Archive for the Gardening Category

Island Garden progressing

Posted in Gardening on June 26, 2011 by katybee

I have been transporting plants over to their new home in the Island Garden. All these mosses (and let’s not forget the lichens!) are so yummy. I found them on our land (150 acres of wooded forest) and took only a tiny bit from each spot I harvested from. There is no way I’ll do that regularly and in fact have been thinking about starting my own little nursery of moss so I’ll have some when I need it. It is so beautiful.


weeding dandelions

Posted in Gardening on May 4, 2011 by katybee

Thursday found our entire crew (all four of us) weeding dandelions out of a lawn that looked like it was (conservatively) 70% dandelion and only 30% grass. Sometimes it just really sucks to be organic gardeners and this was one of those moments… but we did our best to make it interesting by competitively holding up our prize extractions for general applause and amused ourselves by inventing variations on kinds of dandelion extravaganzas we could hold; installations at the Museum of Modern Art, a  vaguely fishing-competition-like event where all the contestant’s dandelions are spray painted and laid out to judge the best dandelion pullers, a culinary dandelion cook off á la Iron Chef. So I really had to laugh when I came across this great article posted on The Garden Rant blog.

Trophy weeding
While I am in Chicago sans laptop, here’s a guest post from Kansas blogger and professor of veterinary medicine James Rousch.–Eliz.

A post by Carol of May Dreams Gardens, suggesting that a dandelion she had pulled was at least a 4-pointer, got me to thinking that gardeners everywhere need a common scoring system to rate their weeding efforts.  After all, the Boone and Crockett Club has been scoring trophy bucks for decades, allowing armed vicious meat-hunters everywhere to compare and brag about the size of their antlers, so why shouldn’t gardeners be able to codifytheir weed slaughter from region to region?  Think of the possibilities: trophy presentations at monthly garden meetings and at national floral shows; record-winning specimens dry-mounted for home or office display; income-potential for gardeners selling weeding rights to prime weed growth areas; competitive teams of weeders vieing for world championships;  professional weeders with big money contracts for advertising endorsements of horticultural products.

Since I claim credit for developing the idea to its full potential, I also feel responsible for creating the rating system for measurement.  I would therefore propose the following as the Professor Roush Official Weed Demise (PROWD) scoring system for domestic horticultural invaders:

A.  # of individual flowers/ flower buds on the weed at the time of extrication.
B.  Length of the longest point of the root system from soil level to tip, in centimeters.
C.  Overall mass of the weed (soil removed by washing) in avoirdupois ounces (28 grams/ounce).
D. Relative adverse environmental conditions during weed collection awarded from 0-10 points, with recent rain and 70F conditions scoring 0 and dry soil and 110F ambient temperatures receiving a score of 10.  If the gardener is actually dehydrated or suffering sunstroke at the time of weeding, a bonus of 5 points may be added.  If the gardener is actually hospitalized after collection, an additional bonus of 5 points is awarded.
E.  Relative removal completeness, scored on a scale of 0-10 points, with full roots and no breakage receiving a 10 score.  Subtract 2 points for ripping off a tap-rooted specimen at ground level.
F.  Use of mechanical devices for assistance are scored from 0-5 points with (-3) points awarded for rototillers and 5 points awarded if the weed was pulled bare-handed.  A ten-point bonus is awarded if pulled bare-handed and the weed causes contact dermatitis or has thorns.  Another ten-point bonus may be awarded if the weed was gathered in close proximity to a fire-ant or hornet nest and the gardener was bitten or stung. [EDIT]

The guidelines above should be sufficient to establish records for individual species trophies. However, for comparison between species, the following category should also be assessed:

G. Relative invasiveness or reproductive potential of the species from 0-10 points, with government-recognized invasive species scoring 10, kudzu 25, Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata) 50 and the common dayflower (Commelina communis) rating 100 points. Zero points are awarded for pulling up Lamb’s Quarters during a rainstorm.

The competing gardener should note that careful attention to certain details during weed collection may increase total scores. Therefore, it is advisable to attempt to inflate scores by delaying the actual weed collection until the gardener is actually suffering delirium and muscle cramps, but such acts must be officially witnessed and attested to by a friend or spouse who had previously told the gardener repeatedly what an idiot he or she was. 

So, that’s it, the Professor Roush Official Weed Demise scoring system.  On that scale, the above pictured dandelion collected on 4/22/11 would score 6+27+9+2+10+5= 59 PROWD points, presently a world record dandelion (as it is also the only one entered in the official record book).

Additionally, since Professor Roush recognizes the deep competitiveness rampant among gardeners that leads some of them to acts of espionage and sabotage at Rose Exhibitions and Dahlia Shows, any claim for a record-setting specimen is disqualified if the gardener has made any attempt to fertilize or use growth stimulants on an individual weed, or to selectively breed weeds for size and invasiveness. Don’t bother to deny it, I know some of you out there were already contemplating how to improve your entries.

