Sunday, June 29, 2008

Garden Greens

Not much in the way of combinations to wow you, or technologically-advanced slide shows, this is a random pick of some of my favorite foliage in our shade/part-sun garden. Some I took the time to name, some are just pictures. Many, most, or all you may recognize.

Shirl, of Shirl's Gardenwatch, was getting the word out on a great idea, when I read her post encouraging garden bloggers to participate in a garden-bloggers foliage event. It seems Emma Townshend at A Nice Green Leaf has invited us to, on June 30th, "put up pictures of your best foliage combinations, wow us with your giantest leaf, or delight us with a technologically advanced slideshow showing the general verdancy of your plot. . ."

Here's my contribution to what I think is a fabulous idea. Foliage is king in our garden.
Silver maples - three mature ones assure a dry, mostly-shady gardening environment under their canopies. Silver maples are messy trees and they drop tons of helicopters that sprout baby maple trees everywhere. I dislike silver maples, but I wouldn't trade their cool shade and the birds that perch and nest in them. I've been learning to cooperate with these large, mature trees and their shallow roots for the past four years. This is a young garden, growing slowly in it's challenging environment. Foliage texture, color, and shape rather than flowers, are the primary players in this garden. These are some of my favorites.

heuchera 'caramel'

ivy in a hanging basket

dill, cilantro, green and purple basil, and parsley started in an Aerogarden and transplanted into a container.

elephant ear - the largest leaf in our garden by far.

celandine poppy



one of the mystery hostas

Viburnums have such a wide variety of leaf colors and shapes.


Rozanne, object of my affection

variagated angel's trumpet. huge leaves, graceful form, beautiful whether blooming or not. After the green elephant ears, this angel's trumpet has the 2nd largest leaves in my shady garden. At present, this is my favorite plant. I have a cutting from it as well, shorter, but with foliage as large and beautiful. And a sucker, but that one's plain green. Big leaves though, so far. There's a story to tell of my introduction to angel's trumpet - devil's trumpet as well. I'll get to that sometime. Oh, did I mention, I love this plant! Mother and children survived over the winter under my nifty sodium grow light, and have taken off since coming outside and being placed in the oh-so-calculatingly carefully determined officially most sunny spots in our garden. So far no buds. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Will You Be My Friend?

I heard some rustling in the mulch a few days ago. When I checked it out, here's what I found - this little toad visiting my drugstore turtles.

It looks like the turtles are checking him out, deciding amongst themselves whether or not to befriend him.

Toads can eat 50-100 slugs and other pests a night. I was happy to see him out there again early this morning.

I hope he's hungry, and I wouldn't mind if he brought a couple of friends over for dinner.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Taking off

It's been a slow start getting hanging baskets and containers going this spring due to our frigid May and working six and seven days a week. I just had the luxury of taking off for an actual weekend though, and took advantage of it by working in my own garden, of course.

Now that the weather has warmed, plants overwintered in the basement are taking off. This elephant ear just unfurled two new leaves, the first since being repotted and coming outside. I'm sure the organic fertilizer I used a couple of weeks ago didn't hurt.

Ah, weekends! I remember those!

I hope you all had a great weekend too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Garden of Dreams - Part II

This is a shot of the corn, damaged by a bad storm, and is the only picture we have of our huge vegetable garden. Behind the corn, you can see the honeysuckle bushes that made forts, houses, and secret hideaways when it was too hot to work in the garden. We cooked up all sorts of big fun in the cool, dark shade we found when crawling underneath them while exploring the nooks and crannies of our new home.

The photo with Part I of this story is a shot from Mom's garden in a new century. Now a great-grandma, she's still gardening big. She and her husband still grow a humongous vegetable garden every year. In fact they have not one, but two gardens. They grow about everything you can grow in a garden, and preserve the surplus, which lasts them until the next year's garden harvest. If you visit them in garden season, you'll get to enjoy the garden's bounty too, and even bring some wonderful veggies home with you. At Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, you're likely to get a care package of potatoes and life-changing garlic. (Life changing because I promise you've never had such wonderful garlic in your life, the phrase was coined by my dear husband's close friend whom we shared some with.)

