Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ghetto Cold Frame

I’m a ghetto princess and this is my ghetto cold frame. It’s comprised of the top of an industrial waste container (unused) and an old window. My neighbor donated the container top and I bought the window at Building Value. While I doubt the plastic and glass have much in the way of insulating properties, they do keep the frost off, which is all a cold frame really must do this time of year.

Stay tuned to learn how I use it this winter.

*By the way, the cat in the photo is for scale only. Gratuitous pictures of kitties have been banished to my other blog.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Have Lupine!

I sowed these Russell Hybrid Lupine on 1/7/06. Three weeks later, I have sprouts. Like Bellis perennis, lupines do best in cool conditions.

These are last year's seeds. I wintersowed the first half of the packet last winter. In March, after the seedlings had a few true leaves, I transplanted them into my sun bed. None of them made it through the summer. They fried in the relentless sun and heat. While lupines grow beautifully in my native Pacific Northwest, southern Ohio is a bit too warm and humid for them. I'll be planting this year's lupine seedlings out in part shade and hoping for the best.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Winter Sowing 2006 - Jan update

I’m itching for spring. Besides obsessively checking my bulbs, I’ve been regularly twisting off the caps of my winter sown containers to peek inside. I was rewarded this weekend with a bit o’ green in one milk jug. My Bellis perennis, English daisy, seeds have sprouted. It is only January, but I refuse to worry about them weathering the winter. I believe Bellis perennis prefer cool temperatures, so no harm should come to them. If they get too big for their britches (or their milk jug), I can transplant them to small pots and shelter them in my ghetto coldframe.

So far, I’ve got 35-ish containers winter sown. They all contain varying amount of seed. For example, I think I’ve sprinkled 50 microscopic Astilbe seeds in one milk jug and planted a total of three (hefty) spicebush seeds in another. I have many more seeds to sow – but I’m out of containers! I’m doing my best to generate/beg/steal additional jugs and bottles. I’ve been baking cookies and cakes to persuade Mike to drink more milk. I’m guzzling diet soda out of 2-liter bottles. My coworkers have been ordered to bring me their containers from home. To make up for my shortfall, I may even have to do a little dumpster diving on Thursday night. (I’m a little put off by the thought of taking used food and drink containers from my neighbors’ trash. It seems to be so much more humiliating than simply swiping newspaper.)

My primary motivation for growing plants from seed is the price per plant. I have a lot of grass to kill and garden space to fill. Any extras can be traded or given away. Growing from seed is a slow process, though, and I don’t expect most of the plants to bloom until summer 2007 – when we will likely be moving. Instead of mourning the future loss of my green babies, I think instead on my second favorite reason for growing from seed: the magic of seeing life emerge from a seemingly dead shell.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Garden Boondoggle

This time of year, if you’ve ever ordered from even one gardening catalog, you’ll find your mailbox overflowing with colorful plant photos and slick copy. I was thrilled to find a luridly bright Inter-State Nurseries catalog in the mail pile last night. However, as I began leafing through it, I immediately had a sense of something not quite right. First of all, the paper was of a lesser quality than the usual glossy stock. The plant descriptions used words like “amazing,” “enormous” and “gorgeous” a few too many times. The copy neglected to mention light or moisture requirements. Finally, the prices were truly too good to believe (1 cent plants). I kept the catalog (hope springs eternal?), but suspected that the company was not actually reputable.

This morning, with the help of Garden Watchdog, I confirmed my suspicions. Inter-State Nurseries has a 94% NEGATIVE rating. The reviews are almost all horror stories of dead (or never received) plants and uncooperative customer service agents. True, six percent of the reviewers had a neutral or positive experience and unsatisfied customers are more likely to leave a rating, but I’d rather not take that gamble.

I’ve done some stupid things gardening (pruning my new Nikko Blue hydrangea to the ground, for instance), but, thanks to Garden Watchdog, I won’t be swindled by disreputable plant merchants. After I cut some pictures out of the catalog, I’ll use it to start my next fire. *sigh* I really was excited by those 1 cent plants...

