A flower I'm just crazy for

I was only gone for a couple days sailing, but it seemed like last week's hot weather really perked things up in the garden. Between that and the fresh mulch, things are looking good. It's always nice to come back to the garden after you've been away a little while to get a fresh perspective on what's happening.

Here's another flower I'm just loving. It's allium Schubertii. This is the first year I'm growing it, and since I'm pushing the zonal limits on it (5 or 6, depending on the source you consult) I know it may not come back next year. But it's so great that even grown as an annual it's worth it. This is not the best photo but I'm sure I'll be taking more.

A letter to my future gardening self

Following is a letter to my future self.

Dear Erin,

How's the garden growing this year? Did you finally put something in that spot right in front that you've been saving for something "really great"? Did you remember to spray the plants with the deer/bunny repellent BEFORE they started eating everything?

The answer to those questions is probably no, but this letter addresses a more important issue. Remember back in 2009, when it had been about three years since you had mulched? Remember how the year before you put down a three-inch thick layer of compost over the whole garden and you were so pooped that you sort of let things go a little bit?

Well don't forget this:

Yep, that's a picture of YOUR weeds. Not the weeds from the entire yard, or even just one garden. Those are the weeds from about an 8-foot square area. Remember how you spent an entire weekend digging up those weeds? The first nice weekend of the summer, when the rest of the world was out sailing and hanging out on the beach, and you were in your best trailer park outfit, covered in dirt, sweating in your garden and praying that no one stopped over and actually saw you like that?

Pictures don't lie. Don't let it happen again. I'm warning you.

2009 Erin

A tour through the veggie garden

Here's a little tour through the veggie garden. Things are growing slowly here, so hopefully in a few weeks things will look much different (click on the pictures to make them bigger). Come on in!

I, um, bought more plants

I've done it again. I went out and bought more plants. It's a sickness, I tell ya.

This time it was because a co-op through the Yahoo group I'm in didn't meet the minimums to order so we had to cancel it. Of course I had already falled in love with those plants, so when it was cancelled I NEEDED to get them elsewhere. Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery to the rescue!

I got three Sunrise Echinacea (love this one and I want a nice big clump of them and I'm not keen on waiting for that to happen with the few I already have), a Summer Sky Echie (so pretty), and three Baptisia: Solar Flare, Twilight Prairieblues and Midnight Prairieblues.

They also send a free daylily: Ruffled Parchment. I'm excited about that one!

So this is even more encouragment to hurry up, get the damn weeding and mulching done so I can enjoy planting these. And I really need to spend some quality time in the garden to figure out the best place for these anyway.

Community gardening in your own back yard

The little vegetable garden off the road.

An amazing thing has happened since we build the new raised veggie garden: I'm getting to know the neighbors better. The garden is built on the far side of our property, close to the road (because that's where the sun is). It's a rural community and a private road, so although we're a pretty close-knit neighborhood, casual conversations don't usually happen because we're just so spread out. The veggie garden has changed that. I can't think of more than a couple of occasions that I've been working in the garden that a neighbor has just driven by without stopping to chat.

When we were building, there were a lot of inquiring minds.
"What 'cha building there?"
"A garden."
"That's mighty tall for a garden."

Then, before we put the screening on to keep out the deer, there were a lot of comments about how nice a drive-up veggie garden would be ... for the neighbors! I heard so many comments about sneaking a tomato here and there that I started to get paranoid about my future fruit (or should I not say that? Is that counting one's tomatoes before there are even blossoms?)

But now I get people stopping by asking for a tour of my little garden, or noticing what's been happening in it.

"Got your tomatoes in last weekend, I see."
"Your onions are looking good!"
"What's that big trellis for?"

(Following all of these questions, the conversation quickly turns to weather-related topics. What would people in Wisconsin talk about if it weren't for the weather?)

I even have one neighbor who admitted to me that she's been talking to my tomato plants on her morning walks, and another who reported seeing a deer with a puzzled look on its face staring longingly at the garden.

I suspect what I'm experiencing is what community garden proponents have been raving about for years: the social part of gardening. I think unless you garden in a tightly packed subdivision or at a community garden, you miss that over-the-fence chit-chat that is such an important part of our society and gardening. And sure, there are days when I haven't showered yet and I'm still sucking at my first mug of coffee when I'd really rather not see the neighbors, but a little humility is good for all of us. And there's nothing wrong with a little neighborly chit-chat about the weather.

June Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (a day late)

June 15 snuck right up on me and I completely missed Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. So here's my contribution, a day late and a dollar short.

We've had a very cool spring and the garden is not happy about it. There are very few blooms to share.

Variegated iris

Guernsey Cream clematis is just starting to open up and is loaded with buds. LOVE this clematis.

This might be allium Gladiator

The Lady's Mantle is thinking about unleashing it's chartreuse flowers. If the wave petunias take off this should be a pretty combo.