I have no doubt a lifetime of healthy eating, including produce grown in her organic garden, and the good exercise she gets tending it all have contributed to her good health. How many 70-somethings do you know who take no prescription medications? Although Mom doesn't have as much energy as she used to and deals with a chronic back problem, she's one strong, healthy woman. I have no doubt her lifelong passion for organic vegetable gardening contributes to her enviable good health. And it all started a long time ago, back at the crooked little ranch with the huge yard where my parents first fulfilled their dream of gardening and home ownership.

We moved in May, and there was no time to waste getting ready for planting. I don't think we were even fully unpacked before work began on the garden. A compost enclosure was built, and the sod removed from the garden became the first contribution to our compost pile. A rototiller was rented, and the cultivation began. Huge piles of compost were spread evenly over the garden and tilled into the soil. After Dad tilled, we five children were charged with walking up and down and back and forth to break up clods of soil and pick up debris to throw into the compost bin. We all took turns with rakes, smoothing and evening the surface of the soil.

Dad built up sections of the garden into hills for certain plants, and raised rows for others. Mom inoculated peas and left them to soak while dozens of seed packages were torn open and planted in the warm, sweet spring soil. It took days to get the soil prepared and our garden planted.

I pretended I was a young pioneer girl living on the prairie, helping my parents plant the crops our family would need to see us through a harsh prairie winter. Our crooked little owner-built ranch was our rustic cabin (during the winter the plumbing worked about as well as a 19th-century log cabin's plumbing might have.)

We planted corn, beans, melons, squash, eggplant, spinach, beets, onions, chives, peas, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, turnips, potatoes, strawberries, peppers, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. I learned about staking tomatoes, blanching cauliflower, and how wonderful a radish tasted; spicy, fresh, and crisp from the garden after brushing off the dirt. I learned about crop rotation and the hazards of pitchforks. (Someday I'll tell you about my encounter with the wrong end of a pitchfork.) And I learned to love vegetables that used to make me gag.

What do I remember of those days? I remember working on that garden alongside my parents and siblings, the smell of freshly-turned soil, and the excitement of sitting with Mom on winter Saturday afternoons, looking at catalogues with names like Burpee and Jung, and reading Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News while the other girls in the neighborhood were reading teen heart throb magazines and shopping at those huge new air-conditioned shopping centers they called "Malls."

I remember the excitement and wonder as tiny seedlings emerged from peat pots and flats on shelves lit with florescent bulbs and sunlight from the living room window. I remember corn stalks that grew taller than me, and watermelons and cantaloupes and fresh corn on the cob, and I remember that one year the corn all got ruined by smut. I think I was the first one to find smut, since I was always checking the corn to see if it was ready yet.

I remember how much we looked forward to the first sweet ears of corn, and how disappointed we were to realize our corn would have to come from a farm stand or a grocer that year. I remember thinking smut was a funny name for a corn fungus. I thought smut was those magazines teenage boys hid between their mattresses.

I remember picking heirloom tomatoes from our organic garden decades before and after either were fashionable. I remember with great fondness those days spent with my family in the garden where my mom and I would sometimes stay and keep working into the cool of the evening after everyone else had long since gone on to some more 'exciting' activity.

Since our house was on a corner lot with one side along the main school bus route for our neighborhood, the kids on the bus could see our garden from their seats. I was one of the new kids on the bus and at school, and found myself subject to curiosity and teasing at first. One of the boys on the bus started calling me "Garden Girl," and not in a complimentary way. I dreaded getting on the bus to hear "EEEOOOWWWW, look, there's the garden girl." Soon other boys joined in the teasing, and that was how they 'greeted' me as I boarded the bus for what felt like a very long ride.

Then one day a girl in my fifth-grade class invited me to play jump rope with her group, and later that afternoon, to take a seat with her on the bus. I'd become very shy at school since our move, and while I was happy at home, school became an exercise in enduring stares, curiosity, teasing, and feeling like I didn't fit in. I wanted to move back to our old city neighborhood where all the moms sat out on the front stoops while all the kids played together, fought together, and knew each other almost as well as we knew our own families. The girl who invited me to play became my best friend into high school. Although we don't see each other often enough, I feel a special bond with her and we've remained friends. We had our second babies within weeks of each other, and soon she'll be a grandma for the first time. (I've been one for almost five years.) I've always been grateful to her for being the first to reach out to me in friendship after our move.

