Friday, August 27, 2010

Winston's new trick

This post has nothing to do with gardening but instead my dog Winston. He has learned a new trick and my mother was unable to see the movie I took of him in the email I sent her earlier for some technical reason. The trick is my 12-year-old dog catching a dog biscuit off the top of his nose. So Mom – this is for you!

Close – but no cigars:

Yes! The catch!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Birds and Grapes

Concord grapes

I love having birds to watch in my backyard just outside my kitchen window. I have all the things that attract them to the area – birdfeeders, including a suet feeder and two birdbaths. Yesterday it was close to 100° out and I had the joy of watching four birds splashing around at once in the large birdbath. An amazing sight! I have found though that birds love grapes as much as we do and I have pretty much surrendered our grapes to them after finding for years that there isn't much you can do to save the fruit from our feathered friends. I tried netting the grape vines to keep the birds out and it was just a mess and not very attractive visually.

Perfect form. Notice the clipped end on the vine here. To keep the vines from covering the house and orderly, I cut them back twice in the growing season.

Surprisingly, this year we have quite a bunch of grapes that the birds have left for us. Last night I clipped a few and they were really tasty. They really have that flavor of the sugary sweet Welch's grape juice. Most however, still have some ripening left to do. Hopefully, we can get to them before the birds do.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Long lost idea

Last weekend, I was knocking around in the yard and went into the garage to find my clippers to cut some hydrangeas blooms (look for this blog posting later – as promised). I saw a True Value paper bag on a shelf and wondered what in the world could be in it.

When I opened it I thought, "Oh, yeah – I remember this idea!" The thought occurred one weekend last year – a little later in the summer than now – and it had come full circle. It was finally time for me to reap the benefits of this gardening time capsule.

In 2009, I had the mother of all green bean varieties. I don't remember its name though which isn't too surprising. I usually just buy the seeds, plant and water and throw away the empty packet. I don't label the row where it is planted or keep a detailed gardening journal like I wish I did.

Anyways, the seeds produced a ton of green beans. I don't mean, say over the course of its season in the veggie garden, but instead referring to each plant. I remember going out and picking green beans one Saturday and getting fifteen pods per plant! A mother load by my standards. And they kept producing after that picking!

So, just before cold weather set in last year, I decided to pick a few green beans and let them dry whole for another year of a bumper crop of beans and of course completely forgot about sticking them in the paper bag. Out of sight (in the garage), out of mind (on to the next household project). Finding them was great though and it couldn't have come at a better time because I just harvested my red potatoes, leaving two rows of nothingness.

Shelled "green" beans ready for planting.

This Sunday I will be planting the dried white beans to see if the most telling aspect of this plan works – a sprout emerging from the soil in about a week's time! Stay tuned ...

Addendum: Of the 30 or so seeds planted, only one came up! I supplemented the rows with the "Kentucky Wonder" variety and they are coming up beautifully in the late growing season. I hope to have green beans by the end of September.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The bane of my existence

I have pine trees in my backyard which means pinestraw, pollen, dripping sap and pinecones – lots of pinecones.

The family who lived in this house before us planted three trees along the property line. Apparently, they won the young saplings from a contest decades ago. I am all for planting trees and memorable family outdoor projects. I have planted nearly a dozen of various tree types with my family. But pines are my least favorite of trees because of the mess they leave behind from season to season and because of their tendency to snap in high winds and potentially cause all kinds of property damage.

When we were putting in our patio a couple of years ago, the workers dug into one of trees roots and it eventually died which cost us an arm and a leg to have removed. Another of the original three trees doesn't look very healthy and is loosing its bark at the top. It is relatively small and lumberjack Steve will most likely take care of this one should it perish. But the mother tree which is closet to the house, next to the patio, is fat and healthy. The only good thing about this pine tree is that it does provide morning shade to our house and some pinestraw for mulching, but not too much thankfully.

