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?