepers live. In Spring they gather by the hundreds in small areas of wetland, swamp, temporary pools and pits of water, or farm ponds to mate and make more peeps. Their calls can be heard from as far as one mile to two and a half miles depending on how many are gathered at the watering hole – well, that explains my wonderful evening serenades. We are two blocks from the St. Lawrence River and one block away from French Bay which turns into French Creek and wetland along a forest edge as it moves inland. Sound carries over water in the still of the night and brings us the song of the peeper, as well as geese and coy dogs, to our windows.

We frequently walk Mojo (the mud mop), at nearby Zenda Farm preserve. A wonderful preserve maintained by the Thousand Island Land Trust that also hosts our community garden (of which I hope to share with you this summer). Now I have learned Spring Peepers will peep day and night as long as the temperature is above freezing, and they are frequently heard but never seen because they hide in dense plants, under logs and leaves. I myself, have never actually seen one, but "Spring surprise" we chanced upon this pool of water on our walk at Zenda Farm that was unmistakably peeping! ... and then moving closer, as if by the flip of a switch, completely silent.

To the left of this photo is a stretch of forested land.

It amazed me that this volume of sound could come from such a small pool of water. On our way back, I snuck up on the pool and recorded the peeping.

I didn't want to chance stepping closer to the pool to possibly catch a live glimpse of a Peeper because Mojo would invariably follow and tromp right in most likely squashing all in his four-pawed path, then proceed to roll in the muck. May they keep peeping on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What's Growing: Happy Spring, Sprouts

Happy Spring! Spring has officially arrived and my garden is officially declared a new mud wrestling rink so not much is growing outdoors – yet. Garlic is beginning to poke through and yesterday I noticed the first few buds of Rhubarb leaves. Mojo, my mud mop (dog), seems determined to squash anything in his path which does not include the walking path but of course, the main beds.

In my quest to have fresh food year round I purchased a sprouter kit, specifically the Bioset Seed Sprouter from Johnny's. I am amazed! Within days, I have fresh sprouts to top off rice dishes, salads, crackers ... you name it. I'm already on my second batch.

My kit came with a variety of sprouting seeds: broccoli, mustard, mung beans, radish and wheat off the top of my head. Usually I add a tablespoon of seeds in each tray (a chart is also included with measurements as to how many seeds are needed for each variety), stack the trays up and then fill the top reservoir with water. The water slowly fills up the top tray, then trickles down to the next, and finally ends up in a collection tray at the bottom which I then empty. I do this twice a day at least.

Within a couple days, the seeds sprout and fill out. I cannot describe their taste other than wow, zing! These do not taste like any sprouts purchased from the store.

My mushroom kit also shroomed WAY out. I should have probably picked the mushrooms a little earlier (they looked more like mushrooms a few days ago). They look funky now but I ate them anyway – yum! – also incredible flavor. It was dry here and they took a little longer to get started. The company I purchased them from, Back to the Roots, is great. I emailed them a picture asking for help as to why they were not growing and and received a response right away with tips to get them going.

They are Pearl Oyster Mushrooms. Next I'll flip the bag to the other side for a second batch. Let's see if I do a little better with this batch. Hopefully, I'll have picture perfect mushrooms the second time around.

I have started Brassica seeds: Artichokes, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower. I still do not have a grow light set up, but with temperatures so mild I am using the SUN. I figure the nearby Amish must start their seeds without grow lights, so can I! But I do hope to invest in a set up next year. I am excited to grow Artichokes. I really want to see one of those beautiful flowers. I'm not sure how to harvest Artichokes, will have to read up on that, but this year I will leaf over the Cauliflower heads. Any tips out there?

The newly sprouted seeds look strong and healthy and I hope to have them growing in the Potager soon. These transplants, when larger, should be okay with cooler temperatures. Next month I plan to start Kale, Spinach and Swiss Chard directly in the garden. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's Blooming: Early Crocus, Forsythia

Bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month and I confess, I missed February. I didn't have a single bloom, but that's not to say I didn't drop by and visit to see what was blooming in your garden. 

