Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I need to remove 500 square feet of lawn

Since I missed out on my city's rain barrel rebate because I installed mine BEFORE the rebate was instituted, I've had my bargain-hunting, won't-let-a-good-deal-pass-me-by-again eye on any new programs my city might offer.

Yesterday, I found that to support our city's push for residents to move towards conservation landscaping, a 50% rebate on materials and plants is being offered, up to a total of $500! I believe what this means is that if I spend $1000 to simply remove lawn and install native plants, I can get $500 back! I've got to calm down though. Keep my cool. Play by the rules. There are applications to fill out. Approvals to attain. Plans to draft. Plants to consider. A seminar to attend. And the bigger obstacle - my husband to persuade.

My husband loves me. He really does. He has faith and confidence in me. He has gone along with every plan I have made without ever a fuss. I just tell him how many bags of mulch to buy and where to go, and he's off. He loves his lawn, and yet I've encroached more and more upon this lawn every season.

Coincidentally, I have been planning a little garden expansion - about 200 feet's worth. I JUST need to scratch out another 300 feet to earn my rebate. When I excitedly told hubby about this today, he flat out said "No" - and he never says no. Now mind you, I was not asking permission, as I'm a grown woman. However, I want him to be OK with this. Can you help me convince him that this is an important project that we MUST take part in? We just MUST find our 500 feet of lawn to remove!

EDITED TO ADD: OK, so I'm off of this idea now. Please feel free to comment anyway, I'm sure I'll use your ideas later on, but I've decided that I need to be my own free agent on this one. I looked over the rebate info again and I CAN'T play by the rules after all- an application? A written plan that someone ELSE has to approve? Then I need to sit around and wait for someone to come and inspect my yard? Requiring that 3/4 of the plants must be from a list? Never mind all that noise. I can be a landscape conserver and do it on my own terms without the rebate and kudos, but for the sheer benefit of acting responsibly. I'll stick to my 200 feet for now, slowly encroach on the lawn 50 feet at a time so hubby doesn't really notice, and plant whatever I like, whereever I like, whenever I like.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh shit. What have I done now.

I'm sorry if the title of this post alarmed you. I guess you were either sympathizing with me or eager to see a photograph of some horrible garden error I have made. I won't ask which.

Here's how my garden inspiration generally plays out. I'm minding my own business, strolling through life, admiring a container planting here and there. Suddenly, an idea bowls me over. I practically burst with excitement telling my friends and family (who are familiar with my ways and humor my sudden intense obsessions with certain ideas), "Oh my god. I'm so excited about this, and I really shouldn't be telling you about it because it's a little silly and ambitious and it probably won't work out, and I know I'll jinx myself but the plan is..." and so forth.

I spend the next 2-5 days in feverish study over the idea, conducting Internet research, drafting plans, taking measurements, making lists of things my husband needs to pick up at Good Earth THIS weekend (anonymous commenter, please remind me to tell my husband how awesome he is).

I break ground.

Inevitably, "Oh shit. What have I done now."

During the landscaping project, the period of "oh shit" was probably the most concerning, as the project lasted several months and I have been known to become quickly obsessed with an idea and lose interest just as quickly.

Fortunately, early on, my friend Grace took a quick look and without a moment's hesitation, leaned in, put her hand on my arm and said, "Well, you got to break a few eggs if you want to bake a cake".

Fast forward a couple years later, this is what I'm thinking each day I arrive home from work to the beautiful edge I've cut in of a large new garden expansion that's going to be prepared this fall, bags of mulch and compost sitting on my lawn for weeks, and plants arriving via UPS daily all mulched up with no place yet to go.

I've seen enough garden projects from start to finish now to know that it always starts off messy. I don't think I'll ever avoid the "oh shit" feeling. However, these days, the in-garden panic attacks are few.

I read something today I'm particularly fond of that I find related to my "oh shit" feelings and other aspects of my life as well. I wonder what it might mean for you...

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.

~Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autumnal Equinox means time for apple picking

In our family, the Autumnal Equinox has become synonymous with fall apple picking. Lucky are the suburbanites who have several orchards within a short driving distance from home! Last weekend, we visited Homestead Farms in nearby Poolesville, MD. Though the tradition is a fairly new one (ok, to be truthful, last weekend was our first time...), the day was perfect for apple picking. We had the kind of weather that's cool enough to keep kids from whining about being hot - no one needed to be carried - yet warm enough to dress in t-shirts and enjoy being under the sun all day. We were also smack in the middle of the season for several types of apples.

Homestead Farms is a working farm that has been in the Allnut family since 1763. Hayrides are provided on some weekends to the fields where you can pick your own pumpkins, apples, cherries, berries, peaches, beans, etc. In the distance, you can see the light green strip of the pumpkin field just behind a few rows of apple trees. In the winter, visitors can cut their own Christmas trees as well.

Though most visitors at this time of year are prepared with wheelbarrow standing at attention and large bucket in hand ready for a short walk to the fields, it's impossible not to be distracted by the farm animals to the left of the farm. The farm owners have built these amazing lookouts and bridges for their goats to show off their daredevil climbing abilities. Just beyond the right of this photo below, another lookout stands with a pulley system by which visitors can give treats to the happy animals. The bridge passes right over the visitors.

This goat goes to great lengths for attention. Check out the personality!

Contrary to how it may appear by the quantity of my posts that involve ducks, geese, or other birds, I am not obsessed with poultry. I do not even have any particular fondness for them. But one's got to see the cuteness in the fluffy white feathers and stately stance of this lady below...