The garden became my sanctuary from the first lonely months as the new kid. I've had a number of gardens since then, and to this day the garden remains my favorite retreat and a sanctuary from the often cold, harsh world. It's a place of peace, beauty, and meditation that's sometimes hard to find in the hectic, crazy world we find ourselves.

I was born to play in the dirt. I'm thankful I was born into a family with a long, rich history of playing in the dirt before me. The moms who shopped would not have known quite what to do with this little garden girl geek who would rather stay home and weed the patio flower beds or trim the hedges. I still don't like to shop, and I'd still rather be in the garden than just about anywhere else.

Monday, June 16, 2008

GBBD June 2008

A day late, but better late than never, right?

This fuschia was overwintered in my basement. It's just starting to bud now that it's outside.

perennial foxglove

blue torenia. Bees adore these.

Dragonwing begonia - it was blooming profusely, but was too leggy when I brought it home. I pinched it, and it's just beginning to bud again.

Heliotrope. One of my favorite annuals. The blooms are larger in full sun, but they still bloom in part sun too. The flowers are very long-lasting. This fragrant, old-fashioned annual is easy to start from cuttings. This one was overwintered in the basement.

double impatiens. I pinched these too, and the buds are just starting to open now (finally!)

impatiens spilling out of a broken pot. This pot broke perfectly for this. It's got a large v-shaped piece missing on the side. I picked it from the garbage at the nursery where I work.

Daylily Happy Returns

Rozanne Geranium, starts blooming in late May and blooms until October. It's 2008 Perennial of the Year. My favorite geranium, and one of my favorite blooming plants for part sun. I killed both of mine last year trying to divide them. I bought four more this year, and they're just starting to bloom now. Needless to say, I won't be dividing them.

Lamium. Love the foliage, blooms beautifully in the shade.

Lamium close up.

Down the primrose path. Um, well, down the impatiens path actually. These shots were all taken in the morning sun. Could have been better photos if I'd gotten out there earlier when it was still shady.

Columbine Cardinal. Columbines are one of my favorite flowers.

Cardinal again? Well, it was last year. This year it decided it wanted to be white. At least now the blooms look normal. The first couple of blooms were deformed, and then it righted itself, except that they're still white. That's ok. I like columbines in any color.

Not such a great shot of this pale, pale pink geranium. These were floating on this morning's lovely breeze, and the photos all came out blurry. This was a pass along from a client, and I haven't checked out what variety it is.

Irisene and a pink caladium. With foliage like this, who needs flowers, right?

Thank you Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our Garden of Dreams

When I was ten years old, my family moved from our north-side 2-flat rental unit to a ranch home in the south suburbs, fulfilling our parents' long-time dream of home ownership and a place to plant a vegetable garden. The huge yard, the reasonable price, a low down-payment, and owner-financing were all factors in the decision, following months of house-hunting.

The yard was divided into sections. The flagstone patio was bordered on two sides by the house and garage, on one side by a raised shrub and flower border, and on the other side by a narrow path with a small, rectangular perennial bed on either side. The beds were bordered by miniature picket fencing to protect them from trampling by children and dogs. They were planted with perennials and spring bulbs. I remember roses, peonies, bleeding hearts, hyacinths, and tulips.

I learned you could divide a perennial and make more plants from my mom as she lifted huge clumps of peonies from the cool, dark soil. The apple tree one of my younger brothers planted from a seed was placed in the bed on the right, the sunnier of the two beds. It was planted inside the little fenced bed for protection from trampling feet or a lethal lawnmower attack. Last time I was at the house, after Mom had sold it to my youngest brother, the apple tree was still there.

Following the short path between the perennial beds, you entered the heavily wooded side of our yard where we played and romped with our dogs. Left of the patio there was a privet hedge that ran almost the length of the yard except for two paths, one in the middle and one on the side closest to the patio. The privet hedge divided the wooded section from the sunny, open, treeless section of lawn. The sunny side of the yard was bordered by a bridal wreath and honeysuckle hedge that provided fruit for the birds, privacy for our yard, and a cool, shady, secret spot for daydreaming and play. The wooded side of our yard was already an over-sized lot. The other side was narrower. It was, an open, sunny field where my parents would plant the garden of their dreams.

