Sunday, December 16, 2007


At long last I have finished planting my bulbs. I spent an hour or so placing and planting the last 200 bulbs sitting in my garage. I did it really quickly because it was really cold and a nasty storm was on it's way. I had to crack through the mushroom compost mulch with a shovel to dig the holes. My biggest surprise was finding literally twenty or thirty active earthworms in each planting hole (I dig large holes and plant 5 or 6 bulbs in each one). I was really surprised to find the worms so close to the soil surface and still wriggling about. I guess I though it would be too cold for them. Maybe my late mulch application helped keep the soil warmer.

Anyway, here are some of the varieties I planted: 'Red Devon' daffs (white with bright orange cup); 'Snow Frills' Daffs (pale yellow with white cup); 'Double Smiles' Daffs (an unknown color since they were a gift!); 'Dreamlight' Daffs (a 1934 heirloom); 'Lady Derby' hyacinth (soft pink); 'Marie' hyacinth (rich, dark purple); and a few Allium caeruleum for good measure.

As if I needed another reason to look forward to the spring....

Monday, December 10, 2007

More Perennials

My Bluestone Perennials catalog arrived in the mail today. A bit early for my taste, but I have a feeling that this isn't the only one I'm going to get from them this winter. Of course I couldn't help flipping through it once I saw what is on the front of my favorite plants in a variety I don't have! Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple' - If you don't grow woodland phlox, this is the year to plant it. Another favorite woodland variety is Phlox divaricata. They have 'London Grove' in the catalog, but I think the color is washed out and prefer the darker blue varieties.

Another 'must have' for me is Penstemon 'Electric Blue' (which I may have to mulch for the winter - it's zone 6-9 - and we are borderline 5-6). I'm also a sucker for Euphorbias. I may try a new one from them called 'First Blush' - it looks awfully interesting in the picture. So does 'Tasmanian Tiger' with beautiful white variegation. I grow the annual Euphorbia marginata (Snow on the Mountain) every year from seed that originally came from my great-great grandmother's garden and was given to me by my Nana a few years before she passed away. It is one of my favorite self sowing annuals for the garden.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Flower Bulbs and Light Bulbs

Well, I was all set to plant the rest of my bulbs this afternoon, when Mother Nature threw a wrench in the works yet again! Rain - and freezing rain at that! Now they'll have to sit in the garage a few more days. I swear I'm going to do it before Christmas....

Speaking of Christmas, I was listening to the radio this morning and they were talking about stringing lights on your trees and shrubs and how different it is now compared to 30 years ago. My dad used to put those fat multi-colored bulbs around our front windows using little brass tea cup hooks. The lights would get so hot, you could feel it through the window on the inside. My sister and I would press our lips against the warm glass at night. Now there are net lights, icicle lights, fiber optic lights, animated lit-up reindeer, and those enormous (read: tacky) blow up, parachute fabric things. The whir of their motors would drive me crazy! What ever happened to sprigs of holly and boughs of evergreens tacked to the front door and a couple of yards of white pine garland wrapped around the porch railing? To me, using nature's bounty to decorate for the holidays is so much more beautiful than all those lights. I'll take pine cones over twinkle lights any day. The photo above was taken at the farm last year and everything but the magnolia came from our property or the neighbors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Woke up to a bit of snow on Thursday morning. There was a heavy dusting on the lawn with only the tops of the grass protruding from the white. It was really beautiful, especially sitting on all the rust colored foliage still clinging to some of our trees. Since then, I think most of the foliage has dropped around here. I spent some time on Friday morning raking leaves and cleaning up my hand tools and trowels for the winter. I packed away the hoses too, though they were too frozen to put into the shed! So they are just sitting on the concrete pad outside the shed door.

I still have a bag of bulbs sitting in the garage to plant. There are some alliums, daffodils and a few smaller bulbs to tuck into the front beds. Plus, I've still got a bit of raking to do out front. The maple leaves are collecting on the front steps and making for hazardous conditions for the UPS man.

Some good news: I sent the final manuscript for the next book to the publisher in Friday morning's mail. Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who's Who, What the do, and How to Control them Organically is still on schedule for spring release. The pictures Doug took turned out great and the one's he wasn't able to shoot we were able to get from Mike Masiuk at Penn State and a few from a great website This book involved much more research than the last two and I learned a lot along the if I can just remember it all!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fall has Fallen

Just harvested the last of the peppers from my frost nipped plants. The only things left in the veggie garden are a few beets and carrots. I'm hoping they make it a few more weeks - it would be nice to enjoy them on Thanksgiving Day.

