Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Manure, Beautiful Rabbit Manure!

The other day there was a message on the fridge that the call I always wait for had come.  The caller, a man with an immediately recognizable voice; gruff, yet at the same time, friendly and laughing, as he says, "I've got something for you."  That something?  A truckload of rabbit manure.  Why, you ask, would anyone want a truckload of rabbit manure?  The answer is simple. It is the best thing ever for the garden!  Well, with the possible exception of bat guano, but I do not know anyone who raises bats.

Rabbit manure has more nutrients than other manures (typical N-P-K ratio: 2.4 - 1.4 - .60), but does not burn plants if applied directly to them without composting it first.  It also adds lots of organic matter to the soil which improves the texture.  Gardens (and worms) thrive on it!  Needless to say, the results of rabbit manure added to the compost pile are beautiful, too.  While some rabbit breeders package the manure to sell for extra income, many are happy to just have someone haul it away for them.

Today's manure haul.

If you do not have access to rabbit manure, a good alternative is rabbit food.  It's main ingredient is alfalfa, which contains a natural growth stimulant.  Simply throw a handful in the planting hole or spread on a lawn and you will soon see an amazing difference.  There is actually an organic fertilizer that is made by a well known feed company that smells amazingly similar to rabbit food. It used to look like it, too, until they started grinding it into what resembles the dust at the bottom of the bag.  While rabbit food is going up in price, a fifty pound bag is still cheaper than other organic fertilizers or alfalfa meal, which many gardeners use, especially for roses.

Another advantage of a truckload of anything is the workout it gives.  After loading and unloading a load of wet rabbit manure, you realize the truth in gardening being the equivalent of weight lifting.  I would be willing to bet that there is some cardiovascular in there at times as well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Calendula ... We have all seen the name on the label of some natural health and beauty product, or even as the main ingredient of a healing salve, but what exactly is it?  Calendula officinalis, also known as English Marigold or Pot Marigold, is a hearty, self-sowing annual.  It will bloom its little heart out all season long, and if halfway deadheaded (or as I do, chopped back mid-season), it will bloom well past frost.  All it asks for in return is full to partial sun.

When someone asks what I recommend to add color when little else is blooming, if they are open to orange and yellow, I tell them Calendula.  Though it will quickly fill in an area, it is also easily pulled out.  As can be seen in my photos, the orange Calendula have gradually taken over the yellow, so perhaps it is time for me to buy some new seeds.

My Calendula seeds came from a seed exchange, and when they arrived, I thought I had been sent the chaff.  Being hopeful, I planted them anyway, and sure enough, they grew.  The Calendula I grow today are descendants of the seeds I received years ago; they come back reliably every year.

Calendula seeds

Calendula seed head

Calendula seedling

Friday, November 11, 2011


I will momentarily digress from my garden rambles.  As Jim was preparing to take the flag down this evening, I saw a view that I wanted to capture, so went for my camera.  Growing up, because of the religion I was raised in, I was not allowed to celebrate Armistice or Veteran's Day (or any other holiday), so flying the flag has special meaning to me now.  Those who sacrificed so much to give the right to fly or not fly the flag, as you choose, deserve to be honored.

The U.S. flag proudly displayed outside our home.

In honor of Veteran's Day, we went to Texas Roadhouse, where veteran's were given a free meal.  Jim and his brother, Bill, were our men of honor.  Local schools had made cards thanking the veterans and each were given one.

Jim's card of thanks.

On this day in 1918, my Great-Grandma was pregnant and my Great-Grandpa had gone to town when she heard guns in the distance.  Afraid that the war had spread to her Southern Arkansas home, she hid under the cotton pile on the front porch until her husband came home.  When he arrived, he brought the news that the war had ended and the shooting was in celebration. Nine days later, my Grandma was born.

Jim's Mom was born on this day in 1901.

Spiritually speaking, today is a very special day as well.  11/11/11 is significant in numerology.  Some even say that today marks the beginning of the Aquarian Age.  Maybe it is so, maybe not, but regardless, it has been a very special day for me.

Confession of a Gardening Junkie

From time to time someone will ask me what all I have in my garden.  I suppose the look I give is akin to that of a deer in the headlights.  Unless they have about three hours to say, "What's that?" every few plants, I do not think they really want to know.

Last year, as I was walking through the yard, I realized that I had slowly gathered collections of quite a few different plants.  I had a bit of a break in my jobs at the worst time of year to transplant things, July, but I took advantage of it and organized my gardens to better display the collections. I lost a few plants, but overall, it worked out well, and this year things were starting to recover and fill back in.

