Monday, May 26, 2008

I Didn't Kill It!

So far two of seven Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' have emerged. The one that's doing the best is the one I dug up, trimmed roots, and replanted. Yep, the same one a squirrel dug up two days later. It's the bigger of the two that have finally emerged.

The others are either dead or sleeping. I'm tempted to start digging the rest up, one at a time, to inspect and clean the roots, and see if that will jump-start their growth. There were several dead root sections on the one I dug up, and I think it may have appreciated its fresh start more than it suffered from being dug up. twice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nursery in the Cedars

There are two cedar trees on the east side of our patio, frequent home to squirrel's, robin's, sparrow's, and finch's nests. This spring so far, there's a squirrel's nest in one of the cedars, and a robin's nest in the other one. The robins get very aggressive chasing the squirrels when they get too close to their nest. It's entertaining to watch the squirrels being run off by Mom and Pop Robin. We can see the nest from the patio, and even better from our master bathroom window. Yesterday I took these shots from the window, then cropped them so we could see the babies a little better. . .

Mom feeding a worm to her brood.

Babies quietly, patiently waiting for more breakfast! It's amazing to me how small the nest is. Under the three babies you can see in this shot, there are at least two more. It's no wonder baby birds so frequently fall out their nests.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ed and Zelda Stop By For a Visit

Ed and Zelda live at the nursery where I work. There's a creek that runs through the middle and down the north side of the property, and Pop (of Mom & Pop, the owners of the nursery) being a serious bird enthusiast, has a number of bird feeders and a bird bath on the south side of the nursery along a driveway. So Ed and Zelda hang out a lot by the feeders, and enjoy refreshing swims in the creek. After their babies are mobile, they trot them out and show them off to us like the proud parents they are. Ed and Zelda aren't very afraid of us humans, since they're so used to us being around. We can get really close to them and the kids.

We have a drainage swale way in the back of our yard. After a heavy rain, the swale becomes a temporary stream. Now, with the weeping willow tree gone, the swale stays wet longer after a heavy rain than it used to.

Ed and Zelda have always enjoyed stopping by for a visit and a refreshing swim whenever there's water in the swale. I imagine they'll be stopping by even more frequently now that the willow is gone. Of course, once the kids are hatched, they stay closer to home for a few weeks.

Wednesday when I came home for lunch, I found them in our back yard enjoying an early afternoon swim. They'd taken off from the nursery late in the morning, and I was thinking they just might be here when I got home. Since our house is only a little over a mile (as the duck flies,) from the nursery, it only takes them a couple of minutes to fly over here. They were here to greet me when I came home. I don't mind them stopping by when I'm not home - they're like family after all.

A half-hour later when it was time to go back to work, they took off in the direction of the nursery. I wasn't surprised when I got back to work minutes later, to find them hanging out by the bird feeders. I guess they still believe that old wives' tale that you shouldn't swim after a meal or you might get a cramp and drown. So they came by for a swim at my place first, had some of their favorite appetizers fresh from the swale, then flew back over to the nursery for the rest of their lunch. I don't blame them for believing that old wives tale. They really are bird brains though.
It's ok if they're bird brains. We love them just the way they are.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spring Blooms

This morning when I went outside to take pictures for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, there was a coyote in the backyard. I didn't see the coyote until I was out there, and I was so startled, I didn't think about taking a picture before I shooed him away. It's rare I make George stay inside. He goes where I go, but this morning my intuition kicked in, and I told him "No." I'm very thankful I didn't let George come out with me. I know him well enough to know he would have chased the coyote. I suspect the coyote would have run faster than George, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out what might have happened.

Intuition can be a powerful force, and it was in high gear this morning. I learned a long time ago to listen to that little voice inside, and it rarely steers me the wrong way. There have been times I've disregarded intuition and acted on 'logic' instead, resulting in mistakes and regrets. I'm grateful I paid attention to it today.

Anemone Sylvestris

Chocolate Chip Ajuga

Old-fashioned Bleeding Hearts

The first columbine to bloom. And what's up with this??? It's supposed to be Cardinal. It was Cardinal last year. Now it's this oddly-shaped white blob. I hope it straightens itself out and subsequent blooms look like the lovely Cardinal that I planted. If it's decided it wants to be white, I hope the rest of the flowers look better than this one!

Woodland Phlox

Double Impatiens. I just love their rose-like blooms. It's too shady for roses in my garden, but double impatiens thrive and bloom from spring to frost in the morning sun here. It's a little cool to plant them yet, especially since I just bought them home yesterday and they were still in one of the greenhouses, so they haven't been hardened off yet. I left them outside in the sun after I brought them home, and brought them in overnight. When I told George to stay inside, he backed up from the door and trampled one of them, breaking off three stems. Oh well. It will recover. Better to have a damaged plant than a damaged George after a coyote encounter!

