Thursday, July 21, 2011

The driveway garden and other mid-summer delights

This year I rearranged the driveway garden to look a little more presentable. Instead of clusters of pots in the middle of the driveway, they're all lined up demurely along the retaining wall that separates us from our neighbors. The tomatoes are producing well - no doubt loving this stifling hot weather. We've harvested a perfectly shaped, gorgeous bell pepper that ripened to a brilliant orange; more peppers are on the way. And this year I've planted string beans in a pot - they're just starting to get flower buds.

In the backyard garden, even in the stupefying heat of the last few days, some of the vegetables that prefer cool weather are hanging in. The dinosaur kale looks pretty good, though the curly kale is not so happy. And this year I'm trying to coax brussels sprouts through their long growing season, all the way to fall maturity. (My fallback is to have planted another round of seeds for these indoors, to be planted out by the end of summer.)

A nice surprise:  we cleared out the area where our new shed was to go, which also meant moving our compost piles. Look what seeded in from those piles: a miniature cucumber plant and some squash! Maybe next year I'll plant melons here!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Early summer perennials

I love how the perennial garden is constantly changing. There are seasonal changes, of course, but also changes from year to year, as plants manage to redistribute themselves within a particular bed - more of this, less of that.

My early summer garden this year has acquired an abundance of Asian lilies, mixed in with the natives and cultivars. Although native plants are my passion, I like the way the lilies look mixed in with the red of the bee balm, the orange butterfly weed, and the white swamp milkweed cultivar, 'Ice Princess.' 

I've decided not to begrudge the lilies their place in the yard as long as they don't become too prolific. The lilies won't last much longer anyway, and then I'll cut their thick stems back.  And I'll have my eye on them next year!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The wildflower garden at mid-spring

It's been a nice long cool spring. A bit rainy,  but enough sun. Best of all, the mosquitoes aren't out yet! The wildflowers are thriving.

These were among the plants blooming in my backyard a couple of weeks back:

Granny's bonnet- a  hybrid columbine
Virginia bluebells mixed in with ferns


Two varieties of trillium

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The spring vegetable garden

This year I plan to pay a little more attention to the backyard vegetable garden. This is where my cool season crops grow, as well as those that can use a little protection from summer sun. That translates mostly to greens, although actually the sun-loving perennial herbs do perfectly well here: oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary.

We've put up a small fence for a part of the garden, just to ensure there will be at least one rabbit-free zone. Here I'm growing some kale, snow peas, bok choy, and broccoli raab. And volunteer potato plants are coming up! These must be from the remnants of former not so successful attempts to grow potatoes.

We've also discovered that the lettuce we've been growing indoors and that has been harvested several times can be revitalized by being planted out. Those raggedy looking plants have perked up and are ready to be harvested again.

Another surprise is the multiplier onions. These I started from seeds from historic Bartram's Garden several years ago. These perennial onions do indeed multiply. They don't really seem to form bulbs, but look more like giant green onions. I think perhaps I should have been harvesting these right along, as they are quite strong flavored, though if you use the smaller ones, or the part closest to the tip on the larger ones, they are pretty good for both salads and cooking.

A small innovation this year is a new style of trellis - something a little different from the basic tepee. I based it on a design I saw in a book, and hope to have a crop of beautiful sweet peas vining up. I'm hoping the rabbits have so many other succulent treats around the yard that they won't notice until the peas vines are thick and tough enough to be unappealing.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Many happy returns of spring

They're here: spring beauties, hepatica, bloodroot, blooming in my yard. Cinnamon ferns are preparing to unfurl, while the bluebells are in their early phase, the flowers not yet bells, but small round balls.

I was thrilled to see that my two twinleaf plants, Jeffersonia diphylla, that I thought I'd killed for sure, have returned. In fact one of them has already bloomed, leaving behind the tight little seedhead, apparently the type that springs open and flings out the seed. I'm watching carefully to see if I can catch the second plant during its brief period of bloom.

Twinleaf with seedhead
Also exciting, two days ago I saw my first butterfly of the season. I've seen (and heard) a few bees, including, today, a bumblebee. Alas, no mason bees have their way to the bee tubes I set out last spring. Maybe they have no need, and have found other places to nest in the yard. Or maybe our cool spring is slowing things down for them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Signs of spring: bunnies in the garden

Bunnies are not especially welcome in the garden, especially the vegetable garden. But they can be pretty cute. One warmish day recently I watched as a bunny seemed to be nibbling at the roots of a large thyme plant at the edge of my garden. I was only a couple of feet away, but he/she ignored my presence. After awhile I noticed that the bunny was not just nibbling but digging. As I watched, that rabbit excavated a sizable hole under the plant.