This year's project was labeling.  As I moved plants last year, I realized my tagging system was not working.  I spent quite a bit of time this year trying to figure out which unidentified plants were who.  I wanted a system that would not only tell me what was there, but that other people could look and see for themselves, as I get asked a lot.  I guess I partially got this obsession from my job of signage when I worked at the botanical garden.  After buying 400 plant labels and I do not know how many cartridges of tape for the Brother P-Touch (also bought just for this project), and still not getting everything labeled, I decided that I have a lot of plants.  Jim figured that out when he mapped them all out for me in case labels get misplaced.  I so appreciate him doing this because I am challenged when it comes to mapping things out.

I just went through my constantly updated plant list to see how many plants I do have.  Currently I have over 500 DIFFERENT plants that I can identify, and a lot more that I am trying to figure out exactly who they are!

A few of my larger collections include approximately
  • 10 Clematis
  • 30 Grasses
  • 20 Hemerocallis
  • 70 Hostas
  • 20 Iris
  • 10 Peonies
  • 25 Roses (Assuming one of each of my cuttings root, which is looking likely.)
  • 30 Sedum
  • 20 Sempervivum
I also have a lot of smaller, still growing collections and tons of awesome individual plants that I just could not resist.  Hmm ... maybe it is not just a joke when I say I am addicted to gardening.

One piece of advice I would give to beginning gardeners is to keep track of plants you get, both names and where they are planted.  Keep labels of boughten plants, and if someone gives you a plant, ask and write down the name immediately if at all possible.  It may not seem important to you at the time, but if you become a serious gardener, you will appreciate it later.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Oh, Those Mums

They are a staple of the fall garden, but given the opportunity, Chrysanthemums would bloom earlier in the garden. Some gardeners religiously pinch them back, removing all buds through the early summer in order to keep them from blooming before the desired time. Another advantage of pinching them back is to control their size and prevent them from flopping under their own weight later in the season.
As many garden tasks as I have, I do not have time for pinching them back. Towards the end of June or first of July, I cut them back to about six inches. They look a bit sad for awhile and other garden plants are useful in camouflaging that, but soon they grow out of it.  By the time they are intended to bloom, you would never know they had been so "abused" just a few months earlier.
Mums are one of the easiest plants to propagate, too.  If you want more plants, when you cut them back, simply stick the cuttings in soil and keep them watered.  Soon you will have a whole crop of them.  I learned this by accident a few years ago when I was potting some up and tossed the scraps aside. Even in poor soil and a fair amount of shade, they quickly began to grow!
Some have the problem of mums dying over the winter.  Typically the problem is that mums planted in the fall do not have a chance to get established before winter.  Ideally mums should be planted much earlier in the season, but usually they are more available in the fall. Marketers know that pots full of blooming flowers so late in the year are irresistible to someone looking for quick fall decorations.  If they are planted this late, mulching may help. They are also more apt to survive the winter if not cut back until spring.

I have rescued mums and successfully overwintered them in the garage or a sheltered area until I could plant them in the spring.  I do water them if they are not getting rain and snow for moisture.  I recently noticed that though I have only bought a couple of mums in my life, I have gathered quite a collection of them this way.  One benefit of various mums is an extended bloom time, as they bloom at different times.
Insects of all sorts are attracted to mums.  Jim said amber is especially attractive to bees and wasps and that they would swarm around the lights on the utility vehicles he worked on.  That seems to be the case with mums, too.  There have been a lot of honey bees visiting this one for sure.  They are always a welcome sight since pesticides and disease have killed so many of them.
For those who like something a little more exotic, there are mums for you, too.  The last two mums pictured are a spider mum (I believe the cultivar is 'Lava') and a quill mum that I got at the end of a mum show at the botanical garden I used to work at.  Though not all show mums are winter hardy, these have survived for several years in my garden.
To browse mums that you will not find at your local garden store, go to

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall Watering

While most of my neighbors have their water hoses put away for the year, I was out today making sure my plants were well watered.  Even though the tops are done for the year, the roots are still growing.  This is not only important for all of my newly planted plants and shrubs, but helps established plants stay strong and prepare for next year's growth.  We are supposed to get rain tomorrow, but we have been hearing that for weeks and have gotten very little.  Today I wanted to make sure the plants got at least one more good drink before the weather gets too cold to do it.  If the weather stays dry, I will still have to do some watering here and there for awhile yet.  With a bit of luck, we will get more rain, which is so much better than tap water. Have you ever noticed how plants perk up with the smallest amount of rain as compared to tap water?  That is because rain comes at the right temperature, with the correct pH and contains nitrogen, as opposed to cold, chlorine filled tap water.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Love in the Garden

From time to time I get a bit nostalgic or "mushy." I am having one of those moments, dreaming about the garden. I met my Dearie working in a garden that we both believe we were drawn to for a reason.  We became best friends in that garden, and though we never intended to, we fell in love in that garden. Now I consider myself lucky to be able to work by his side in our garden. Anything I could do well on my own, we do better together, and it is certainly more enjoyable. Sometimes it seems as though we read each other's mind and it feels as though a part of me is missing when we are apart.