The spring-blooming anemone have just the sweetest little flowers.

My very own Mt. Mulch

120-pound sloppy-sitting Newfoundland for size comparison only.

The other day, Ellie May's mom posted about Mount Mulch, the pile of mulch that resides in her driveway often for a good part of the summer because she detests dealing with it. I can relate. So much so that reading her post prompted me to call and order my very own Mt. Mulch.

I haven't mulched for at least three years. I don't think it's particularly good for one's garden (sucks all that nitrogen up breaking it down), and certainly not good in the quantities I see being applied to my neighbors' yards by the professional landscaping crews they hire. But go a few years without it and you'll remember the benefits of mulch. Last year I topdressed all my garden beds with about three inches of compost. This year I feel like I'm seeing the rewards from that, and I think that's something I'll continue to do every three years or so. But let me tell you, the weeds almost killed me last year. At first the compost held them back, but by the end of summer it was a losing battle, and, ultimately, I gave up. And this year I'm seeing what happens when you sit back and let the weeds win. All their babies, plus the perennial weeds, REALLY take over. I've been pulling them, but it's not helping. Within what seems like minutes, they are back.

So I got four yards of mulch delivered. I just sort of guessed at the amount. Much of the "main" garden (I call it the main garden only because it was the first one I made), is so packed with plants that mulch is not needed. (Have I mentioned that I'm becoming very fond of ground covers and quickly spreading plants?) And I was able to much the circle garden with the bits of the pine stump we ground out, so that one is taken care of.

Anyway, I feel a lot like Ellie May's mom does about the whole chore: what a bore. That said there is really nothing better, in my opinion, than a freshly mulched garden. It looks so beautiful. In fact I may even use it as an excuse to have a small party to show off the garden. That's assuming I get all the beds weeded and the mulch spread. Better not send out invitations yet.

Help identify this annual

Swung by a nursery yesterday and as I was perusing the annuals, I came across this little guy with no tag. The saleswoman told me that it maintains its purple foliage, has no flowers to speak of, and doesn't get much taller than this (about 8 inches I'd say), just fuller. I thought it would look great grouped with the orange and purple container theme I have going this year, so I bought it. But what is it?

My everlasting gratitude to whoever can help me.

A cool flower

The garden feels like it's at that moment when everything is on the cusp of exploding into bloom. Right now this is one of the cooler flowers I have blooming. It's one that should really be viewed up close to truly appreciate its unique shape, and the dark purply blue looks awesome next to a chartreuse hosta.

Its name is centaurea montana, but in my garden, it's just known as perennial bachelor button, which is what my mom calls it, and it came from her garden, so that's good enough for me!

Bunny resistant, not bunny proof

In the past, I've put a few yummier plants in the circle garden, at least if you ask the local wildlife. A few years ago I put up a willow fence, which deterred the critters of the hopping variety. Of course rabbits like to chew, so eventually, the willow got very brittle and the bunnies figured out it wouldn't take long to chew a hole through it. I decided it was time to replace the fence when I had more chicken wire patches than actual fence left. I also made a big mistake the first time I put it up, which is that I set it outside the stone edging, which meant it was impossible to trim the edges and I had grass long enough to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records growing in some spots.

The willow fencing is really hard to find. The Internet company I bought the first fence from is still in business but I had such an awful experience with them that I swore I'd never go back, and I didn't. The new fence, purchased from Drs. Foster & Smith (which I thought was only pet supplies, but turns out they sell pond supplies as well and I guess this fence falls in that category), has holes that are a little bigger than I'd prefer. They are certainly big enough that a baby bunny would have no problem getting through them. But it will do.

I'm not under any illusion that this fence will keep a determined rabbit at bay, but what I hope to do is make them think, "Nah, it's not worth the effort," and move on to nibble elsewhere. Plus, it was relatively inexpensive (vs. a metal option) and, other than the "posts," which I really should have stained to match the fencing, I think it's actually sort of charming looking. We're making a door for entry to the pea gravel paths as well.

Spring has really come

I know a lot of you are already well into summer but here in Wisconsin, we're lucky if summer comes with the solstice. Fortunately there are signs that spring is indeed here.
Clockwise from top left: Adorable anenomes, an emerging allium, dicentra Gold Heart in all its glory, purple smokebush starting to leaf out, a wonderfully fuzzy bud on the Guernsey Cream clematis.

It is done

The tragedy continues ....

So rather than delay this unpleasant task, I decided to just go for it tonight. The sooner we get rid of the bad stuff, the sooner the healing can begin, right?

So I gathered up my tools and I started pruning. Pruning really isn't the right work for it because that indicates some sort of reason to it. What I was doing was more like hacking. Lucile said, cut until I find green wood. I'm not sure I went far enough. But I went as far as I could today. My formerly beautiful Kamagata is now an awkward, misshapen wreck, but perhaps she will one day be some sort of exotic looking contorted maple. I'll worry about the aesthetics later, right now we're going life. Sort of like the plastic surgeon during a nose job gone bad ... save the patient and worry about the bad nose later.