This month however, I do have blooms! Outside the early Crocus continue to open. The Daffodils seem to push up from the soggy ground by an inch a day. The Lamb's Ear and Bee Balm are greening up.

Crocus peeping through Thyme

Indoors Forsythia is blooming in many vases all over the house. It needed a good pruning and although not native, I do love this shrub come Spring, especially when I can use any left over clippings for cheerful spring arrangements!

We had our first Spring thunderstorm here early this morning. More blooms are sure to follow the booms.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

First Spring Blooms 2012

I like to journal each Spring when the first blooms open. Last year, crocus bloomed out front on March 18th. This year, I discovered crocus out front and in the Bird & Butterfly garden on March 11th.

Temperatures are supposed to be warmer this week with days hovering around 60° F and nights not dipping below freezing. The bees will most likely be buzzing by the end of the week. The red-winged black birds and grackles – a sure sign of Spring – have also arrived slightly ahead of schedule last year by a few days. Last evening I gazed at the stars and viewed Mars, Jupiter and Venus. Anticipation is in the air. I'll be in the garden!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Project: Indoor Garden Shelf

Although I have a window in my small studio/home office, I do not have a view – except into my neighbor's window. I usually keep white, honeycomb shades drawn for privacy. I do, however, have wonderful light as it faces Southeast, and this wonderful light filters through the shades. Better light is definitely what my declining orchid collection needs. I have a mix of Paphiopedilum or Lady Slipper, Phalaenopsis or Moth, Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids. Some of these I've cared for (and neglected) for nearly ten years.

In addition to my orchid trials, I now have terrarium fever. I really want to create and tend to some mossy, woodsy, miniature indoor gardens.

Another factor at play here is that I want to revamp my studio/office so that it's more inspiring to work in. Since I love to garden and love the woods, I thought maybe I could bring these elements into my work space and they could nurture my nature year round.

I put up a shelf along the width of the window just about eye level so that I could create my own view. On this shelf is, initially where all my orchids and new attempt at terrariums will reside. More shelving will continue along the walls above my desk area for a better, roomier, display and to incorporate my woodland finds which I'll save for another time.

I sifted through what I already owned for some creative glass containers, although I will need to purchase some very tall ones for my Slipper Orchids in the near future. Here a pub glass makes a mini cloche.

When we moved here a nice collection of old mason jars was left behind in our cellar. I kept them thinking that I would do something with them at some point. I have a collection of sea shells in some glass jars that my grandmother owned. I swapped the shells into the mason jars so I could use my grandmother's glass jars for planting. Some of the shells I used in my new containers. Some shells mimic large shelf fungus found in the woods, some are purely decorative.

I was inspired to do this project after receiving The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin as a Christmas gift. This book contains many creative ideas. Using this book as a guide, I purchased a soil made for terrariums called plantation soil. It is a soil made from compressed coconut husk fibre that comes in bricks. I placed a brick in a bucket, added water and voila, big bucket of beautiful soil substrate! In each container, I layered charcoal, pebbles and soil. The pebbles allow for good drainage and the charcoal filters the water, keeps things sweet, and prevents stagnation and fungi. I also enclosed potted plants in glass. Some of my new plantings are open at the top but because the plants are still enclosed in glass, humidity levels are elevated. My orchids are very dry here in spite of misting. A boost of humidity should also help them thrive. I excavated a little moss from my property as a top dressing.

1. Potted orchid in large glass vase with sea shell base.
2. Shells mimicking shelf fungus found in woods.

Miniature Buddha rock garden on my desk.

In Maine my orchids bloomed every Winter without fail. Here in NY, they have bloomed once or twice but have clearly declined. Some of them still remain in their pots. I will closely monitor those in terrarium-like containers. I am hoping this new spot will make them bloomin' happy once again. I also hope to create some terrariums with other types of plantings and more miniature scenes. This shelf is now a garden surround to ground me while working and lift my spirits while creating. I can't wait to continue it along the other two walls. Glass sun catchers add to my new garden. How about you? Is there a place where you, too, can create your own view? Bring the garden indoors?

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