Saturday, October 31, 2009

The most destructive force against new perennials: Halloween!

I've been anxious about Halloween for many weeks now. When I put in new perennials about 3 years ago, the rotten trick-or-treaters (really I love kids, but I can't help but refer to kids as rotten as it gets closer to Halloween) nearly TRAMPLED my new plants! As you might know, I just put in hundreds of dollars worth of new plants that I'm not about to lose to those rotten kids (see, I swear I didn't even mean to say that!).
My idea worked really well (except for one kid, but it's a fact he's truly rotten).

Though it is the biggest EYESORE I've ever seen in my life, it kept the kids out of the new garden very successfully. The funniest thing is that I got a lot of compliments on the webbing and even had a group of kids come over before it got dark just to "see the decorations".

Well, the spider webbing - which very rarely is done well, and this case is no exception - is coming down immediately tomorrow morning. I hope I find all the big plastic spiders or I will certainly have a heart attack come spring.

Hope you had a fun Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hot chili paste (lot jiu jeung)

This flavorful hot chili paste goes hand in hand with fried Chinese dumplings, with any shrimp or pork dim sum dish, or on top of a bowl of noodles. Here's how I made this simple and delicious condiment:

  1. Over a medium flame, heat about 1/2 cup oil (I used corn).
  2. Add about 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and fry until a light golden brown.
  3. Reduce heat and add about 4 tablespoons of crushed, dried, hot pepper. Stir continuously and turn off flame when fragrant. This process is fairly quick. Watch carefully to be sure the pepper/garlic does not burn.
  4. Add salt to taste.
The type of pepper you use will determine the flavor and heat of your chili paste. My dried cayenne peppers yielded a chili paste that was so manageable that my kids could try just a touch of it. It was also so delicious that we were microwaving hot dogs just to have something to eat with it. Another batch made with my Thai peppers yielded a chili paste that was all heat - to the point of being just painful.

Click here to see how I dried my peppers. If you don't want to delve into this recipe and have some good dim sum restaurants around, try asking for "lot jiu jeung" - the phonetic spelling for "hot chili paste" in Cantonese. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My father's chrysanthemums

These are my father's chrysanthemums taken today. One quick word on these mums - it requires a lot of care to produce these large blooms! Lots of pruning, staking, watering, feeding, protecting from heavy rains, winds, etc. Quite a primadonna of a plant.

You might want to make sure you're seated because 1) there are a LOT of photos and 2) the blooms that follow are spectacular!

If you missed my earlier post on my father's house, you can see his garden, ducks, geese, trees, etc. here. Here's a cool post on hatching ducklings at his house this spring (must see photos in this post!).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tomorrow is garlic planting day

This is my planting stock for the year. In the back are two large Early Reds (medium pungency, and always the biggest bulbs for me). Up front are the Ajo Rojo (a hotter creole garlic with beautiful red-streaked wrappers), and Inchelium (my favorite all-around excellent flavor garlic). I have tried a few other varieties of gourmet garlic as well as elephant garlic (which isn't a true garlic, but a member of the leek family), but these three have yielded the best flavor, and more importantly for me, bulbs of a reasonable size to save! Had to double check the planting requirements, and just as I remembered,
  • Find a spot in full sun. If you have clay soil like I do, dig compost in.
  • Separate cloves carefully (keep wrappers on).
  • Plant 3 inches deep with tip pointing up.
  • Plant each clove 6 inches apart.
  • Mulch with straw or leaves.
  • Weed through the spring and summer.

Come late June of next year, I'll know the garlic is ready to carefully dig up when the outer few leaves start to die back. If I'm lucky, I'll also be able to harvest some scapes (the funny flower stalk looking thing that shoots up near harvest time). Late June, I will dig up each bulb with a garden fork, brush off the dirt being careful not to bruise or cut the garlic, then stagger them and hang to dry. Some people braid their garlic to dry (or for display).

If you're remotely interested by this post and have not tried planting garlic, there's no real excuse not to! Garlic does not take up a lot of room, and you can plant right into your flower beds if you don't keep a vegetable garden. If you do have a vegetable garden and haven't grown garlic, just know this: garlic is ready around the same time your basil, tomatoes, and herbs are. Imagine the possibilities. The taste of the garlic bought in stores (usually elephant garlic) does not even compare to true garlic you can easily grow yourself. The varieties I grow are probably a bit hotter than store bought garlic bite for bite, but definitely much more flavorful. I got my garlic as a gift a few years ago from a forum buddy, and I know there are lots of online sources for garlic. I'm not quite sure where to buy gourmet garlic planting stock around me, perhaps the farmer's market? If anyone knows, please leave a comment so others have a lead. Thanks and happy garlic planting to anyone else who is planting this weekend!