My husband and I spent part of the weekend hauling topsoil and organic matter by wheelbarrow up the front yard to create the new garden at the top of the stone retaining wall. I also got it planted and mulched too. I did a nice blend of heuchera, Japanese painted ferns, a few shrubs, leopard's bane, Baptisia, yellow foxgloves, and a creeping low honeysuckle that I'm really excited about. I think it will fill in nicely next year and will serve as a good compliment to the new shrub bed across the front of the house. I'm using the extra organic matter to mulch the front perennial bed along the driveway. Doesn't it seem that when the delivery truck drops off the pile it seems so small? Until, of course, you start to shovel it, then you realize how much is actually there!

The leaves are really falling now. We've got a few maples and tulip trees in the back that are dropping like mad. It's hard to keep up, but a few passes with the mulching mower seems to really chop them up nicely.

The next chore is to find homes for the few plants that are still sitting in pots on the patio. I know it's technically too late, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway. Plus, there is still a bag of bulbs sitting in the garage....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather the past few days. It finally feels like fall now that we've had our first frost. Yesterday I was out raking leaves with my toddler who spread them out as quickly as I could pile them up....we sure did have fun though!

I also cleaned up my front perennial bed, pulling out all the annuals and cutting back the frost nipped perennials. I debated pulling the sunflowers, but after noticing that all the seed heads were already empty, I yanked them. I still have lots of bulbs to plant along with some plants. Plus, there is topsoil and mulch to be put on the new bed above the new retaining wall. I'll call to order that tomorrow. I never got around to planting any dahlias this spring so the only tender bulb I'll need to dig and store is the enormous elephant ear in the back garden (photo above). I plan to do that over the weekend if time allows.

Have a wonderful Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New favorites

This is a mockorange called 'White Sensation' and it's one great plant. I told you in an earlier post about how I planted three of them behind my little waterfall and about how special they are because they bloom twice per year. Well, they've got several flowers on them right now and they are so sweetly's heavenly! What a great plant. I can't wait to see them in the spring.

We finally got some rain here, though not enough. The pond has lost a lot of water and we've been refilling it gradually with tap water. I feel like it's such an odd time of year to see a parched garden.

I made a lovely little garden bouquet a few days ago for a dinner guest. It was made from bright pink zinnias, roses, salvia and a few pink cosmos in a clear square vase. What a simple and sweet centerpiece. I almost went with the ubiquitous clump of funny looking gourds to center the table, but the bouquet was so much more charming...if unseasonal!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gone to the dogs

My stinkin' lousy little dog dug up the tulips I planted! I could scream! I was walking around outside and found a bulb in the grass, then I noticed all the holes in the garden. Of course since I didn't catch her in the act, I couldn't do anything but silently fume at her. Plus what I wanted to say was not suitable for my two year old's ears. She's a great little dog, but boy, she really works us over. I managed to find most of the bulbs in the dirt piles she made and put them back into the holes. Gotta love doing the same job twice....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It continues

I was out this morning after the show and did some more clean-up chores. I pulled out some annuals and yanked the tomatoes and peppers (I know, I know, they still might ripen on the windowsill, but truthfully, I'm tired of tomatoes....). I also planted some tulips and daffs around the veggie garden fence. I only plant Darwin hybrid tulips anymore because I know they will come back year after year. I put in a bunch of orange ones called 'Daydream' and pink ones called 'Pink Impression'. Doug gave me a bag of 'Sir Winston Churchill' daffs, his personal favorite, so I also planted those too.

I still have lots more to go, especially out front. But that's a chore for another day. I hope the weather stays nice for a few more weeks...though we could really use some rain right now.

I'm hoping to get on the ball here soon and start putting some pictures up on this blog. Several folks have asked me via email to include them so they can see what the heck I'm talking about. I'm not very tech savvy, but my husband just showed me how it works so I'll give it a try later this week, promise!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall clean up begins

Since the amount of gardening chores still on my plate is incredibly overwhelming, I decided to get started on some of the clean-up related items. Yesterday I emptied all my pots and pitched the contents into the unofficial compost pile on the far side of the fence. It felt good to get the old wheelbarrow cranking's been sitting in the shed idle since spring. I pulled out some spent cosmos and basil plants and thought about doing the same with more of the annuals that are planted where I want to nestle some bulbs. Notice I said I 'thought about it'....I didn't actually do it. I ran out of time.

I did, however, manage to get the pond and waterfall covered with that leaf netting. It was easier than I expected since I found all the cut-to-fit pieces from last winter. I think the fish don't know what hit them with this sudden cool weather. The dogs aren't complaining though, they are acting like a couple of puppies since the temps have dropped. Funny how they do that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Autumn weather

What a beautiful morning it was. The weather is finally cooling off. It hardly felt like early October these past few days, more like August around here.