Beginning the nest

Digging in
Cleaning up

The finished product

I thought I remembered reading that cottontails don’t burrow, and wondered if it might be a nest for babies. I checked on the internet, and that seems to be the explanation. There was another rabbit hanging about, and there was some chasing, frolicking, and at one point the second rabbit made a sudden and amazing leap right over the first one. All part of courtship, apparently. But since that time, she has not returned to the nest, and there are no babies. So maybe she decided she didn’t like our location after all. And after I had actually planted out some of the lettuce we’d been growing indoors, just for her!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Daylight Design at the DC Home and Garden Show

This past month has been spent in a flurry of activity, preparing to exhibit my husband's Sunstation growlight  systems at the Washington DC Home and Garden show this past weekend. We needed to get lots of plants started from seed, so that we could show off the versatility of the system with an interesting mix of plants at different stages of growth. Our show photos didn't turn out well, but here's what one of the Sunstations looked like before we dismantled it and packed it up for our exhibit.

Greens do very well with this semi-hydroponic system; we had lots of beautiful lettuces - a gorgeous heirloom  called "Garden Ferns" from Renee's Seeds is one of our new favorites. Some other things we're trying for the first time: Round Baby Carrots, and a compact pepper called Baby Belle. (We've successfully grown full sized peppers indoors, but we're really interested in anything that's compact.)

Our most interesting challenge is tomatoes. No problem getting them off to a good start, and they are one of the most popular vegetables to grow under lights for eventual planting outdoors.  The question is, can you grow a tomato to maturity indoors that will taste as good, or almost as good, as one grown outside? Right now we are trialing Zebra Hybrid, Early Wonder, Totem Hybrid, Better Bush, and Cherry Sweetie. We were trying to pick those that would grow into compact/patio size plants, but this last appears to be a full size plant, so we've been pruning it. It actually looks terrific, and has some small tomatoes on it, as do several of the other plants that were planted earliest.

So all this was very impressive for the garden show; we had a lot of interest, took some orders, and had great fun talking to people. It was all very energizing. I love indoor seed starting and growing. But now the outdoors is stirring. Birds are returning to the feeder, I've planted peas inside my new chicken wire fence, and yesterday on my way home from work I saw a single daffodil blooming. I'm hearing the siren call of spring!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mental gardening

Most gardening in our climate at this time of year is indoors. At our house, indoor gardening is of two types. One is starting seeds and experimenting with growing vegetables under lights. (More about that in another post.) The other is what I call mental gardening, a combination of reading, planning, and looking out the window, trying to see past the patches of crusty crystallized snow.

A pre-spring day

I was doing a little mental gardening this weekend, thinking about what might go into an unexpectedly vacant spot in my front perennial bed. The occupant until recently was a multi-stemmed Arborvitae that once again had been splayed to the ground by the weight of a wet snowfall. The same thing happened last year, and I was tired of fooling with that tree! Plus the 10 foot tree was totally out of place at the edge of my mostly native plant bed. We had already scheduled a tree service to prune dead wood off our two large shade trees, and they kindly agreed to cut the Arborvitae at no additional charge.

I'll have a stump to dig up, and space for something new. A small native shrub would be nice - something that won't get too tall or spread aggressively. Out came the books:  Native Plants of the Northeast by Donald J. Leopold; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's guide to native plants of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Great Natives for Tough Places. So what will it be? Bush honeysuckle? New Jersey tea? Sheep laurel? - an evergreen, that would be nice. In the end it will depend on what's available when I start hitting up the native plant sales this spring.

And then, surprise! Mental gardening gave way to real outdoor time.  The sun came out yesterday, it warmed up a bit, and suddenly spring really did seem not so far off. I got out for a good half hour, picked up some downed branches,  did a little pruning, yanked out some ivy, and tried to avoid the mud. The garden season begins!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

When green isn't good

Green is a color that really stands out in the winter garden, since there's not much of it, and it can be a beautiful sight. Snow on conifers? Lovely.  

Red osier dogwood with bamboo. Photo by Rachel Shaw
But in my yard there's a fair amount of winter green that is not good. Some of the most invasive plants I battle are evergreen, in particular English ivy and bamboo. It took two years to kill the thick vines of ivy that had bullied their way almost to the canopy of our two largest shade trees. Ripping out the normal sized vines as they sneak across the ground is ongoing. I've wrestled up to the surface the bamboo rhizomes that embed their gnarly fingers underground, sending up little flags of green shoots at unexpected locations.

The visibility of this unwelcome green in winter is an opportunity, I've realized. In the summer these plants can hide in the lushness of all the other green growing things. Not so in winter. Time to put on the boots and gloves, get the pruners, and attack while I can see the enemy clearly!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Winter rest

Although I love gardening, I do appreciate the respite that winter brings. No more nagging sense of all the things left undone in the garden. The garden gets a rest, and so do I.
Coneflowers in Winter. Photo by Rachel Shaw
Winter is traditionally the time to look at seed catalogs and garden books, to reflect and to plan, and to wait for spring. It's a time for resolutions, and I do have a few. I recently read Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich. I plan to follow many of his directives, including gardening "from the top down" by building up the soil and tilling as little as possible. I  want to put down plenty of mulch early in areas where I won't be planting. And I plan to use the torch weeder on the driveway early in the spring, before those first weeds have gotten a start.

Nevertheless, I don't expect to have a weedless garden. My most important resolution? To take time to enjoy the garden I have, and not worry too much about its imperfections. And actually, for my life as a whole, ditto.