Friday, October 23, 2009

This raccoon has it in for me

What at first glance may look like a cute little bandit hiding at the top of a tree, is actually a probably evil, definitely pesty creature who lurks at the tree tops plotting revenge against me. The photo is very much zoomed in. If it weren't so dark, you'd be able to see his red eyes staring directly at me.

If you look at his eyes, you can practically read his thoughts...

  • "I'm furious that you placed that stone on the trash can lid. I can no longer search for food, leaving my shredded empties all over your side yard like a freshman at a frat party.

  • You think you're so smart for putting a layer of straw over your composted table scraps so I don't smell it and won't dig through it.

  • But the LAST straw was the netting you put over the squash. That squash belongs just as much to me as it does to you. I've always been generous enough to leave you the majority of the squash after I take my few bites. NETTING is what I get for it?!

  • I will NEVER, EVER forget the night I came up to the back door with my 2 buddies in search of Sassy's leftover cat food. You didn't heed my hissing and actually tried to spray me with Windex and Old English. I was not amused.
  • When you least expect it, expect it. I'm going to ravage your salad greens, salivate my rabies germs on your strawberries, and eat every last blossom I can find while you're at work. And in between these acts, I'll be watching you from above, and I know you're scared".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A garden just like mine was in a magazine!

I was taking a cursory flip through the new issue of Garden Gate that arrived today when I saw a garden that looked exactly like the perennial garden I've been working on! I was amazed to find that this garden had the same shape and layout as the one I've drawn out from my own imagination and begun to plant!

As I settled in to more closely read the article - looking for all kinds of confirmation that I'm awesome and that being a landscape architect is my destiny, I realized something that will prevent my dreams from ever coming into fruition. My brilliant garden, shown in the magazine, was the before photo. Following, was a five-page spread titled, "Too Much Going On", describing the ways that my garden probably could and should be improved.

But not to worry, the article warns me. Per the article, I do not need to rip everything out and start over (a good thing, because I just purchased and tucked in LOTS of new plants). I should follow these tips:

  • Pick a core group of five or six plants and stick with it.
  • Repeat colors and textures to make the garden feel unified.
  • Plant in groups of three to five plants to avoid ending up with dots of color here and there.
  • Expand the garden to accommodate two plants side by side instead of a row of single plants (is my husband reading this?)
  • Consider using something like an urn or vertical element to mark the transition from the driveway.

I enjoy the segment "From the Drawing Board" in the magazine because several different variations on the main theme are shown. After reading the article a little more closely, it seems that I am not completely off base. Perhaps I have a little "too much going on", but I have tried to stick to a color scheme, and generally planted in groups of 3. I have also decided to add some vertical elements to this new garden. Not sure if my garden will ever end up in the after photo, but I guess I can start dreaming about being a landscape architect again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I could not be a political commentator...

...because my ego is too fragile.
I've been noticing lots of lawn signs for different local offices recently. Seeing a particular name burned me up because of an experience this summer. I decided to use a local website to vent my frustrations, share my experiences, and lend a warning to others. Here's a link to my post. Be sure to read the comments as well.

Lots of lessons to be learned. First and foremost, I do not have the moxie to be a political commentator. I feel an overall sense of unease about the comments that were posted today. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive. Second lesson, there are lots of wacko losers in this world. There are people who would probably never say to my face sarcastically, "Awwww, poor Wendy", yet in a forum, would have the confidence to be so outright rude. Third lesson, I love my fellow garden bloggers. Here's why:

  • An overall optimism and positivity. The old gardening cliche, "there's always next year".

  • The cheering on of each other. Messages from bloggers who only hope your garden will succeed. That look for the beauty in your garden, and offer sympathy when your seedlings die.

  • An appreciation for differing opinions. I don't always care for all the plants on your blogs, just as I'm sure you don't always care for all the plants on my blog. HOWEVER, I love that YOU love them. I love that even if you don't necessarily care for all of my plants, you still ask questions about them.

  • Are we peaceful or what? We don't argue about whether it's best to mulch with shredded hardwood or pine nuggets or rock. We don't offer links about research that refute what others are doing in the garden.

  • We GET it. We just get each other. We get the passion, the quest to find the most gorgeous daylily, or to grow the straightest carrot, the appreciation for a stunning macro photo. When someone posts a message about a new garden bed, we don't start tearing down about the location, or method, or material, we marvel at and find inspiration in the industriousness.

Lots learned today. Most importantly, I am not a political commentator, but a garden blogger. I like to write about discoveries I make when things are quiet and slowed down. I like to write about recipes I've tried using vegetables I've grown. I like to comment on my love of mother nature (and my disdain for bugs!). And I like you all. You make me feel good.