The stone mason finished the new retaining wall yesterday after only 3 days of work. There were three men here from 8am until 5pm solid for three days, but they seemed to do a good job. I hope it lasts the 20 years they said it would! Now I'm trying to decide whether I should plant the new bed now or wait until the spring. The mason said the backfill will settle quite a bit, up to a full foot, so if I plant now, that may mean I'm digging up and replanting everything next spring. On the other hand, if I wait, I'll have to overwinter all of the plants I have sitting in pots waiting to find their home in the new bed. I'll decide by the weekend since that's when I was planning on doing the planting.

The veggie garden is still producing, though I'm sure with the cooler weather on the horizon, the end is near. I've already pulled out my mildewed zinnias and some heavily harvested basil along with my broccoli and the cracked cabbages. I picked a dozen 'Green Zebra' tomatoes yesterday along with some 'Cosmonaut Volkov's. There are still some ripe cherries on the vine that I plan on picking this afternoon.

Another project for the very near future is to get the netting over the pond and waterfall. The leaves from the tulip tree have already begun to drop and I need to keep them out of the water. I have a feeling when I head to the shed, I won't be able to find last year's netting and will have to head to the nursery to buy some more. I just use light weight bird netting weighed down with bricks. It doesn't look very good, but it's effective and that's what counts! I'll remove it before winter, though so it doesn't collect icicles.

Enjoy the foliage this fall and plant those bulbs!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


So much for me updating you from the conference! I am absolutely exhausted. What an intense experience that was. I learned so much and had a real blast getting to know everyone I met. There were just under 500 garden writers and product exhibitors there and I can't wait to start telling everyone about some of the unique people and products I found at the conference. Everything from new organic products to lessons in podcasting, writing for the web (how am I doing?), new plants on the market, and some really special blogs ( Over the next few months, we'll be talking about them on the program, so stay tuned!

What surprised me the most, I think, was all the different aspects of garden communicating represented there. Writers, web designers, scientists, radio and TV folks, bloggers, plant 'discoverers', breeders, product designers, PR folks, book authors and gardening non-profits to name just a few. I collected well over 100 business cards and it will take me weeks to figure out who was who! My greatest goal at the conference (besides getting some new writing gigs!) was to find some folks who really epitomize passionate gardening from across the country and bring them to The Organic Gardeners programs. No problem there, the place was crawling with them! The 'Expert's Corner' segment will be booked for many, many months....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

OKC and the garden

I'm off to Oklahoma City on Thursday for the annual Garden Writers conference (I'll send updates from the event if I can). They've asked me to participate in a panel discussion on organics and the role that garden communicators play in promoting and educating consumers about organic choices. I'm looking forward to the event and to finally meeting some of the faces I've only known via email and telephone for all these years.

Since I'll be gone for nearly a week, I'm sure I'll fall even further behind in my own garden. I managed to give some of my remaining potted plants to my mother for her garden and the rest are waiting on the back patio for the completion of our new retaining wall out front. The stone mason will start shortly after I return and he'll be tearing out the old wall and building a new, higher version that wraps around the steps. He's going to re-use the existing field stone while adding some new ones to make up the difference. The current wall is literally about to collapse.

Of course, I'm excited because this means a whole new garden will be created between the top of the wall and the front walk. I'm going to fill it with some shade perennials like painted ferns, Doronicum, Digitalis lutea, heuchera and some lace cap and 'Lemon Daddy' hydrangeas. 'Lemon Daddy' has bright chartreuse/yellow foliage with pink flowers - it's a real show stopper and will look great with the new boxwood and yellow carex I planted in the new foundation bed across the walk from it. Obviously, I'm going with the chartreuse/yellow/dark green combination. The Heucheras I have are a mix of chartreuse, bronze, burgundy and green leaved varieties. My only fear is that I'll tire of the color combination in a few years and have to re-do the bed in entirety. I guess that's not really a bad a few years I'll be looking for some new projects...right??

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Building a travel garden

Every week during the program, we air a segment called Everybody Gardens. It's an interview with a regular gardener. It's funny because sometimes we show up at someones house to record an interview thinking the story will be one thing, and it turns out to be something else entirely. The difficult part for Doug and I is to find the gardener's story - sometimes it takes a while to discover their passion and find out what will click with the audience. The really great part is that often, we learn a few new things along the way.

I headed to two beautiful gardens on Thursday to record interviews with their owners and I was so pleased with the results of both. Nancy Heraud is an herbalist with literally hundreds of different herb varieties. She's very passionate about preserving the fruits and veggies and herbs that her garden produces. Nancy has some great recipes we'll share with listeners and I think it will be a really lovely piece. But, there was another story in her garden.

Her husband Jose moved to the States from Peru in the 1970's. He shared with me his memories of his parent's gardeners and how he watched them work, knowing that some day he'd like a garden of his own. Jose also shared some seeds with me of two of his favorite plants native from Peru. I'm looking forward to growing them in next years garden.