The bad thing and the bane of my existence it seems is that it drops dozens of the small pinecones on the patio and across the yard. So much so that I have started to leave a bucket out to collect these. The need is there for me to periodically survey the yard on the hunt for these items that hide within our grass so we don't step on one barefoot and especially for the sake of my dog Winston – to prevent him from stepping on one of the prickly cones – ouch!

They are pretty as far as color and overall symmetrical design. They are also pretty annoying.

Up next: My collection of hydrangeas

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Spring is here and some of my favorite plants and trees are blooming – one of them the dogwood tree with a variety of white, pink and red flowers, depending on the species. The tree has a special place in my heart and has always provided me with a sense of renewal after the long, gray winter months.

When I was growing up in Birmingham, I couldn't wait for the dogwoods to flower. We had a few in our yard and then there were those that dotted the woods where my friends and I would ride our bikes and hike to what we called "the river." It was really a creek that fed into the Cahaba River – to us kids, however, it was a river. Anyways, each year, gardening associations would assemble something called the Dogwood Trail – a drive that took you to a selection of homes and landscapes with outstanding specimens of this flowering tree which thrives under the canopy of taller trees, but can do alright in full sun when planted as an ornamental.

As an adult, this tree is really tops due to the colors it offers in this season, similar to how I feel about maples and oaks in the fall. As a child, though, it was sometimes hard to appreciate. When I was about 10 years-old, I remember seeing a dogwood that I wasn't particularity fond of. My family was returning from my father's father's funeral in Cannon's Campground, S.C. when we pulled into our driveway and noticed a small tree had been planted in our front yard. It was a small pink dogwood that Mrs. Green and some other neighbors decided to plant as a memorial to my grandfather.

It was a total surprise to us and a lovely gesture now that I put some thought into it. However, to me and my brothers and sister at the time thought it totally ruined our baseball field, seeing it was planted just beyond the pitcher's mound and beyond the sidewalk which marked the 50 yard line to our football field.

My father was thrilled with the empathy shown with the tree and the thought that this might put an end to his Bermuda grass being trampled. Somehow we managed to still play the games there with our friends, dodging the limbs that seemed to reach out as if to grab us as we rounded second base or sprinted to the neighbor's driveway indicating a touchdown.

As we grew older, this flowering tree became the backdrop to my family's Easter pictures with all of us dressed in our Sunday best church outfits. It was also a tradition of mine to pick one of the flowers and press it in my bible from year to year where it would dry, resembling a cross. Interestingly, two of its petals are longer than the other two. It is no surprise today that I still have dried bits and pieces of the flowers stuck in the binding.

What I find especially nice about the dogwood is that it isn't a compact tree like the blooming pear and cherry trees. These trees' rather dense blooms demands attention, not being able to see through its color ladened shape. The dogwood's branches are less numerous and have more of a horizontal sprawl, providing an airy feel against the spring green backdrop of its surroundings and offering the chance to see other colorful plants.

Living in New Jersey now, I notice that there are a lot more of the pink and red dogwoods. I'm sure it has something to do with the nutrients in the soil or the temperature of the area being more suitable for it. There is a particular standout in a yard on the way to the park that is just beautiful this time of the year. It is a very mature, large tree loaded with vibrant red flowers. Once while on a walk, the home's owner was outside and I was able to ask him the species name – a Cherokee Chief red.

A few years back, my husband and I planted a white dogwood in our backyard. They are very slow growing trees and we are happy for now to see the few flowers it has to offer on its small frame. I was sure to plant it in an area where I can see it from our kitchen window so I can admire what all it has to offer us though the years.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sharing the goods with herb wreaths

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When your garden gives you an abundance of herbs, spilling out of their intended growing spaces, you start to think about projects to make with them. Attempting an herb wreath on this particular warm fall day seemed doable and fun. I had a limited window of time to utilize the offerings of my side garden's bounty with cold weather encroaching upon the growing season and with the crunch of the holidays being right around the corner as well. It was a beautiful day to be in the backyard with my dog, Winston, and seeing what I could concoct with all these herb clippings I had brought there.

