Friday, May 30, 2008

Thrive or Die

As my mother before me, as a last resort I occasionally employ the "thrive or die" philosophy of gardening. I have too much to do every day to pamper plants. This pink rose was a Mother's Day gift several years ago. Roses aren't exactly my thing, but at the time I thought it was lovely, in the full blush of nursery hand care. I set it out in a handy empty spot in my garden border, which just happened to be the worst clay in my yard. Needless to say, within a couple of years it was a shadow of its former self, struggling to live and producing a raggedly flower or two each spring. But it just refused to die!

Three years ago, I tired of that. I dug it up, pruned it within an inch of its life, moved it to a spot with better soil, and made sure it had lots of room for air to circulate around it. (My biggest weakness as a gardener is crowding plants. I just want to let ALL the seedlings grow!) And then I threatened it -- thrive or die! And it is thriving!!!

Thanks to Skye for the pictures.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Opening of the Pool

Today marked the official opening of our pool for the summer. On her last day of school for the year, Skye came home and jumped in the pool. She was actually in for about 2 minutes a week ago, but today's 78F was much more pleasant than the colder temps.

The garden is creeping along this week with a minimum of care. Between the 2 inches of rain that fell during the week and a tender nerve in my left foot, the garden has had to function mostly on its own. We did pick 3 strawberries on Monday to top our chocolate pudding. With another large pvc strawberry cage that I assembled that morning with Skye's help, we're actually saving some from the birds, but now we're scheming against the slugs. Skye and I put out two aluminum pie plates with beer yesterday evening. As of this afternoon, we have one drowned slug to report.

Also from the berry front, the last of my six golden Anne raspberries has put out new growth!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bookshelf: Green Thoughts

I picked up Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi this winter at our local public library's used book store (one of my favorite places -- Skye calls it my obsession). I didn't expect to like it once I began reading it, although gardening essay collections are easy for me to lose myself in. After all, it is in alphabetical order -- not a good sign when it comes to essays. First published in 1981, it is a simply delightful collection of gardening essays by a gifted writer and passionate gardener. I've been reading it for pleasure, but I think I'll reread parts of it with a pencil in hand -- for taking notes. Eleanor Perenyi has much wisdom to share, and I take wisdom wherever I find it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peony Genealogy

After weeks of nervous anticipation, I'm happy to announce the arrival of Trafford Bigger, the newest addition to our happy peony family. I purchased TB in the spring of 2005, set it out in the fall of the year in a location it obviously hated, worried over it for more than a year as it limped along, being too puny to bloom in the spring of 2006. In the spring of 2007, the Easter freeze conspired to keep it from blooming once again. I moved it around the corner in the fall of 2007, and it obviously likes its new digs -- it has graced our presence with its very first bloom in the Cottage Garden.

Trafford Bigger joins a lovely family. The matriarch of the family has been with me since 1995 and with my mother since the 1950s. I don't know her name, but her smell brings back memories of carrying flowers to my gradeschool teachers. She also was moved in the fall of 2007 (to make way for the Kitchen Garden) and has been divided into two large plants in the Cottage Garden. Skye took a vaseful to her teacher on the morning after she learned her baby is a little girl.

Trafford's older sister doesn't have a name, either. I think she came off a sale table at Wal-Mart, half dead from lack of care. She is exquisite, with large cream outer petals, the palest pink inner petals, and a bold pink stamen in the center. All three peonies have scents to remember. They will be joined in the fall by Whitecap, which smells just as sweet, but is a burgundy rather than the white her name implies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Battling the Birds

I'm still tearing out the old perennial border to create the new Kitchen Garden, but today I battled the birds.
Monday afternoon found Skye and me cruising the gardens before taking off for her clarinet lesson and finding the first nearly red strawberries of the spring. She dove for the first one she saw, and I was right behind her, telling her not to pick it, that it wasn't really ripe yet. And then I spotted a second nearly ripe one -- with a bird peck in it. "Go ahead and eat it," I told her, "before the birds get it."