Jim is quite a bit older than I am and we do get some funny responses. Most people are kindly, but some are judgmental. Some people put their own narrow minded prejudices of how they feel about people older or younger than themselves upon us. They arrogantly assume that each of us has an agenda to be with the other. These people have never truly known love. If someone's feelings for another are dependent upon that person being the "right" age, it is not true love. When I look into Jim's eyes, I see a beautiful man whom I respect and love dearly; I do not see the years his body has accumulated.  I am drawn to him and cannot help but want to be there with and for him. Our years in this life together may be limited, but we will always be together in our garden.

Summer 2011

"If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, on the brightest day and the darkest night.  Always, always.  And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.  Do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again." -- Sullivan Ballou (Click here to hear Liam Clancy read this beautiful historical letter.)

Update:  Jim and I married in our garden on July 26, 2014.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scent of a Rose

I used to think roses were a waste of time and effort. They were finicky and just waiting to get some rose disease and die. What was all the ado about anyway? Fragrance? What was everyone talking about? I have a very acute sense of smell and I never could find any scent. So people sprayed and pampered to grow sad looking thorn bushes that eventually sent up sucker growth from the rootstock before they died, just to get a couple of unscented blooms. Well, I exaggerate slightly, but you get the point.

A few years ago I started working for The Rose Lady. That is Jim's name for her because he does not remember names well, but he knows all of my ladies. After working in her garden and seeing her roses, it did not seem so hard. True, I had cemetery rose, a rose I had taken a cutting of in an old cemetery, and it thrived on neglect, but I thought that was an exception. Jim was taken with cemetery rose, too. His past experience had been with two dollar special roses that he was lucky if they survived for two years. After debating with myself for awhile, I told Jim I thought I wanted to try growing the coveted Austin Rose. He said I should, so I researched them, narrowed it down to a few, and Jim made the final selection for our first "real" rose.

I ordered 'Tess of d'Urbervilles' from and she arrived a few days later, ready to thrive. She grew like thunder and soon put on her first bloom. My excitement was replaced with confusion when the bloom did not look like the photos and there was NO SCENT! Had they sent the wrong one? After researching some more, I learned that until roses mature, they do not have their correct form, color, fragrance or strong enough stems to support the blooms.

It finally happened! Jim and I were walking through the garden and he stopped to smell the roses. A new one had opened, and as with all the others, it had to be checked. Jim smiled with delight and told me it was fragrant. I had to smell for myself. Ah, it was intoxicating and its form was different, too. So that Mom and Grandma could enjoy it as well, I cut it and put it in a vase on the kitchen table. Even over the smells of supper, the fragrance of Tess could be detected.

Why modern hybridizers bred for rose show form at the expense of fragrance is beyond me. I cannot help but admire David Austin's vision to combine old rose fragrance, plant and flower structure and ease of care with modern rose colors and repeat flowering. To think that marketers would not handle his creation of English Roses because they thought no one would be interested. I am sure he is laughing at them now.

See The Obsessed Gardener for information on rose care.  Also, Pass The Sniff Test for more about rose fragrance.

'Tess of d'Urbervilles' taking on mature form.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bringing in the Plants

It is that time of year again.  After spending the spring and summer enjoying the outside, it is time to bring in the houseplants.  Ideally it is best to do it when the inside and nighttime temperatures match, so that the plants do not experience a shocking change in temperature.  According to that advice, I am a bit late, but by my usual schedule, I am early.  Usually I see the weather on TV and realize we are going to have a frost that night and I have to get them in ASAP, bugs and all.  This year, I planned ahead.  A couple of weeks ago I put insecticide granuals in the pots to kill insects in the soil and a couple of days ago I cleaned the big of the dirt off of the pots and trays.  Today Jim cleaned them off properly, and in an orderly, unrushed fashion, we placed them inside. There were a few hitchhikers in the foliage, so after taking them for a ride back outside, Jim hit the plants with some environmentally safe spray to get any we missed.  Insects are fine outside, but not inside.  Now for a long winter, at least for the plants.  Since I do not have many decent places to put them, I consider myself doing well if plants survive the winter inside well enough to be taken back out to recover in the spring.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Fall Pond