*By the way, companies like this often operate under multiple names, so be sure to do your research.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Early Muscari

Don and Old Roses have both reported seeing snowdrops in January this year. Jealous of their early spring, I inspected my bulb plantings on our recent, gloriously sunny holiday. I have no snowdrops but it looks as if the muscari and dutch iris are popping their heads up above ground. The planting locations are in full sun and protected with layers of straw and leaves, so the ground there is probably warmer than the rest of the yard. I just hope a big freeze doesn’t come along and destroy my spring blooms!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Year, New Garden Journal

I’ve never been one to keep a diary (my unedited self embarrasses even me), but I made faithful entries in my garden journal last season. I eagerly filled in the “What’s Blooming?” section each week, feeling a sense of satisfaction as the list lengthened due to the warming weather and the many plants I purchased. I kept a daily log of my gardening activities. I paperclipped plant tags to the blank winter section to remind me of bloom appearance and plant requirements. I tucked receipts, guaranties, and general planting instructions between the pages as well. Although the spiral binding was accommodating, I overstuffed the journal until the cover simply could not lay flat. I was relieved to put aside the 2005 journal as we rang in the new year.

For 2006, I bought a 3-ring, binder-style, garden journal from Amazon. I was a little disappointed when it arrived – I could have assembled something very similar with my own binder, dividers, and sheet protectors. (Lesson learned for next year!) I do like the author’s idea of devoting an entire page to each plant, complete with photo, history, and performance notes. For subjects not covered by the ready-made pages, I purchased card stock, punched three holes along the margin, and created my own page. I've been luxuriating in all the free space and opportunities to glue pictures from catalogs, magazines, and calendars on the lovely, blank sheets. I’m both dreading and eagerly anticipating the pages becoming cramped and densely covered in notes. While a fresh slate is a beautiful thing, I also enjoy curling up with a filled journal and reliving the past summer as snow swirls past the windows.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cat Garden

Kitties and gardens are a lovely pairing (except when they use your soil as the litterbox). I adore being surrounded by my wee furry beasties as I putter amongst the flowers. The cats enjoy the garden as well. Tibbs attacks gladiolas, Zoro bats bulbs, and all the kitties love to hide in the “underbrush.” Last year, I grew catnip for them in a pot and this year I plan on edging my rose bed in catmint. If I was truly devoted, though, I suppose I would plant an entire garden devoted to my feline friends, like the garden at TLC, a cat shelter in Ann Arbor, MI.

For all of you cat-loving gardeners, I’ve borrowed this list of kitty-friendly plants from the TLC website:

Cat Garden Plants (hardy to zone 5 and requiring full sun, unless otherwise noted)

  • Alyssum (lobularia alyssum or lobularia maritima "Easter bonnet mix lavender")
  • Baby's breath (gypsophila paniculata "pink" and "Bristol fairy")
  • Barley grass, organic (hordeum vulgare)
  • Blue fescue grass (festuca glauca)
  • Calamint or lesser catmint (calamintha nepeta)
  • Cast iron plant (aspidistra elatior) - zone 8 tropical plant; houseplant only or bring indoors in winter.
  • Cat mint (nepeta x faassenii "Walker's Low")
  • Cat nip (nepeta cataria)
  • Cat thyme (teucrium marum)
  • Creeping (trailing) rosemary Santa Barbara (rosmarinus officinalis lavandulaceous).
  • Creeping thyme, red (thymus serpyllum coccineus)
  • Flax (linum usitatissimum)
  • Heather (calluna vulgaris "Kerstin").
  • Jacob's ladder (polemonium caeruleum) - needs shade
  • Lamb's ears (stachys byzantina; one "Helen Von Stein" two "silver carpet")
  • Lemon grass (cymbopogon citratus) - zone 7; bring indoors in winter.
  • Liriope (liriope muscari) - zone 6; will need protected area or bring indoors in winter.
  • Miscanthis grass (miscanthus sinensis)
  • Pennyroyal (mentha pulegium) - is a mint, will spread.
  • Purple fountain grass (pennisetum setaceum)
  • Organic wheat, oat, and rye grass (agropyron, avena, and lolium respectively)
  • Silver vine (actinidia polygama)
  • Striped ribbon grass (phalaris arundinacea), can be invasive
  • Sweetgrass (hierochloe odorata)
  • Tufted sedge (carex elata "Bolwes golden"), needs shade
  • Valerian (valeriana officianalis)

More on TLC’s cat garden.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ugly Paws

My mother has lovely hands, with long tapered fingers and narrow nails, but mine show no family resemblance. My hands are ugly, fat, and short. Years of piano playing did nothing to lengthen my stubby digits. My short, wide nailbeds make my fingers look even shorter. Growing my nails long does not help because they grow out in an unattractive fan shape, requiring constant filing upkeep.