Neon Lights Tiarella

Creeping Phlox

Gaelic Magic Pulmonaria, down and dirty. This one was just divided. I guess I could have sprinkled off the soil before I took this shot. Oh well, just keeping it real!

Thank you Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More from the Desert House

Are you getting tired of photos from the conservatory? Is this getting to be like watching someone else's home movies? Well. . . I just love this place, and I hope you'll indulge me as I share yet more photos from my Easter visit with Middle Daughter to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Doesn't Easter seem like such a long time ago?

Yesterday a customer came to the nursery, inspired by her own recent visit to the Conservatory, especially The Show House, looking for azaleas, stock, and hydrangeas. I can relate. I've been eyeing spots in my shade garden to add hydrangeas and azaleas to myself.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hosta Mystery Solved

Last Saturday, I dug some hostas out of a client's lawn. Some time ago, the client decided to downsize her perennial garden. Now three years later, several hostas emerged through the sod for the first time since the garden was downsized. The only hostas that have disappeared in my past gardens were newly-planted ones dug up by squirrels, and those have never come back. I know hostas are sturdy plants, but I didn't know hosta roots could remain dormant and survive so long, re-emerging after several years. Did you?

Remember those mystery hostas I wrote about a couple of weeks ago? After digging and transplanting the lawn hostas into the client's remaining garden beds, I went home and showed our mystery hostas to my dear husband. I know I've never seen them before. I'd remember. The only hostas already here were some pathetic Guacamoles, a pedestrian green with white variegated variety, and Francee. I rescued, moved, and later divided Francee and Guacamole, and ignored the ordinary green and white variegated ones which I didn't like. Most of the green and whites have died off and have been replaced with other more interesting varieties.

Initially there were three mystery hostas, and later, number four emerged. Now there are two of each - solid yellow-green, and yellow with green variegation. I looked at the landscaper's plan for the garden, drawn up for the previous owner at least thirteen years ago. I think the gold and green variegated variety is the Gold Standard listed on the plan. The solid yellow-green variety isn't listed on the plan. Does anyone know what it is? Maybe Yellow Waves? Or Summer Dress?
Here are close-ups are the largest of each of the two varieties. The solid-colored one is bright yellow-green, although in this shot it looks more green. As you can see, the edges are slightly ruffled.

Is this one Gold Standard?

My husband recognized both of these as hostas planted by the previous owner. They'd disappeared several years ago, getting smaller and smaller each year. When I described them over the phone to his friend, he remembered them too, said he remembered they were planted too close to the sidewalk, and were so big they grew over the walk. He described them perfectly, including their location.

I never knew hostas could live underground with no top growth for so many years. Maybe the pine bark mulch has finally broken down enough that their crowns are no longer smothered? I'm still shaking my head over these little beauties. I'm also delighted since they're so pretty, and unlike any of the other hostas we have in our garden. Now that they've suddenly reappeared, I hope they continue to come up and grow bigger each year until one day they'll again be large enough to spill over the sidewalk. By then I'll have found them new homes. For now I think I'll leave them alone and let them grow where they decided to emerge. I'm still amazed they came back after all this time. And I find myself wondering what other surprises may be lurking under the pine bark mulch in our garden.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Busy, busy, busy!

My gardening business is taking off! Oh my goodness! I'm tired, and feel like I barely have time to breathe. It's a good thing Sunday is Mother's Day. Otherwise, I'd be working 7 days this week. Working three days a week at the nursery, two days with a fellow gardener, and evenings and weekends for my own clients means something's going to have to give, and soon. I've committed to the gardener I'm working with to keep up the schedule for the next two weeks. After that, I'll need to cut down my hours with her so I can focus on my own clients and get some rest.

So please forgive me if my posting and blog-reading gets behind. Besides my own garden, blogging will probably be a bit neglected in the next few weeks.

I'm wondering when I'll ever find the time to plant my seedlings, or bring out the containers I overwintered, let alone add fresh plants to them or plant the empty ones. Or start that new bed in the back of the yard where DH gave up a little piece of prime lawn real estate for me to plant. Or work on the front landscape project. (Oh yeah, I haven't had time to post about that, so you probably didn't even know about it.)It's looking less and less likely this will get done this year.

I guess I'm about to be like the plumber whose pipes leak - I'll be the gardener with the neglected garden, too busy caring for other people's gardens to take care of my own. Be careful what you ask for. . .