As with all gardens (and gardeners), my pond and surrounding garden have evolved with time.  By chance that makes perfect sense, it has become somewhat of a wildlife or native garden.  I can only do so much amending of the soil surrounding the pond before the sides or rocks lose support or excess nutrients wash in.  Obviously the plants that do the best in our native clay soil are native plants.  During my garden makeover last year, I decided the pond garden would be a good area to display my collections of such plants as Echinacea, Eupatorium, Liatris and Solidago. The combination of native plants and water attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife year round.

The sound of water falling is not only attractive to people, but also to wildlife.  For me, the waterfall has also been one of the hardest parts to get "perfect."  Therefore every couple of years I find myself tweaking it.  I always prefer to do this in the fall, after the plants are dying back, and then I do not have to worry so much about them.  It can take awhile to find areas where the water is misdirected out of the pond and can get frustrating at times.  This year I had the privilege of sitting back and watching my dearie, Jim, put his ideas into the arrangement.  He calls it "Swedish ingenuity," I call it "Scorp ingenuity."  I do not know which it is, or maybe a combination of both, but he is good and the sound has never carried so far.

Waterfall after Jim rearranged some of the rocks.

I do not generally feed my fish a lot because there are lots of insects and algae for them to eat while the weather is warm.  Between people giving me unwanted fish and them multiplying amongst themselves, I have more than I should for the size of the pond and the balance could easily get off by overfeeding.  Anyone who has a pond knows how easy it is for the balance to get off and string algae to take over.  In preparation for their winter hibernation, I do feed them more often in the fall and add extra bacteria for control of sludge and algae.

Fish enjoying a fall feast.

Most pond experts will tell you not to just add water to the pond because the waste gets condensed, but to dip some of the existing water out first.  To save time, I typically just run the pond over some when I add water to it and the surrounding plants can feed on the fish waste, nutrient rich water.  It is excellent for watering plants with.

Since this pond is as much for the wildlife as it is for me, and I do leave the fish in it, I leave it running year round.  That way, in the cold of winter, the birds can still get a drink and a bath whenever they would like to.  To make this possible, when the pond starts to freeze over, I put in a heater.  I suppose there are expensive pond heaters you can buy.  Anything specially marked "pond" is usually overpriced though, so I got a heater for horse and cattle water at a local farm supply store and it works perfectly.

As an added bonus to heating the pond, I do not have to remove my water lilies and find a place to store (aka slowly kill) them over the winter.  As the weather cools, the mature foliage dies back.  The roots and smaller, still underwater leaves live on in a dormant state.  When the weather warms in spring, they are ready to take off.

Water lilies take on their fall color.

As leaves continue to fall, they will need to be dipped out of the pond.  Through the winter the pump filter will still need to be cleaned and water added from time to time.  Otherwise it is good to go until spring.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Importation of Foreign Pests

I saw on the news this morning that grocery prices are going up, at least in part, because of new pests being imported.  Since 9/11, the agricultural scientists responsible for patrolling importation of invasive species have been transferred to anti-terrorism duties.  While we have been kept safe from human terrorists, we have been invaded by other species and diseases which are damaging crops and forests.  Sadly, this is not completely by oversight.  Consumers are not the only ones who suffer from the introduction of foreign pests; wildlife and beneficial insects are also lost.  For more information, go to

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let's talk dirty. It's all in the soil.

"Let's talk dirty, it's ALL in the soil."  I was on a job today that reminded me of how I used to say that in a jokingly, suggestive sort of way.  As any serious gardener knows, it's true.  When you skimp on soil, your plants pay the price.  Roots waste energy fighting their way through heavy soil and clay.  Except for extremely hardy plants, most will gradually (or not so gradually) die away. Soil rich in organic matter not only holds much needed moisture, but provides nutrients on which plants thrive.  You cannot have a Victory Gardens garden without the Victory Garden's soil.

Beautiful mushroom compost from a local nursery.
It is only dirt when you track it in the house.

Just because you buy soil does not mean it is good for your plants.  If it feels heavy or like a brick in the bag or heap, it will work about as well as growing plants in a brick.  If you do not have a compost pile, it is worth the extra money to buy a high quality compost (professional potting mix in a pinch), not just for planting in, but replenishing and mulching existing gardens.  Your plants will repay you in full.

Also see Why Organic Garden?