This bud's for you...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

GBBD October: large-blooming chrysanthemums

GBBD - I'm heading over to May Dreams Gardens October GBBD post to see what other garden bloggers still have blooming in October. The cold is upping the ante just a bit around here. I'm doing a little cheating this month. First of all, the gorgeous blooms in this post are from my father's showcase of large-blooming chrysanthemums - and are not mine. Hopefully, next week I'll be able to post closer-up photos of each individual flower, as it's been raining every day for a while now!

But first, here's another cheat on the guidelines. This photo below IS mine, and shows not what is blooming in my garden, but what sure will be next year! Here are plants I put in last weekend...

My father's obsession for the past few years - large-blooming chrysanthemums.

Much more to come next week...

Halloween container planting

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear sister: here's what's so fulfilling

My sister, who would probably enjoy growing vegetables, and who had actually begun experimenting with container gardening before baby Emmy and her shining smile came along and changed our lives forever, sent me a thought-provoking e-mail. Here's an excerpt:

I've been thinking lately about your gardening too. what do you think it is that you like so much? Like, you said yourself in a post a while back that you get obsessed with ideas and then go fully into it, but sometimes they don't last. So why do you think gardening has lasted? What do you find so fulfilling? You're much, much better at this, but you don't really eat vegetables, you hate bugs, for a while you hated being sweaty...what gives? :) Write a post on that!

Dear Sister,

You're right, I generally do not like vegetables, fully hate bugs, and it's fair to say that I don't like to sweat. But I've gotten much better not just about the veggies, but also the bugs and the sweating.

It's true I don't like veggies. Remember when our mother would make me sit at the dinner table in front of a plate of greens, all alone after everyone was done eating? She'd be washing dishes, threatening all kinds of malice if I didn't eat my greens? Remember how I'd be in tears at the texture of peas? Remember how I'd gag on the taste of mushrooms? Well, maybe not because you'd eaten your vegetables and were gone. Well, I was scarred. Despite these early traumatic dinner table incidents, I've acquired a taste for certain vegetables (avocado, beans, artichokes, baby spinach). Sure they sort of just cross the line into the category of vegetables, and some aren't even real vegetables, but you know. It's been rough. Guess what though? In the past few years, since I've been gardening, I've acquired a taste for edamame, butternut squash (only if it's in soup), tomatoes (only served certain ways or I'll start gagging - and I can't eat any seeds), and this year...get this...I tried some asparagus for the first time!!! It was really good! But then again, I was really hungry, I only ate one spear, and it was purple. I think I'd have to build up some serious reserves to eat green ones. You'll still never catch me eating broccoli, peas, green beans, etc. However, even though I don't eat it all, there are many veggies that are fun to grow, and the health benefits of growing organic produce picked minutes before cooking makes vegetable gardening very fulfilling. As long as my kids keeps falling for the, "Oh, mommy has already eaten her portion while she was cooking", it should all work out. Check it out...the weekend's harvest - wouldn't you feel fulfilled?

Here's my oregano. It's next to the thyme and basil. I used to grow a larger variety of herbs, but these are the three I use most in my cooking. Having fresh herbs means I can cook more creatively, and think beyond the usuals I feed my family. Also, since I've started gardening, I've found that we eat and think more seasonally, and it's wonderful to sort of mark time in this way. It's fall - it's getting cold. The leaves are changing. The bowl of butternut-leek soup with some crusty French bread is going to feel really nice this weekend...

Sister, you and I both - we despise those bugs. I'll be honest in saying that in an afternoon's gardening, I labor away silently, pausing from time to time only to curse aloud at the bugs. Here are the bugs on my most (un)wanted list: the boxelder, the roly-poly, the slug, the flea beetle, the aphid, and my newest nemesis - the grub. Then of course, are the ones in the "scary" category: the stinkbug, the cicada, the praying mantis, the tomato hornworm. I have no appreciation for bugs. I realize their importance in ecology, but every bug I stop to observe, morbidly fascinated by, I find to be ugly, disgusting, or a nuisance. My belief in karma is the only thing that keeps me from smooshing every bug I see, beneficial or non-beneficial to the gardener. But here's the reality - you dig in the dirt, you find bugs. Over the years, I've become less frightened of bugs, because I've learned a little about their habits. A spider is more afraid of me than I am of it. A horrible looking cicada - is often just the shell of a horrible looking cicada. Ultimately, I have probably become a bit jaded by and less fearful of the bugs, and have learned to just allow them to live. The dirt belongs more to them than to me, I suppose. I guess we've reached an understanding. If they don't crawl on my neck, they don't get smooshed. If they don't crawl on my hand, they don't get flung across the yard. And worms? Well, we're on real friendly terms right now. A lot of garden bloggers I know are big on bugs. They have sniper-like camera lenses and eyes like hawks. Part of my survival strategy is that I really don't look too closely for bugs. I did spy this guy this weekend, and nearly had a heart attack in fear that it'd jump on me as I took this photo... So do I like it? No. Is it disgusting and scary? A thousand times yes. Does it keep me from spending time in my garden? See photos above.