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm very happy the business is growing. It's confidence-building and confirms what I've been told about the demand for gardeners in this area. The demand is definitely greater than the supply. Even in a weak economy, this gardener's business is blooming.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Our Big Backyard

I wasn't quite sure what my parents saw in the little ranch house. Surely the tri level with the sparkly paint and white carpets in the bedrooms and the freshly-sodded lawn would have been so much better. That's what my 10-year-old self was thinking and trying to convince my parents of that 1967 house-hunting summer. I so wanted sparkly walls in my bedroom.

My parents had another plan. The little ranch had a bigger yard. I mean a huge yard. At least, it was huge through the eyes of this skinny, prepubescent, city-dwelling girl who'd grown up surrounded by two- and three-flats with postage-stamp yards and tiny pesticide-laced kitchen gardens.

This was the moment my parents had been waiting for. This was the fulfillment of their American dream - a home of their own with a back yard where they could grow an organic garden and where their five kids could climb trees, eat mulberries and green apples, play softball with the neighborhood kids, throw sticks for the puppy they'd soon bring home, and help take care of the garden.

They weren't planning any old small-scale backyard raised-bed spot for tomatoes and a few salad greens and peas. No sir, we are talking more like, um, mini farm. without the livestock. (Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, a pet rat, gerbils, goldfish, and even an occasional tarantula don't count as livestock.)

So the yard needed to be big. No new house on a treeless soulless lot in a white bread tri level subdivision with a chain link fence and a yard the size of a postage stamp would do for this family, no sirree! If that's what they were after, they may as well have just bought a house in the city.

They found a place with the perfect yard - lots of trees for shade on the kid side so their fair-haired freckle-faced brood wouldn't get sunburned playing outside in the days before sunscreen. Grandpa, with his horticultural degree and passion for trees had a little orchard on his little farm in the Ozarks. He was proud of his daughter and son-in-law when he came to visit, seeing all the trees my mom had described in her frequent letters back home. They talked pruning, fertilizing, mulching, and how trees were good for the environment, and I could tell my parents were proud of those trees too.

Their pride was infectious, and we kids became proud and awed after moving into our house when one day we decided to count the trees. Forty-six trees in the backyard, I kid you not. Being a city kid, I had never known anyone besides my grandparents who owned that many trees. Some of them were tall and slender and lined the fence and parkway, and others with lush canopies became bases for hundreds of summer softball games where girls and boys played together and no one got harassed by overzealous parents or coaches.

The garden side of the yard, well, that's a whole other post. The garden had a life and a soul of its own. Next time I'll tell you about that.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

No No. . . It's Stunned!

Look Matey, It's not pining for the Fjords. It's not resting. (well, actually it probably is resting.) But it hasn't gone and joined the choir invisible. It's not tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk either. And I think a nice kettle of fish wouldn't have helped a bit. . . (remember Monty Python's Dead Parrot routine?)

Yesterday around 5:30 a.m. I was outside enjoying the morning bird symphony when a loud thunder clap and lightening flash startled me and suddenly silenced the chorus. Moments later this little guy startled me when I saw him sitting very still at the edge of our garden a few feet from the picture window in our den. I think it's a hermit thrush, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

I got down close and could see the poor little thing was in distress. His right eye was closed and his right leg seemed to be semi-paralyzed. I picked him up to see if his leg might be broken. It wasn't, but it was weak. He was kind of floppy on his right side and couldn't perch on my finger. I wasn't sure what was wrong, didn't want to intervene too much, at least not at first, but didn't want to leave him in distress, defenseless, unable to fly, and soaked to the bone in the impending thunderstorm. So I grabbed a gallon nursery pot, turned it on its side, put a little mulch and some leaves in it, and gently put the little thrush into his makeshift shelter where he stayed, waited out the brief cloudburst, and recovered.
Before I left for the nursery, I went back outside to check on him. The sound of the storm door startled him. Thankfully he'd recovered from what I later realized was a tough encounter with the den window, and off he flew from his storm shelter into the mulberry tree way back in the corner of our yard, where he landed and perched effortlessly. Later, after work I showed my husband the pictures and told him what had happened. He confirmed my theory that the little thrush had flown into the picture window. He'd seen the evidence earlier in the day as he was enjoying his mini-vacation from the daily grind:I just love a happy ending. I'm so glad this little guy was able to take off, and I hope he'll fare well following his painful encounter with our window.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Is It Cheating?

This is our 40-year-old Bradford Pear. Isn't it gorgeous? It's so beautiful when it's blooming, and the glossy leaves are lovely all summer. In the fall, it turns bright shades of apricot, red, yellow, and burgundy, and holds onto its colorful leaves late into the fall, sometimes even into early winter. This photograph was enhanced - I adjusted the contrast since the blooms hardly even showed up at all in the undoctored original. Forget about trying to capture the blossoms on a sunny day regardless of any photoshop enhancements. They show up just fine through my naked eye, whether it's cloudy or sunny, just not so great either way through the lens of my camera. I also got close on purpose so you can't really tell just how gangly this tree really is. Bradford Pears do not retain their lovely youthful shape as they get old.