I would agree with Professor Roush’s system on all except two points. One, I think points should actually be taken off for all foolhardy attempts to weed with only one’s bare hands. In addition, he forgot to award extra points for dandelions that clearly were a product of previous ‘unethical weeding practices’ (naturally not practiced by any of the current gardeners), those weeny-on-top but hulking-below dandelions that are the result of pulling the top off a dandelion without attempting to get at the meat below.  Not that I would know anything about that.

small trees

Posted in Gardening on April 24, 2011 by katybee

Thuggish. Isn’t that a great word! I have been poking around on a very fun site called Growing with Plants and came across it. I have been thinking about plants and consequences quite a bit lately so it really struck me.

I don’t know if you read the post about the new garden I am creating but it is a small, in-town and supposed to be somewhat low maintenance. So, as usual, I am trying to make the plants somewhat pushy to keep out unwanted volunteers and deciding on plants that won’t have to be unusually pampered to make them love/fit the space.

And that last is where I have run into a little cramp in my style. I am used to gardening on large estates where you have all the room you could desire… and more. But here I have a little less than 11 ft to fit in a little loose row of trees and I have a hankering for big ass birches. I know some people just plan to take birches out at some point when they get too big and replace them but that solution strikes me as being not only wasteful but very un-elegant.  Perhaps I am just being too weeny and there wouldn’t be any problems with a large birch but I’m not really willing to chance it.  And the thing is is that Betula Nigra ‘Little King’ and Betula Pendula ‘Youngii’ (which can become huge given half the chance) just aren’t doing it for me… but I am still considering them.

So some alternatives: cherries, ornamental and otherwise, other dwarf fruit trees, and dogwoods. I am aiming for Maine woods-ish so the Stewartias are out, as are the lilac standards and the client is not fond of the Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, type vegetation, and that includes Sorbaria Sorbifolias.

There are other options but I have discarded most of them for one reason or another: I found the bark boring for winter, the tree is overly fond of water, it doesn’t do well next to the road, and when I had a sneaking suspicion that the tree would really prefer to be a shrub.But I am persisting…

I came across another interesting site called The Plant Farm when I was wandering around thinking about ornamental cherry trees with their lovely red bark and really enjoyed reading the list of Mary Archambault’s New Year Garden Resolutions, check it out, she is a really good writer.

All of this mental perusing is to avoid the thought that I have been unable to go to work and get my daily professional gardening fix, so I have finally decided to go back even though it has been forever and I am still not well. I told everyone to avoid me like the plague and I think I’ll take Jack’s advice and think seriously about coming home at break. He said, “You don’t pace yourself.” I would like to object but to quote Carrie Fisher’s character in When Harry Met Sally (does that date me or what?), “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.”

sage advice

Posted in Gardening on April 15, 2011 by katybee

Lola and I have a joke that whenever we need to know something we go for Sage advice, it really does seem like Sage knows a little bit about everything- and she is the kind of person I enjoy listening to. We chatted a little about allelopathic plants today and she said that she has one of the chestnuts that is resistant to the blight. But she says she got it quite a while ago, it is a very slow grower and she was wondering if they had improved on them since she got it. She also reminisced about a butternut that she had had that was supposed to be allelopathic but she had a large garden under it that never seemed to have any problems. And I told her that it was one of the more mildly allelopathic trees- as the WVU Extension Services says:

Other trees closely related to black walnut also produce juglone, including butternut, English walnut, pecan, shagbark hickory, and bitternut hickory. However, all produce such limited quantities compared to the black walnut that toxicity to other plants is rarely observed.

I got to clean off the moss knot today which I enjoyed. It is really a lovely thing. It’s a stone design whose negative spaces are interplanted with all sorts of different mosses. I don’t want one in my house, too fussy, but man is it pretty. Cleaning it off is nice and meditative, sort of like raking, but a little more dicey because it is easy to pull up moss (since we had to re-lay it last year due to construction and the moss isn’t very well stuck in some places yet).

It was a beautiful day out, sunny and the perfect temperature- no bugs. These days are rare but so nice. The gardens are starting to shape up.

Sick and wet

Posted in Gardening on April 13, 2011 by katybee

No, nothing wild and crazy going on in our corner of the woods, sadly exactly the opposite. Jack is back but Yva and I have been sick, sick, sick and I had to cancel my date with the other gardener. But she said, please come when you’re feeling better- so that is good. Also on the plus side, it is raining today and I am home basking in our woodstove’s goodness. Yva is feeling much better, thank goodness, and she is out with Jack killing a wild pizza and bringing it home to Mama- yum!

So what have I been doing with my sudden exciting moment to myself? Studying up on allelopathic plants of course. Our dying walnut finally hit the ground and Jack has been breaking it up for kindling. I had a sudden and neurotic worry that it would be bad for us to breath the smoke from a tree that killed all the vegetation underneath it when it is alive. So I have been doing a little research. The chemical that the walnut produces is known as juglone which is sometimes used as a herbicide but it apparently not toxic in all forms since it is used as a coloring agent for foods and cosmetics.  However, walnut is not recommended as chips (they can still poison plants and some animals- in particular horses!). There is a nice site about walnut toxicity from the West Virginia Extension Service which lists the plants walnuts effect and don’t effect. But I have yet to find anything about smoke toxicity- I think mostly you just aren’t supposed to breathe too much of any smoke :), but there were no warnings out there for the walnut unlike with Oleander.