Jose's gift got me thinking. I'm going to build a travel garden. I'm going to fill it with varieties that I know are native to the countries I have visitied, or with plants I remember seeing during my travels around the world. Of course I'll be careful not to plant anything invasive, but I can't wait to do a little research and find out what is going to find a home in my new travel garden. I must plant Jose's plants, some bougainvillea (Spain), some mouse sh#t peppers (Thailand), some leeks (Italy), and some jasmine (India): these I know will be included. There will also be lots more plants and I can't wait to add to it over the years.

Think about starting a travel garden at your house. No doubt it will bring back great memories.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Of grubs and damsel bugs

Today I was weeding some grass out of the edge of the front bed and there, clinging to the roots of a grass clump, was a big fat grub. I was surprised at how large it was at this point in the season. I guess they are fattening up for their long winter hibernation. Of course I need it's picture for the new book, so I scooped him up and put him in a tupperware for delivery to Doug...lucky guy! I was also excited because I came across what I though was a damsel bug (a terrifically beneficial little guy who is relatively hard to come by). But after close examination and comparison to photographs, it isn't a damsel bug, so I guess I'll have to keep looking.

I planted some new coreopsis today around the veggie garden as well as a few salvias to fill in the bare spots where I pulled out some spent annuals. I think next year that garden will really fill in nicely. I was looking forward to enjoying my Aster 'Purple Dome' this fall, but the darned dear nibbled it twice this summer and I'm not sure if it will bloom before freezing weather arrives. It's one of my favorite asters (I also really like Aster frikartii 'Monch') and I love it with short golden rods like 'Golden Fleece' - it's such a great color combination for late in the season. My Anemone 'September Charm' is budding and the Boltonia is blooming it's head off. Too bad my two year old enjoys pulling off the flowers and sprinkling them around the garden. He's also finding great pleasure in picking all the unripe cherry tomatoes off the vines and pretending to eat them (which scares me to death since they are prime size for choking!). Of course I can't get him to even taste a ripe tomato...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mock Oranges

I finally got around to planting the three mock orange ('White Sensation') behind my mini-waterfall today. They are too puny to be seen over the stack of rocks, but someday I know their arched branches, covered with lovely white blossoms, will ramble up and over the rocks. I'm looking forward to watching them grow. I know it's hard for many gardeners to overcome the desire for instant satisfaction. Heck, it's one of the hardest things about gardening properly....who wants to wait 3 years, right? I have found over all the years I have gardened both personally and professionally, that there is only temporary satisfaction in instant satisfaction, but there is a special pride and joy in watching something grow to it's full potential. I love the process of waiting and watching and admiring how the garden evolves into maturity. True gardeners appreciate the future of their garden as much as the present. We are willing to wait.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I enjoyed the few hours of sunshine we had yesterday afternoon by going outside and cleaning up the garden. I hadn't done any weeding or deadheading in a very long time so I really focused my attention on those two tasks. I grow a lot of self sowing annuals so when I deadhead those, I always drop the seed heads back into the garden; but if I don't cut them off, then flower production stops - especially on my cosmos. I ended up pulling out a bunch of 'Thumbellina' zinnias due to the severe powdery mildew they developed. It's a shame because I usually have good luck with them, but I bought them as nursery plants this year instead of starting from seed as I usually do. I think they were really stressed out from spending too much time in those tiny six packs when I planted them. There's no doubt in my mind that that makes them more susceptible to disease. I always have better luck direct seeding them vs. buying started plants (the same goes for my nicotiana and my nasturtums).

The weeds have done a fine job invading my beds this year, but with the nice rain we had yesterday morning, they pulled out very easily - even the spotted spurge came out without a problem. It's always 'nicer' to weed after a good rain!

I debated whether or not to cut down my coneflowers and black eyed Susans. I know the birds are quite fond of the seeds, but if I don't do it, I often end up with a million of them. Plus, Doug will tell you, I really don't like seeing dead stems and flowerheads in the garden, so I'm pretty quick to deadhead and cut things back when they start to look ratty to me. I think it comes from 10 years of trying to please customers who wanted a totally clean and green garden.

I have yet to plant my mock orange behind the waterfall. They are doing quite nicely in their pots on the patio. I promised myself I would do it this weekend, but it just didn't happen. So maybe next weekend it will happen. I also have two roses to find homes for.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Glass and flowers

Many thanks to all of our listeners who came to the tour of Phipps Conservatory today. We had nearly 85 folks show up for the event. Our thanks, as well, go to the exhibit designer, Michele Frey McCann for giving us such an informational and entertaining tour. What a great morning it was!