This one was painful....

Oh for a watering wand that doesn't leak!

Welcome to my biggest of all gardening pet peeves: Leaky hose nozzles. I'm so irritated with having water dripping down my air every time I try to water. Every year I buy one or more new nozzles in hope of finding the holy grail of watering wands.

I'm not asking for a lot. I just want something I can stick on the end of the hose that has at least full, shower and soaker settings. A mist setting would be a great bonus. I want it to last a full summer without sending water shooting up my sleeve. I prefer the mid-length (about 12 to 16 inches long) but I'm flexible.

I bought a new nozzle/wand thing two weeks ago. Maybe three. It was $15.99 and promised a lot. First of all, the mist setting does not work. Unless it is misting microscopically and I can't see it. Then the little clip that locks the handle down fell off. This will not do, because I like to set it on soaker and leave it for a bit to deeply water new plants. Then yesterday it started leaking like crazy. I tried a new gasket in it and that didn't help either. And it shouldn't be the gasket anyway. THREE weeks! For crying out loud, how ridiculous.

I would pay a lot of money for some sort of watering apparatus that actually worked properly and lasted a few years. Does anyone know of such a holy grail of watering?

An update to the tragedy (see below)

Just heard back from Lucile. Here's what she said:

"Cut hard. Down into the green wood and pray."


A garden tragedy

I've been keeping an eye on this all spring, and hoping things would be fine, but it's not looking good.

Last spring I bought a gorgeous Kamagata Japanese maple from Lucile at Whitman Farms. I adore this tree and it was gorgeous last year. In winter I treated it just like my other Japanese maple: Lots and lots of mulch and burlap wrapped around a "cage" constructed around it. I did not close the top of the burlap and I'm now thinking that was the fatal flaw in my plan.

The bottom third of the tree has leafed out nicely, but the top is not looking good. Leaves only here and there, and what appears to be a lot of dead wood. I've not trimmed anything out of it because you never know what can happen. And now I see some of the leaves on the top half are all wilty.

I have no idea what is going on but I'm just sick about it for a lot of reasons: it wasn't a cheap tree, I don't want to have a huge hole there all summer and Lucile is so incredible I feel like I've done wrong by her tree.

I'm going to e-mail her and see if she has any words of wisdom for me, but I'm afraid it might be a lost cause.

What we won't do for plants

I caught my mother rubbing her eggplant this weekend.

Relax, it's OK, really. She was just giving it a little leaf massage. Seems she read "somewhere" that massaging the leaves will make it produce better.

I can't tell you where "somewhere" is because neither of us knows. We read so many magazines, blogs and Web sites, not to mention watch the occasional television show, that the actual source of any of these so-called secrets is anybody's guess.

So while my mother is massaging her eggplant, I was busy contemplating my tomato planting technique. First I heard you should plant it deeply because new roots will form off the buried portion of the stem. Fair enough. Then I read you should actually trench it, and lay it down sideways, so it's closer to the top of the soil and therefore warmer. I've done both of those things for several years now. This year, I skipped the trenching, partly because I was lazy and it's not that easy to make the stem bend in the proper direction when planting a tomato sideways, and partly because I was planting in my fancy new raised bed with super fluffy dirt that I would think is plenty warm.

Then there's the fertilizer issue. Some information suggests you should fertilize at the time of planting, when it flowers and again some other time that I can't recall (and it doesn't matter because I'll have forgotten by then). Other information says not to fertilize until after it flowers. Geez louise, who am I supposed to believe? I ended up pouring a lot of diluted Great Big Plants in the hole when I was planting. I figure that's sort of the fertilizer middle ground.

Then there's the pruning issue. The lastest issue of Grow (published occasionally by Fine Gardening Magazine) said I should remove all the leaves below the first flower cluster to make the plants stronger and avoid diseases. Makes sense ... I guess I'll do that. Probably.

I've done other crazy things to plants because you're "supposed to." Some work, some are definitely up for debate. I do regularly pour a diluted ammonia mixture over my hostas and slug-prone plants. I did it last year and really feel I had fewer slug problems.

I also plant my clematis deeply and on an angle and I'd say this is another thing that works. My two Guernsey Cream clematis are pushing up so much new growth this year I'm having a hard time containing it, and I think it's because of the diagonal planting.

I planted an eggshell and a morning's coffee pot worth of coffee grounds with a rose last year. If it did anything, I couldn't tell ya.

But I can assure you that I've never, ever, massaged an eggplant.

What crazy-sounding things have you done to your plants? And better yet, did it work?

Note from the editor: No eggplants were harmed in the making of this blog.