I don’t dress up my crab-like hands. I avoid rings (except my wedding ring) because they only accentuate the squatness of my fingers. Bracelets are similarly outlawed. My wrists are slender, but the jewelry draws unnecessary attention to my ungraceful paws. Careful manicures, while they do elongate my fingers, are too much upkeep. I discarded them when I began swimming regularly and continued to eschew them through my time in the military and now as a handywoman/gardener.

We tend to take very little care of the things we dislike. I find that is true of my hands. They are covered in scratches, as a result of me playing “paws” (or “claws”) with the kitties. My nails are raggedly cut short and my overactive cuticles are creeping toward their tips. You won’t find me slathering Crème de la Mer on my hands, but some lotion is necessary. I’m a compulsive hand washer and the antibacterial soap at my workplace is quite drying. I use cheap, but nicely scented lotion, to take the edge off of handling paper with sere fingers. Come winter, though, my hands need more than the usual perfunctory care.

Growing up in the humid PNW, I had no concept of dry winter air. My first winter in Virginia, at officer boot camp, was shockingly dry and cold. Constant exposure to the dry air and no time for pampering dried and cracked my cuticles. They bled each time I performed rifle manual, causing even my hardened sergeant instructors to grimace in disgust. My mother (she of the beautiful hands) sent me Neutrogena Hand Cream and cotton gloves to sleep in. My hands were saved.

This winter, my hands again show signs of the season’s mercilessly dry air. My cuticles are not affected this time. Instead, my knuckles reddened, cracked, and became sensitive to the point where it pained me to reach into my bag to grab my keys. I shopped for the Neutrogena lotion but it had sold out. Reluctant to purchase anything new, I went through the arsenal of half-empty tubes and samples in my bathroom. My hands were greasy and smelled nice, but my knuckles only became more raw. At last, I was desperate enough to buy a new product. This is what I impulsively bought:

This is simply a miracle balm. My knuckles were healed after two applications. I now put it on each morning before pulling on my gloves and leaving the house and each night before bed. (I use my cheapo lotions during the day at work.) I no longer cringe when I reach into my purse or dry my hands with rough paper towels. The balm is intended for use before and after gardening, but I now find it indispensable for the winter as well. My hands may be graceless, but they don’t hurt.

I’ll give you an updated review this summer on how well it protects against the ravages of clay dirt.

(If the picture does not display, the product is Lemon Tea Tree Gardeners Hand Balm, by Simple Scents Australia.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

White Flowers

I cannot abide foul smells. One of the reasons I chose not to consider medical school was the strong possibility of being exposed to bad odors. I’ve been known to gag while changing a diaper or scooping the litter box. I automatically hold my breath when passing roadkill. Blood and gore doesn’t bother me; stinks do.

As strong as my feelings are for bad smells, I adore fair scents even more keenly. I’m one of those people with a Glade Plug-in in the basement, a Febreze Scentstories on the main level, and scented candles in every room but the kitchen. When I clean the house, I light a candle in each room after I’ve finished, to sort of mark my progress. However, these imitation scents cannot compare to the real thing.

My favorite smell is that of garlic frying in butter, but I wouldn’t like it to perfume my house or person. A close second to garlic is the group of scents classified as “white flowers” by perfumers: narcissus, lily, tuberose, gardenia, magnolia, jasmine. In Okinawa, I sought out a mysterious white flower from an old flower seller that would drench my barracks room with a heavy, sweet perfume. This winter, I’ve been scenting the air in my house with a succession of powerfully fragrant white flowers.

It began with paperwhites and continued with an Oriental lily I purchased at Kroger. Then, I ordered tuberose from rareflora.com. One of them was preparing to bloom when it arrived. Despite the kitties munching on the (mildly toxic) leaves, the buds opened a week ago with the most intoxicating scent. I finally had to clip the flower stalk (because of the cat abuse) and place it in a vase near the phone. In the evening, I catch enticing wisps of fragrance from the next room.

My second batch of paperwhites has just begun to bloom. I have freesias started in the basement and hyacinths cooling in the garage. I should pot up the last of the paperwhite bulbs this week for February flowers. The second tuberose is also preparing to flower (no thanks to the kitties’ unkind treatment).

For anyone with a love of heavy, sweet, floral scents, I recommend treating yourself to the real thing this winter. Candles, gels, and scent disks will get you through the rough spots, but the smell of a genuine flower is unique. If I could afford it, I’d buy a bouquet of lilies for my office each week. *sigh* I’ll just have to wait until I get home this evening to sniff my white flowers.