It was an excellent setup for a family with five young, active children. The garden was sheltered and protected from stray softballs and clumsy puppy paws by one of several privet hedges in our yard. It wouldn't be long before this ten-year-old garden girl geek was asking her parents to please, please let her use those brand new electric hedge trimmers to cut the privets. Legitimately concerned for my safety, they were reluctant. Finally after much begging and promises to be careful, I was given a chance with careful monitoring. Soon buzzing the hedges became one of my favorite hobbies. I loved the challenge of shaping them as evenly and prettily as possible. No one had to tell or ask me to do that job. I was happy to trim the hedges even if they didn't need any trimming. It was here in my childhood home where my lifelong passion for gardening was born.

to be continued . . .

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Turtles and Stuff

When I was 4 years old, we had a box turtle who lived in a turkey roasting pan. He was our only pet, and he became quite used to us. Our mom taught us to be very gentle with the turtle. I remember he liked to have his head petted. Pet turtles aren't so common these days for a number of reasons. I remember Mom made us wash our hands after we held the turtle.

Back then though, no one batted an eye and turtles were common in pet stores. One day my older brother decided it might be fun to play with matches while we were playing on my bed. The turtle was on my bed with us. My brother actually did start my mattress on fire. Fortunately Mom checked on us before things got out of control. I remember her throwing a kettle of water on the fire and putting it out. No one was hurt, not even the turtle. (I did get a new mattress though!) I remember feeding raw hamburger meat to the turtle. I'm sure he had a name, but I don't remember what it was.

About the same time, I had a book called The Lonely Little Turtle, or maybe it was The Pokey Little Turtle. That was my favorite book for a couple of years, and the first one I wanted to read by myself after I learned to read with Dick and Jane. I wish I still had that book. It was a green (what other color would do?) hardcover book with what to my four-year-old eyes were beautiful illustrations. I've checked used book stores and I've searched the internet looking for a copy somewhere. It was about a boy turtle who was lonely and looking for a friend. He traveled all over, and made friends with a lot of animals in the forest. But even with all his new friends, he was still lonely. Then one day he meets a girl turtle. I remember she had long, curly eyelashes. The lonely turtle falls in love with the girl turtle, and he isn't lonely anymore.

When I saw these little turtles at Walgreens 2 for $3.00, they reminded me of our pet turtle and of my long-lost turtle book, and of happily ever after. Since I haven't been able to find the book, I decided the Walgreens turtles would do. I think the garden fairies like these turtles.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Iris Blooming in the Shade Garden

Last year we bought a new hose reel, with an extension so the hose can be located at the side of the garden instead of against the house where we had to drag it around a corner and through the patio. It's much easier to access it now for both lawn and garden use, and it's one of those reels that rewinds the hose automatically, sparing us from having to hand-crank the reel, not my favorite task! We can get to the hose from either the lawn or the garden side. I moved a large hosta so we can walk through that narrow part of the garden to the hose. Since then, I've been keeping my eye out for some nice stepping stones - only two were needed. I couldn't find anything I liked. I found cutesy, and I found plain. I knew I'd know them when I saw them, I just wasn't seeing them. I thought about making my own, but still had my eye out for the perfect stepping stones every time I visited a garden center, big box, or anyplace that seemed likely to sell stepping stones or stepping stone kits.

A couple of weeks ago I found what I was looking for at work. We don't usually carry stepping stones. I didn't know where these beauties came from, how much they cost, or whether they were even for sale. I just knew I HAD to have them!

These pretty stepping stones were made by one of my co-workers. She's a stained-glass artist. Didn't she find a beautiful way to use her glass remnants?

I never thought I'd get Iris to bloom in my shade garden. Not only does Iris now bloom in my garden, it will even bloom in the snow. In fact, these Iris will bloom twelve months a year! I'm thrilled!

. . . and the helicopters continue to fall . . .