If you live in the Pittsburgh area (and even if you don't but need a few day's vacation) make sure you get to Phipps to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit. It's truly exceptional and there is no way you can appreciate it through pictures. You must see it in person and with a trained guide if possible. I've always been an enormous fan of his, since seeing a few of his pieces in Italy and in the Naples Museum of Art, but to see his work side by side with such amazing plant material, is a real, once-in-a-lifetime treat. Everyone was shocked at the intricacy of Chihuly's pieces and the time and effort on the part of the Phipp's staff to pull together such an exceptional exhibit. I think the most shocking fact I heard was that the pieces had a value of 12-15 million dollars - and worth every penny, trust me!

I think the room I enjoyed the most this time (I've seen the show twice already and plan to go again in a few weeks with an out of town guest)was the serpentine room, especially after learning how those spires were made. The grand court (where the rowboat filled with glass is) is my most favorite exhibit, but I also love what he did outdoors in the Japanese garden. When you go, plan on spending some serious time examining each piece and the way the light plays off it; and how beautifully it blends with all the plant material.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Our guest on the Sirius program today was Brent Heath from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. Both Doug and I are so fond of him as a person and also as an expert bulb grower. The interview really made me start to think about what kinds of bulbs I'm going to be planting here. The only thing that's already in the shade garden are some daffodils. I'm going to have to contain myself and promise to only plant tulips in the fenced part of the back yard since the deer are so problematic out front. I'm surely going to do some daffs in the front garden including some miniatures and a few standard yellow ones. And then I'll toss in some varieties that are white with the bright orange cups, maybe a later blooming selection. I'm reluctant to try much else out there because of the deer and the chipmunks. Maybe I'll tuck in some Fritillaria persica by the front walk for the 'drive by' interest they'll create on the way to the front door.

My goal around the veggie garden is to do several clumps of Darwin hybrid tulips in bright pink and deep orange. I love the craziness of that combination in the spring... it really perks up the garden just when I need it to! Then in the shade garden, to add to those existing daffs, I'll use some wood hyacinth, some clumps of Fritillaria meleagaris (one of my absolute favorite plants - the checkered lily), and some snowdrops.

I'll need to check out Brent and Becky's catalog to see if there is a bulb that will attract early season hummingbird visitors for the butterfly/hummingbird garden on the side of the house. If not, I'll likely go with some species tulips there and let them ramble up to the edge of the patio. I have always wanted to do some bulbs in my lawn, but have never had the money or time to do it. Doug is always offering me his extra bulbs, so this year I'm going to take him up on it and plant them in the grass around the shed. I'd eventually like to see scilla, crocus, snowdrops and glory of the snow mixed throughout the area, but I know that's years away. A little at a time, I guess.

Also, for those of you who listen to the Sirius show, I'll give you the heads up that next week's guest is one not to miss. Stephanie Donaldson will join us. She has co-authored a book with Prince Charles called The Elements of Organic Gardening. It's a beautiful and useful book and we are very excited that Stephanie is able to join us from across the pond. The show is on Lime Radio (Sirius channel 114) on Saturday's from 12-2pm EST. Hope you can join us!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Homemade sauce and baby entertainment

Made some more spaghetti sauce today. It's such a simple recipe and I always make several batches each summer then freeze it for the winter. Just cut up a large onion and a large pepper and saute them in olive oil. While they are cooking core your tomatoes (about 2 large colanders full) and dunk them in a pot of boiling water for one minute. Take them out of the water when their skin cracks and put them into a sink of ice water. Peel off the skins and squeeze out the seeds. Then chop them coarsely and add them to the pot of now wilted onions and peppers. Toss in some dried oregano and some fresh basil and one or two bay leaves. Sometimes I add some diced garlic too. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer and let cook down for several hours (3 or so). At this point, I usually add some salt to taste. When it begins to get thick, add two or three tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with a small amount of water to the pot. This will thicken it quite well. Then I let it cool and pack it into freezer bags. You can experiment with the amounts of herbs, or add mushrooms, or browned meat, or crushed red pepper if you desire. It's an easy recipe to experiment with. It's one of our favorites.

My small butterfly/hummingbird garden on the side of the house is really beginning to come into it's own right now. The sunflowers are nearly 10 feet tall, with many blossoms per stem; the red salvia (Lady in Red) is driving the hummingbirds mad with desire; the nasturtums have taken over the world; the zinnias are going non-stop; and the New York asters have finally begun to pop open. It's a lovely sight out the dining room window during mealtimes. Our whole reason for putting it where we did was so our son can see it when he sits down to eat. He loves pointing out all the flowers and telling me what colors they are. The bees and butterflies and hummers seem to keep him interested and he thoroughly enjoys watching the goldfinches hanging from the sunflower blossoms and eating the seeds.