Now, I had no plans to battle the birds this year. The strawberries are supposed to be in a keeping year -- just biding their time until the Kitchen Garden is ready for them. I have two beds planned, one for production and one for growing young plants. I did take the time to set the strawberries into a grid so that I could put down landscaping fabric and mulch in my efforts to get the Berry Patch into good shape for the summer. And now I have these beautiful plants with huge berries on them -- totally unplanned, totally unexpected.

I've never done well with strawberries. Weeds. Birds. Bird netting that has a mind of its own. And now I have these beautiful berries that I'm simply not willing to share with the birds.

I came home from work this afternoon, unloaded the groceries, left Skye in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies and Love in his shop working on the lawn mower, and began building strawberry cages. The first one was about 4' by 4' of PVC pipe (from Skye's wonderful stash of various PVC lengths and connections that Love created to allow her to build life-sized projects) and covered with bird netting taped down (and patched) with duct tape. I realized I had created the perfect Redneck (which I can say because of my Redneck heritage) strawberry cage -- PVC AND duct tape in the same creation! Then I took apart two tomato cages that aren't in use, created a mountain-shaped cage, and covered it in more netting. I also made a wire and netting cage for the strawberry plant in Skye's garden (where the sunflowers and cornflowers are beginning to emerge).

Now all my pinking berries are safe in their little cages, and I have plans to create more as the crop continues to ripen. The Berry Patch looks great: as well as the strawberries, the blueberry bushes are loaded and just beginning to purple, and the blackberries are covered with blooms. I had to dig out two small blackberry bushes last week -- orange rust had struck and I wanted to prevent it from spreading. Still, I think we will get our first blackberry cobbler -- made in Mother's cobbler pan that I hauled home from Louisiana last year -- this summer. The raspberries are beginning to set berries on the floricanes of our existing crop. The new crop of red Heritage and gold Anne have sprouted new growth and are looking great. 2008 looks like the Year of the Berry around here! Take a look at Skye's pictures from the Berry Patch a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

2 Bad Days

Donna Schaper says a day without gardening is a bad day. I've had two bad days in a row.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Breaking Promises to Myself

I'm breaking promises to myself, again. Somehow, the plants always seem to lead me astray. Didn't I promise myself: "No new plants until I take care of the ones I have"? I was so earnest. No new plants until the Kitchen Garden was established. All my gardening energy was to focus on that project. And of course, there is the Berry Patch to get in order, and the Cottage Garden to fine tune, and the little trees and bushes from last spring and fall in the Woodlot that need weeding and mulching.

I was doing really good until about three weeks ago. I had been working diligently on the Berry Patch. The work toward the Kitchen Garden was at a standstill for the time, and I really wanted to get the Berry Patch squared off and mulched to make Love's mowing work easier. And that project was coming along very nicely. Landscape fabric was laid and mulched with pine straw around the blueberries, straw around the blackberries and blueberries. The grape vine was pruned to the single stem the berry books advocate for the first year. Posts were driven at four corners of the raspberry bushes and twine installed to keep them corraled. And then a small hole formed in the dike -- I realized that I had never replaced the blueberry bush I ripped out last year after five years of pitiful production. I began to haunt local nurseries, looking for the perfect blueberry bush. I didn't find it.

The hole began to grow. As I worked in the raspberries and strawberries, I began to think about the golden raspberries Skye's best friend had described to me two summers ago. Her aunt's golden raspberries, she declared, were the most wonderful things she had ever eaten. This remark tossed off by a 9-year-old had stayed with me. Then a catalog arrived from Miller's Nursery, advertising a FRUIT SALE. They had great prices on blueberry bushes, and they also featured a golden raspberry called 'Fall Gold.' I was lost. I suddenly had to have golden raspberries. I searched the web for information about golden raspberries recommended for the Ozarks, but found nothing. I called the county extension service (yes, I really do that), and the Master Gardener on duty recommended 'Kiwi Gold.' I decided to look for a local berry plant supplier, and found on a few miles away that carried 'Anne.' The dike burst. I ordered six plants. And six Heritage raspberries. And an Ozark Blue blueberry.