There are several other even worse examples in our 40-year-old subdivision of just how un-graceful this tree becomes with age. No, it's not horrible, but this is how this tree really looks at the top - nothing like a shapely 10 year old, is it? It's not cheating to post the above picture on my blog since I'm also showing you the unadorned reality of it's gangly shape, right? But what if I didn't tell you I enhanced the contrast and what if I let you think this tree was less awkward-looking than it really is? What if I didn't want the slantiness of this tree to become the focus of my photo? What if I just wanted to share the loveliness of this blossoming tree? What if I told you Bradford Pears don't age gracefully but still didn't show the stark reality?

There's a thought-provoking post on My Skinny Garden today about enhancing or altering blog photos. My comment became a post, as I didn't want to monopolize so much space in the comment section. I do have a tendency to go on and on (in case you haven't noticed by now.) If you don't believe me, just ask my dear husband!

I make an effort not to be too controversial on my blog, and I hope no one is offended by what I have to say on this subject.

The way I see it, photography is an art. There are all different skill levels, as in any other art.

Artists throughout the ages have captured images in oils, water colors, stone, clay, and countless other mediums. Sometimes the rendition is true to the actual object being captured in the medium. On the other hand, many, if not most artists take many 'liberties' in interpreting what they see. That's what makes it art, at least to me.

I happen to have a pretty nice digital camera with many optional settings. It works much like a traditional 35 mm, only with even more possible settings. There are also different lenses I can purchase, although I have only the standard one that came with the camera.

I haven't taken the time to learn how to take the best advantage of the camera, and even my old 35 mm is an automatic. I consider my photography skills to be very basic. I wouldn't consider a photographer with a camera like mine who knows how to use it properly and can afford all the optional lenses to be cheating because they have advanced equipment and skills which enable them to capture their plants and gardens as they see them or as they would like to see them.

Is it cheating to cut out less attractive parts of the garden, or undeveloped parts of the garden? Is it cheating to preen a plant before taking pictures of it? Is it cheating to use optional lenses or make aperture, focus, zoom, or macro adjustments?

Any improvements I make to my photos are with the aim of improving my photos which aren't usually very good given my very basic photography skills. I often get the lighting wrong. Things come out blurry and are centered wrong. I don't try to make the garden or my plants look different than what they actually are. To the contrary, my photos usually pale in comparison to the subject and I do my best to bring the photos up to snuff to do justice to what I was photographing.

Photographing plants can be quite challenging and is an art unto itself. I prefer not to judge the art of others. I don't view blog photos with questions in my mind of what enhancements may or may not have been done. It's not my intention to judge others' opinions. We all have the right to choose our own criterion. As for me, I enjoy good art and good photography, and am not offended by enhancements, don't choose which enhancements by others I think are ok and which are cheating. For me to do so, I feel would be somewhat subjective and arbitrary.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Overwintering. . .

. . . and looking forward to getting them all back out in the fresh air and sunshine! Last fall I bought a nice sodium grow light fixture and installed it in our basement. I've used it for overwintering, and for propagating.

Although it wasn't cheap, it wasn't as costly as building and heating a greenhouse, and over time I believe the light will pay for itself. I've overwintered plants in sunny windows before, but last year there were just too many for that, and I was concerned for our hardwood floors with all the watering I'd have to do.

With my new toy, I've also got a great spot for starting seeds. I'm having fun with that too. This spring I've started columbine, candytuft, purple coneflowers, johnny jump-ups, and cilantro. Next year I'll start some impatiens instead of buying flats. I was never a big fan of impatiens until living here. With all this shade, they add some needed color. I couldn't find the colors I wanted in seeds this year, and it was too late to mail order them by the time I decided I wanted to start seedlings.

A few weeks ago I took some small divisions from a few things, particularly heucheras, , put them in pots, and put them under the light to give them a jump start on spring. By the time I'm ready to plant them outside, they should have enough roots to keep them anchored in the ground so the evil yard monkeys can't dig them up and carry them away (I hope!) I also started my caladiums to give them a head start on summer. It will still be several weeks before they go outside.

I have a few tropicals down there besides the caladiums - 2 kinds of elephant ears, two variegated angel's trumpets (one is a cutting from the first,) a gardenia, a datura, and a hibiscus. There are a couple of variegated abutilons (orange flowers,) fuschias, begonias, and a number of things I started from cuttings.

I love going down there to putter: water, preen, start cuttings, prune, fertilize, and even deadhead a little. Having my new grow light has enabled me to satisfy my gardening jones even while I'VE been overwintering. I'm now looking forward to getting everything outside in the next next few weeks.