Anyway, we have a chestnut on one of the properties we work on that appears to be allelopathic (looking it up, I found a 2002 study on chestnut allelopathy). It makes a lovely little hidey hole under it’s huge branches for our compost. Hum… it just occurs to me that might not be such a great idea to have the compost under there, but, darn it makes the best compost I have seen yet. I’ll have to look into it. Ah, I just figured it out, it’s not in the chestnut family, it’s a Aesculus hippocastanum, a horse chestnut. So the void of plant material beneath it must be due to competition (it blocks out all the light and water) rather than a chemical secretion. So our compost is safe. Whew. Did I mention I was feeling neurotic?

I was just thinking about using plant’s allelopathic responses in design, as a way of keeping weeds down in places where you don’t want to have to weed. No need for concrete, or other hardscaping options, just plant a walnut! But no, it doesn’t keep down all vegetation, I have a lovely tall black walnut which has lots of grass and a huge iris underneath it. The iris was one I plopped down on the grass there about ten years ago and it decided to plant itself since I was so mean as to not oblige. So competition and mulch really are the better alternatives. And old fashioned weeding. Yummm… weeding, be still my anal soul.

But I digress… did I have a point? Was it pointy? Ok, let’s see, I’ve totally discombombulated myself. (Yes, I know it’s discombobulated but isn’t discombombulated so much better?) Oh, I was thinking about the study about the decline of chestnuts as allelopaths in the southern Appalachians (due to the blight). I had a sudden very vivid, and possibly completely fantastical, image of all those huge trees sheltering the Appalachian people and of what those trees dying and being replaced by a coniferous forest, eastern hemlocks to be precise, would have meant.  I like hemlocks but chestnuts seem so lovely and musically inspiring to live under. I still remember the time I got to eat a roasted chestnut right off the ground from under a grove of chestnut trees in the Pyrenees (France). They had been burning the vegetation under the trees and so some of the chestnuts got roasted at the same time. It was magical. Thinking of chestnut forests disappearing makes me so sad, I am glad they are working on bringing chestnuts back. Perhaps that is what I will replace my walnut with.

Small Island Garden

Posted in Gardening on March 27, 2011 by katybee

I have a new client for the spring, which I am so excited about! It’s a total redesign of a small in-town garden.  Having this job along with my usual load will be a bit crazy, but… oh well, I love gardening. And it will be fun to get over to the Island a bit and visit my grandmother more. So, what we are doing is taking out the lawn and putting in some of my favorite elements from the large estates around here- ferns, blueberries, dogwoods, etc.  It’s been interesting choosing plants because what you put in matters so much on a small scale. I have been playing in my head with the idea of wild vs planned, I think I fall on the more designed side perhaps in part due to my hair-trigger urge to weed :P.

Below is my mental musings about the plants I may use. First I created a drawing of the plot on graph paper and then I put a computer “parchment” paper on top to do my plan on so I could erase and make changes easily. You can’t really see the lines of the graph paper in the photo, but when I am working I can see them easily.

I just had a lovely conversation with another gardener about plants and “must-haves.” I am going on the ninth to see her garden, which I am very excited about. Of course, it’s a new garden and it will be in it’s winter aspect but I’m able to imagine future and summer quite well from early gardens so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It was fun to ooh and ah over lovely plants like the stewartias, the philadelphias, and the pieris’ and share thoughts about pruning. I’ll be sure to take pictures of her garden and share them here if she doesn’t mind. She is also sending me a great bread recipe which I will also share if I can get it to work!

Anyway, day four of no Jack. I am definately missing him.

It’s Spring! Sort of…

Posted in Gardening on March 23, 2011 by katybee

The vernal equinox was on Sunday and I had a beautiful row of tulips poking their little leaves out of the ground. The rain had taken care of the several feet of snow we had had and I almost said “Yay! Spring is here!” but being a true Mainer, I said, “Hum, Jack, we better take you to the airport when you go to San Fransisco, so we can have your car here, just in case it snows again (it turns out my beautiful pickup is terrible in the snow).” Now, perhaps I jinxed it all, but sure enough today we had a good five inches of snow. Little bugs were climbing all over it when we took a walk after going to the bank today- I hope they survive their frosting.

Ah well, I know that spring is in sight, winter is just having a few last little hiccups. I guess I must be a fair weather blogger since I haven’t posted anything since I put the gardens to bed last fall. What was I doing all winter? Hibernating clearly, since I can’t seem to remember any of it! Anyway, I had better go to bed since I am taking Jack to the airport tomorrow at 5 am. Then I get to have some real quality bonding time with Yva for a week and a half. I am interested to experience mother/daughter alone time now that she has learned how to talk. She is becoming such a little person, with personality and desires. Two and a half is such a passionate age, she feels things so strongly. It puts me more in touch with my desires, have I become a little numb over the years?

Anyway, wasn’t I saying something about bed? Happy Spring!