I'm also loving the current state of my strawberries. They were new this year and have spread so much over the past few months. They are really taking off. I expect a bumper crop next year. I experimented by planting them underneath the row of blueberries, so I'm not sure how they will do in the acidic environment I made for the blueberries by adding elemental sulfur. It will be interesting to see if it effects their far it doesn't seem to be hurting their growth, that's for sure. I don't have much room here (compared to the farm) so I'm always looking for ways to create companion planting that's not only beautiful but productive as well. We'll see next year if it was a smart idea!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New Trees and Old Plants

Our guests have departed and it's back to the garden... Today my husband and I and our little boy planted a lovely little cut leaf maple ('Shirazz')behind our mini-pond and waterfall. It is really going to look beautiful there once it takes hold. We dug out the existing sod and created a new bed in which I plan to also put some mock orange (a new variety from Novalis that blooms twice per year!) and a few other things. It's not that big of a bed, but my hope is that it will help blend the pond and waterfall into the rest of the landscape. The tree went in quite easily despite the tree roots we had to chop out and thankfully the soil was in decent shape.

On a side note, we went to a friend's birthday party today in our old neighborhood in Shaler - it was my first house and first garden. I couldn't wait to see what the new owners did to it. Now I'm upset that I even looked! They hacked out my garden to put up an 8 foot high retaining wall that is topped with lots of weedy sumac, ragweed, horseweed and other assorted junk. Not one of my lovely perennials or shrubs appeared to remain. The shade garden on the side of the house was incredibly over grown but much less weedy. Our friend said she keeps wanting to sneak over under the cover of darkness and 'rescue' the beautiful oakleaf hydrangea in the corner. I hope she does! The good news is that the house is for sale so perhaps the new owners will pay more attention to the garden. It's always a shame to see something you spent so much time and effort on go to the dogs...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

tomayto tomahto

Went out to pick some tomatoes this morning for yet another batch of sauce. The plants still look great...I'm not sure if my lack of blight has anything to do with the fact that it's a brand new garden or the fact that I mulched heavily with a mix of compost (from AgRecycle) and leaf mold. Whatever the reason, they are looking great.

I picked four enormous 'Pineapple' tomatoes. They are a beautiful yellowish color with pink stripes radiating out from the bottom. They look a lot like 'Striped German' but the taste is much sweeter. I also have quite a few 'Caramello' that I got from Garden Dreams Urban Farm in Wilkinsburg along with 'Snow White' cherries (yes, they are a soft white-yellow color and sweet as all get out), 'Golden Jubilee' and 'Green Zebra'. Doug gave me 'Cosmonaut Volokov' (always a favorite), 'Cherry Tallon' and 'Jeff's Mystery' along with some others. I have been so pleased with the varieties I've grown this season. They have been productive and beautiful and fungus free (so far).

The cukes have pretty much shut down for the year, which is fine by me. Only so many bread and butter pickles a girl can make before her hands turn yellow from all the turmeric. I have a great recipe that came from my Nana and I've already made 20 quart jars this year - I guess I know what everyone is getting for Christmas. The hot peppers are beginning to roll in and the beets and carrots are fabulous. I'm growing 'Purple Dragon' carrot for the first time. They are lovely to see in a salad and the taste is much better than I expected. of course my old standby 'Scarlet Nantes' is performing up to her usual perfection. Other than the occasional carrot maggot they've been great.

Had to water all the pots still sitting on the driveway this morning. I need to find homes for them soon - which means I need to create the new bed behind our mini-waterfall to make room for them. The waterfall and pond were sort of plunked by the former owners in an odd spot. It looks very, very contrived as it is now, but I think if I can soften the edges with a new bed, some small trees and flowering shrubs it will help tremendously. Maybe that's a project for this weekend....

I may not get to post over the next few days. My cousin and her two boys are going to be staying with us for three days and I don't know what kind of time I'll have. I don't think I'll be working in the garden while they are here, but it will be back to business once they depart. I'm looking forward to this visit, we always seem to have so much fun together. It's nice to be related to your best friend!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Today's bugs

Found more bugs today for Doug to photograph. A big tomato hornworm - with no parasitic wasp eggs hanging off it's back, so I felt really, really good taking it off the plant and putting it in a plastic baggie for transport! I also found a lacebug on my neighbors Azalea (yes, I have resorted to visiting the homes of others in hopes of raiding their bug stash - funny, no one has refused...)and a grasshopper, a slug, a snail, and some terrific beneficial insects including a tachinid fly, a robber fly, and a big eyed bug. If you aren't familiar with these particular beneficial insects, Google their image and check them out. You have probably come across them in the garden, but just didn't know what they were. I also had a hover fly trapped (when I was a kid we used to call them sweat bees), but when I was trying to transfer it from trap to container, it flew away. It's the only one I've seen all season and I'm very bummed that I let it least it was a beneficial and not a bad guy! Now I just have to hope I find another in the next month or so...