I had to move and move fast to make what I was thinking was a great use of something that I had plenty of. Waste not, want not. I couldn't let something that I so loved cooking with in the spring and summer, wither away in the winter months. I consider it a true luxury to be able to dart out of my kitchen while preparing a meal to my side garden to pinch off some basil, lemon thyme, rosemary or sage to complement a meal or wash it down with tea flavored with mint. The aroma of these simple plants are just so great. In the fall, I gather these herbs in bunches and tie them up to dry in my kitchen and later store in air tight containers.

On this particular day, I got to thinking that I had all the materials needed at the house, including the vine from my concord grapes that I would use as the base. This vine grows like crazy and I pretty much bonsai the thing back to keep it in control along our backyard fence. It provides privacy and lots of grapes for the birds. We get some of the fruit, but it is hard to fight the inevitable forces of nature and its creatures. I use some of the pliable, clipped vines for various things around the garden like trellising, but most are bagged and carried away to the dump.

Lemon thyme



So, with all my needed supplies laying before me on my patio table, I started assembling this project. First matter at hand was to tie with wire some thyme which would be the filler of the wreath. The other herbs would be tucked in at various places.

Garden clippers, needle-nose pliers and wire help pull this project together.

A bunch of thyme is tied to the base.

After getting the thyme situated around the base, I then basically tied in bunches of sage and rosemary in areas that complimented the overall look and balance of the wreath. The effort is pretty simple and doesn't take long to have a full wreath after pulling and pushing the herbs into their appropriate spots.

In time, I had two of these completed which I ended up sending down South to my Mom and sister. They both are wonderful cooks and I knew that they would get a kick out of receiving one of these without any notice they were headed their way. It was about to be a busy time for both of them for holiday cooking afterall. Upon opening the box when it arrived in Birmingham, my mother said the smell of the herbs in the box was out of this world as you can imagine.

The completed herb wreath ready for drying.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A blast of color

I did something a little unusual for me this past gardening season. Some would call it being lazy, others though might say that it was thrifty. Then, there are those who would say that what I didn't do was really showing some gardening heart.

Last fall I put out about 10 rather small mum plants, dividing them equally for the beds on the side entrances to the front of the house. They looked great and exhibited a blast of color that only a grouping of these plants can offer. I guess there are other plants that can scream color like these, but in the fall you turn to mums to get you through the last months of outdoor planting.

When it came time for the usual clean-up before spring rebirth in the yard, I noticed that these hardy plants were already budding new growth in my beds that are usually rotated with plantings spring, summer and fall. Well, I just didn't have it in me to pull these viable plants up by the roots and chunk them in the waste heap. They we thriving after all, having survived the harsh Jersey winter months.

So they lingered in the yard through spring and summer. I say lingered because their real show of purpose wouldn't come until at least six months down the road in the fall. Over summer they benefitted from rich soil and mulch, full sun and record rainfall. They grew and grew into rather big, deep green, ball-like shapes that added a rather sculptural sight to the yard – but no flowering or usual colors that I traditionally dedicate there. So the scene was green well into late summer. Panning from left to right, you'd see a collection of large green mums, mature azaleas of matching green tones and then another collection of large green mums of my rather symmetrical gardening layout.

Come October, the show was on. It was as if they were telling me all along, "Wait – you'll see." The months long anticipation was worth the delay for something I had that obviously was too enormous to have been bought off the lot of the local hardware store. The orange coloring was perfect for the month and as you turned onto my street, the blast of color in the yard could be seen from quite a distance. It wasn't something a passerbyer could possibly ignore. It was like - how can you not hear fireworks or notice what the product has to offer like its grand spray of boldness.

The show is almost over now. It was, as it turned out, a limited engagement. The heft of all the blooms weighed down the plant. The color is fading as is the sunlight that fueled its magnificent run out front. I will be pulling these up soon and getting back into the routine of rotating the area with seasonal annuals with limited time in these beds.