The flood continues. Sunday I ordered a peony to be delivered in October. Today I accepted two irises, a daisy, orange chocolate mint, and a sage new to my garden. So much for no new plants. If it's any consolation, I have given away more plants than I've taken in this spring, so maybe, just maybe, I'll keep my head above water.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gardening 'Til Dark

I usually start putting the gardening tools away and cleaning up when the vapor light outside Love's workshop clicks on. But tonight, I gardened well past the hum and thump of the light. You see, today I bought tomato and pepper plants for the newly tilled Holding Garden, and tomorrow the rains come. So today, I was gardening when I could hardly see. I've yet to garden by truck lights, but I figure that day is coming.

I took a new turn at the Farmer's Coop as I was choosing plants today. First of all, they had no Arkansas Traveler's, no Rutgers, none of my old standbys, unless you count the Sweet 100s. Bought out by the folks who got their acts together on time, I suppose. (Although it was 40F when we awoke this morning, so I'm not that far behind the pack.) And they did have some of the most appealing names. So, I got one pack of Sweet 100s, because Skye thinks that a garden without "squirt" tomatoes is not worth having, and I pretty much agree. And then I chose a half-dozen different vareties to try: Burgundy Traveler, Purple Cherokee, Early Girl, Beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, and Heatwave. Adventures in tomatoes!

Skye got first choice and chose the Early Girl for her mini-garden, plus her must-have Sweet 100. I put in a second Sweet 100 plus the remaining plants. Mentoring the young gardener slowed things down, but it is absolutely worth it! We had time to mulch hers with newpaper and straw before she went inside to start homework, but mine got the quick treatment -- just a cage, a plant marker, a cup of Miracle Grow for Tomatoes, and a shower of water. I'll have lots more weeds than she will, but I wield a mean hoe!

As this is a rebuilding year for me, with all my plans for creating the Kitchen Garden, the Holding Garden will be mostly perennials and bulbs on hold with vegetables along the edge. Thus, this is a mininum garden for me: the 3 absolutely must-haves: tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. In between and beside the tomatoes went the peppers: 6 jalepenos, 2 orange bells, 1 chocolate bell, and 1 fajita bell -- whatever that is. The cucumbers didn't make it tonight. Those I will plant from seed. After my last experience with cucumber bedding plants, I vowed never to do that again!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

It's late in the evening on Mother's Day, and I am a contented sort of tired. Again this year, I asked for no material gifts, but rather time from my family. I had originally requested a day (beginning after church) of family gardening. As the only gardener in the family, it's a real treat for me to have the companionship and help of my husband and daughter. But alas, yesterday's 1/2" of rain and this morning's chilly wind were not promising. So, I came up with an alternate plan: a visit to Chotkowski Peony Farm. Just outside our hometown, Chotkowski's has an incredible array of peonies, and Henry Chotkowski has a great Mother's Day open house each year. We had not been to the Mother's Day open house before. I expected the people, but not the food and the live music and the pleasant turn in the weather. It was a fabulous treat! And buying a lovely and sweet-smelling peony doesn't count as a material gift, does it? Especially if I don't get it until proper peony planting time, in October?

As it turned out, we can home to a garden dry enough to work. I'm still struggling to make the Kitchen Garden a reality. The fence that was coming down last fall is still standing and the beds I had hoped to plant in vegetables have not yet materialized. But, Love has tilled me a temporary holding bed for the perennials that must be moved out before the Bermuda grass can be annihilated and the new beds built. I've moved some of the perennials to the Cottage Garden, but little room is left there. Skye (my daughter, the food snob) and I are sharing the temporary bed -- she has a corner for her own garden. At eleven, this is her first garden. My plan is to hold the plants in my section (with a little room set aside for tomatoes and peppers) until the Kitchen Garden is ready to receive them again. For the first couple of years, the Kitchen Garden will be heavy with flowers until I can enlarge the Cottage Garden to hold them. Then the Kitchen Garden can switch to primarily foodstuffs. And once the perennials are moved out of the temporary holding bed, we will prepare it for an expansion space for the Berry Patch next year (or in two years, if progress is slow).

Thanks to Skye for the pictures she took while we were moving plants yesterday.