On a side note, I made some broccoli from the garden with tonight's dinner. Not sure why, but it was a touch bitter...maybe the heat. Looking forward to roasting some 'Chioggia' beets as part of tomorrow night's dinner.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bugs in bags

My next book project with my radio partner Doug Oster is in the hands of the publisher at long last. A Gardener's Journal is set for national release by St. Lynn's Press (the same folks who published Grow Organic) in late autumn. I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Doug and I have been journaling about our gardens for years but neither one of us have ever found the perfect journal. They either don't have enough room to write, you have to use them in the year they are printed, or they offer you nothing in the way of new gardening information. So we created a journal that fills in all the gaps; one that you can use from year to year, you can write in it as much (or as little) as you like, and it offers new gardening tips and some interesting stories from our own gardening lives. We hope folks like it as much as they've liked Grow Organic!

So now (since I'm crazy) I've been busy collecting bugs in bags for yet another book project in the works. I need to gather live specimens of common garden pests as well as beneficial insects to be photographed (by Doug) for an organic pest guide that will hopefully come to fruition sometime in 2008. What this means is that I've actually been hoping to find pests in my garden (another clear indication of my craziness!); and, so far, it has not been a problem. Plenty of squash bugs, four lined plant bugs, Japanese beetles, slugs, aphids and the like have showed up and graciously allowed me to trap them and put them in sealed plastic baggies. Every week I show up to the radio studio with a shopping bag full of bugs to had off to Doug!

The good news: I somehow managed to capture a tiny little parasitic wasp yesterday morning hanging about on my aphid infested rose plant (probably an Aphidius wasp that lays it's eggs on aphids), and, even more exciting, is the fact that last night I was looking at all the bugs hanging out on the screen outside the kitchen window and there was a beautiful green lacewing! - one of the most voracious pest eaters out there. Of course I carefully captured it in a tupperware container and hauled it off to the studio this morning. Now I'd just like to find some of their eggs to photograph. They are usually laid along a blade of grass and they are tiny bitty things on the end of thin filaments - they look like little lollipops in a row.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hiding the shed

Today I constructed and planted the new bed that will disguise our ugly shed foundation. We've been meaning to do it for months now, but I never got to it this spring as I intended; so, although August isn't really a great time to plant new shrubs (ideally I should have waited another month or so), I knew it might be now or never. Make hay when the sun shines, right?

I made a trip to Trax Farms two weeks ago (what a great place!)to pick up some other plants and ended up buying some plain old yews to put in the shed bed. I've never been a fan of yews, especially when they are pruned into meatball shapes, but these were in their lovely natural habit....unpruned, with wispy evergreen, slightly arching branches. These two were balled and burlapped and about two and a half feet tall. I also got a few variegated ornamental grasses for the bed too. As far as the plants that came in last week's shipment, I chose a dark leaved Wiegelia and a mock orange to add to my Trax finds.

I started by 'grubbing' out the existing sod and weeds - and discovered lovely soil rich in earthworms and organic matter (phew!) - so I just planted the plants, watered them in then mulched with some shredded hardwood bark. It looks great and is already doing a fine job disguising the shed. Once the plants are a bit taller it will really do the trick quite nicely.

On another note, I made an official decision to rip out all the plants in the bed by my front walk (what AM I thinking?). The hostas were deer-eaten to the nub, the black-eyed-susan vine was taking over the world (and with only a few blooms, it was too reminiscent of field bindweed to me - though normally it's a plant I like a lot), and the German bearded iris were brown and floppy and in need of a good division. So I decided to dig out the whole lot of them and start over with plants that are a bit more deer resistant. So I gave most of the Hosta to my greatful neighbor and replanted a few of them in the back garden. Some of the iris also went to the neighbor, and the black-eyed-susan vine was sent to be reincarnated as compost. I haven't a clue what I'm going to plant there this fall, but I still have plenty of time. I'm sure it will include the painted ferns and coral bells that are sitting on my driveway in pots and I did leave a bit of pink lamium there too. For now, it's just a clean slate of dark earth - it looks quite pretty to me. I don't mind some emptiness in the garden now and helps me envision all the potential in the dirt.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not much today

I didn't get to spend any time in the garden today, which was good since I'm so darned sore from planting yesterday. I can hardly lift my left arm. I can't believe I used to do this for 10 hours a day, six days a week, from March through November. Of course, I was younger and in way better shape then...funny how that works!