I generally don't like to sweat, sister, you're right. I don't like being sticky. I hate humidity. I don't like my face to grease up. I don't like to walk around town hot. Sweating has always gone hand in hand with being tired and cranky. And if I can't get my hands on a frappucino, then there will be hell to pay by anyone who gets in my way. In the garden, it's different.

While I would really enjoy some easy strolling in the garden, shears in hand deadheading some pretty flowers, then enjoying some relaxing on a lounge chair under an umbrella, I truly enjoy working, and doing hard physical labor (remember my landscaping project?). Perhaps this will change if I ever get my garden to look just-so, but somehow I doubt this will ever happen. My friend Grace has mentioned that I move my plants around a lot. Very little has stayed where it originally was several years ago. I have new ideas to try, new plants to try, new beds to build, and so far I've expanded the perennial garden every year. Here is my work from this weekend - expanding the perennial garden. It was a cool-weathered weekend, but I was still sweating for hours. I've found a few strategies work for me though - the bandana thingy with the gel inside that you soak in water (that we got in Denver) really helps on extremely hot (like black-out inducing) days. A bandana or wrist band helps mop the sweat that threatens to blind me under the hot sun, and making an effort to go inside and drink water is really important.

So dear sister, let's just talk about this photo, and you'll understand why gardening is so fulfilling for me. It may look silly now with a bunch of baby plants, but this garden will look great when the plants are established. I will get to walk through a garden every day. I will get to closely examine the sedum. I will get to touch the lamb's ear. I will get to catch the fragrance of the roses and oriental lilies. I will get to awe at the delphinium. I will get to appreciate every day, a clematis that is shamelessly beautiful. This weekend, I worked about 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday - stripping sod, moving it to another location, digging through clay and removing rocks, mixing in the compost, planting, and mulching. I was covered in dirt, probably had bugs in my hair, and sweat my ass off. But you know what? It felt really fulfilling.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Grace's garden

This afternoon, I visited Grace - my neighbor and one of my dearest friends. A couple of weeks ago, I won this Waistie Pouch from Teresa of Gardening with Soule. She held a fun contest "You know you're a gardener when..." that another blogger and I won. It was the story of my little gardener savant 3-year old who would yell "moonbeam coreop-pah-sis!" out of a moving car window that won it for me. Check out the other entries for a laugh. Though the Waistie Pouch has the potential to be a very useful product, I didn't think it would fit my needs as much as it would Grace's, so I've regifted it to her. As you can see in the photo above, Grace has hundreds of blooms in her garden - a veritable rainbow of perennials that encompass her entire front and side yards! She thinks the Waistie Pouch may be useful when deadheading. Continue with me on a tour of Grace's garden - though I warn you - this is the season when there is not a lot to see... Can you imagine what it's like during the height of spring and summer?

Here, a quiet and secluded nook for reading. This is the lush walk to the front door, but as Grace says, the front door is for salesmen, the side door is for friends.

A great two-toned hibiscus


Reblooming Iris



Notice the different stages of the Angel's Trumpet below...

Cosmos and a tall native sunflower (the sunflower is probably about 8-10 feet tall).

Butterfly Bush


Nasturtium - am I the only one who loves the foliage even more than the flower?

Solidago - done with its blooms.



I love this foliage. I believe it's a calla lily.

Monk's Hood behind the porch swing.

Ornamental cherry

Moonflower bloom getting ready to open

A little corner garden in the back.

This is the heuchera corner of the large "Topsy-Turvy" garden in the back. A new side garden that will contain azaleas, a raspberry patch, and other plants will connect the front garden to the Topsy-Turvy garden.

A Hollyhock somehow found its way into the Topsy-Turvy garden.

Grace's Noah's Ark of coleus (except there's only one of each!) potted up and ready to go inside for the winter. In the spring, cuttings and divisions will provide all the rich coleus foliage Grace will need.

A very old ornamental pepper, adding a splash of color to the large shady back deck where Grace relaxes and has dinner every night.

Just past a few houses down the street, Grace tends her aptly named "Creek Garden" where she grows vegetables in a larger space that she shares with another neighbor/gardener. The Malabar spinach grows on a trellis here. Grace loves to add some freshly cut spinach to her soup bowl just before she ladles in her hot soup. For convenience sake, she also keeps a smaller pot of this favorite spinach on her driveway.

Another container on the driveway holds the remains of summer's zucchini and the recent addition of fall's lettuce. Grace also grew some colorful lettuce and herbs in a beautiful wagon wheel shape near the side of her perennial garden this spring.

And finally, what everyone who passes by gets a kick out of - her delicious and beautiful Meyer lemons!

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