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 thing....in 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 production....so 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...