I should tell you, though, that I did spend some time watching the hummingbirds this afternoon. We have three of them 'fighting' over our feeder everyday. They are such amazing little birds and one will guard the feeder by perching on a sunflower leaf. She'll dive bomb anyone who comes even close to the feeder. I watched her sitting there through the storm the other day - she didn't even flinch. I guess I make exceptional hummingbird food! I take 1/2 cup of organic, unrefined cane sugar and 2 cups water, bring it to a boil for 2 min. Then I let it cool and fill up the feeder. I change the food and wash the feeder every few days to be sure it doesn't ferment and make them sick. Seems to work way better than the dyed red stuff you buy at the store.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Plant Crazy

My nearly two year old son discovered earthworms today - actually I made the mistake of showing them to him as I was planting a bunch of new plants (more about those in a bit). He spent about a half hour digging through the piles of backfill and picking out all the worms. He'd then carry the squirming little critters over to the nearest plant and sprinkle them on it. I didn't have the heart to stop him because it was really cute, plus, he wasn't hurting the worms - just relocating them. I'm thrilled at how much he enjoys being outside with me and how much he likes 'helping' me in the garden by doing various things like pulling the petals off my zinnias, filling in recently dug planting holes, sprinkling mulch and playing with the hose and/or sprinkler. We were outside for about 4 hours today and he still cried when I made him come inside to get ready for dinner.

What, you may ask, were we doing outside for 4 hours? Planting about 35 new trial plants from Novalis. The 18 wheeler pulled up this morning and Doug and I unloaded the plants and set to work divvying them up. I wanted to get some of them planted before the weekend as we have visitors coming for a few now my back is killing me and I'm pretty darned tired. I haven't worked that hard since spring (how sad is that?). I feel accomplished, though, so that's always a nice feeling.

The plants look great and I can't wait to report on their progress over the coming weeks. I was most excited to try a new Hydrangea called 'Lemon Daddy'. It's got chartreuse foliage and pink flowers. Another potential favorite is a really stunning cut leaf maple called 'Shirazz' - it's got pink and white leaf margins and supposedly has a really beautiful growth habit. I promise to be honest with everyone about what works in my garden and what doesn't - that goes for these new plants as well as any new technique or organic pest control I try. Let's hope all the results are positive!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Getting Started

I never thought I would ever spend as much time on my computer as I do in the garden...but, I guess it's now official. At least I'm getting paid for most of the time I spend with my laptop...with the exception of this new blog, of course. Many of the radio show's listeners have asked to know what's going on in my garden, so I just thought it best to periodically fill everyone in. Maybe I can offer some advice along the way and let you know my successes and failures in the garden. I'm hoping to post something new every day or two so be sure to check back often.

To catch you up:
Most of you may already know that my current garden is only a few months old. We just sold our organic farm :( and moved here a few months ago (maybe I'll get into the reasons why in a later post). It's been nice to scale down - we went from 25 acres to 2 acres - but at the same time, it's been difficult to pick and choose the plants that are special enough to keep growing - not to mention being much closer to all our neighbors. I moved about 150 potted perennials with me that I divided from the farm's garden. Unfortunately, I didn't afford the pots enough winter protection, so many of them bit the dust before spring even arrived. That left me with very little to start my new garden. However, the great thing about this profession is that companies often send you new plants to trial, so I've been getting some new varieties and, of course, I've spent plenty of bucks at several local nurseries too. Doug (my radio partner) has also been quite generous in sharing many of the plants from his garden.

When we put in the two huge gardens at the farm, we had some tilling help, but stripped most of the sod ourselves - what a terrible, back-breaking job! So since we had already suffered through that, we decided to hire a landscaper to strip the sod at the new house to create my veggie garden. It's way smaller than at the farm (after all, I'm only growing for 3 people instead of 100's of customers!) but I'm still managing to harvest plenty of veggies to eat fresh, freeze, process and pickle. It's really done well this year and I'm still looking forward to some autumn lettuce and turnips.

The perennial beds aren't much to look at quite yet. You know, the plants start out so small, but in a few short years they'll be ready to be divided. I was sure to plant many of my favorite annuals (from seed and transplant) to fill in the many holes between the perennials. I'm very fond of cosmos, snow on the mountain, zinnias, gomphrena, sunflowers, old-fashioned tall ageratum and a few others - I NEED to have them in the garden every year. They remind me of my Nana...and they juice up the garden for the entire summer and well into the fall.

The future:
Those empty perennial beds are going to get a big boost tomorrow afternoon. I'm expecting a shipment of trial plants from a company called Novalis, many of which are perennials. I'm looking forward to finding homes for each and every one of them over the coming weeks. I'll let you know which ones are really stellar so you can find 'em for yourselves next year!

Other plans include a new shrub bed to help hide the ugly shed, a clean-up/perk-up of the small shade garden, and planting some fruit trees and raspberry plants. Plenty of work remains to be done this is always the case in the garden.