Guess what he's saying? Er, er-er, er-errrrrr!!!

All the birds at home at the Rhode Island Ladies Club - hens, a rooster...and a turkey.

After a short visit with Elmo the baby cow and a few of her friends, we moved on to the fields where the red delicious, rome, empire, and jonagold trees awaited us with limbs full of cool, crisp apples ripe for the picking.

In almost every tree - a special surprise to search for.

Red delicious apples - you can't stop a four year old from taking a bite! We'll pay you back next time, Mr. Allnut...

Above, standing tall in front of the apple orchard, colorful zinnias to choose, cut yourself, and purchase.

Below, undeniable proof that it is autumn, and undeniable proof that autumn is bountiful and beautiful.

And to top off a simple, fun, cheap, end of summer/beginning of autumn day, caramel apple pie a la mode and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It does not get better than this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why gardeners are happy people

Growing one's own vegetables can often bring happiness to a gardener. Click here to see how one man was rewarded when he cut into his homegrown jalapeno.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I may be naive, but I see it half full

I, like other commenters on my recent Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly post, also feel encouraged by the unit on The Butterfly Habitat Project my daughter is studying in her sixth grade science class. The second of the four units of study is called The Going Green Project where students will learn about natural resources and human needs, environmental issues, environmental change, and natural resources use. The third unit sounds physics-related, and the fourth unit is called the Solar Collector Project. In this unit, students will learn about different types of energy.

In the first paragraph of the course syllabus, the teacher writes: Welcome to 6th grade science. Are you ready to discover...

  • why we don't see the Maryland state butterfly very often? And how we can help?

  • why it is believed that the earth's climate is changing?

  • how bumpers are designed to save lives?

  • how to obtain and use clean energy?

A few months ago, my book group gathered to discuss the book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman. He warns that Americans need to step up and lead in a worldwide effort to replace our wasteful ways with a strategy for clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation.

Though not intended to make concerned human beings lose hope, the book does offer hard facts, thought-provoking connections, theories, and predictions. I was somewhat surprised to find that some members of my book group felt it was "too late" to affect any sort of positive change. Perhaps I'm naive, but I prefer to see the glass as half full. Here's the difference between me and some of the women in my book group that held the most vocal arguments: I work in a high school and have school-aged children.

I work in a high school where there are recycling bins EVERYWHERE. I think that even among kids, it would be hugely frowned upon to put a plastic bottle in a regular trash can.

I am a school counselor and always have many kids interested in classes offered at my school like AP Environmental Science.

Last year I read an amazing college essay by one of my students who dreams of creating a source of clean energy. Knowing the grades this kid earns, and the initiative this kid shows, I am certain he will work diligently towards this goal.

In May, one of my 11th graders asked me to sponsor his efforts to participate in our school system's Drive for Supplies program. At the end of the school year, students dropped off a total of over 16 boxes of gently used school supplies that were then redistributed to local and international non-profits.

I have a 4 year old in preschool who will be studying units entitled Our Peaceful Classroom and Garden Science. Though I haven't overtly taught her ANYTHING (she's the younger sibling after all...), she'll observe me tearing up a cardboard egg carton and ask, "Are you going to put that in your garbage-poster (compost bin)"?

I thumbed through the our city's fall catalog of classes. Our nature center offers a Jr. Naturalist program involving a series of 9 classes. Outside of this program, a purely "fun" class is offered called "upcycling" where kids will repurpose objects to make art.

Our city offers rebates for residents who install rain barrels.

Brookside Gardens, a beautiful garden near me, is hosting a Green Matters symposium that I, and hundreds of others, will attend in the spring.

Every children's clothing catalog and advertisement I've seen in this morning's weekend paper includes clothes with recycling symbols, or love-the-earth symbols, or peace symbols. Though I'm not too naive to know there is a big faddish aspect to this, I think it's impossible to wear these symbols and not have an inkling of their meanings.

I could go on.

We live in a time when global warming, environmental change, waste, etc. cannot be denied. The reality of these changes is such that there really is something to cry over. It is sobering at best. However, in the face of all this, at the end of a book like Hot, Flat, and Crowded or any other book that offers a grim, factual, and downright frightening look at what has happened and what people have done, I am encouraged by what I see around me. Everywhere I look, I see efforts being made to change the poor course we have been on. When a 4 year old knows you put certain materials in the garbage-poster, when an 11 year old spends at least 3/4 of the year studying environmental and conservation-related topics, when my high schoolers enjoy their AP Environmental Science classes and declare a passion for exploring clean, alternative sources of energy, I can feel confident saying that the glass is half-full.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baltimore checkerspot butterfly

Now that my sixth grade daughter has learned about lab safety (for example, don't put chemicals in your eyeballs, don't play with biological waste such as dissected frog livers), she and her classmates in Investigations into Science have delved into their first unit - The Butterfly Habitat Project.

She was interested to read this Washington Post article at school to learn about our Maryland state butterfly - the Baltimore Checkerspot (photo). Unfortunately, the Baltimore Checkerspot is in danger. Here's what she informed me about...

  • The plant the butterflies thrive on, the White Turtlehead, is being eaten by the exploding population of the white-tailed deer.
  • The deer are also consuming the larvae as they eat the leaves of the plant.
  • Their habitats are being lost due to development and crop agriculture.
  • Drift from insecticides being applied contributes to the problem.
  • Global warming contributes to habitat change.
  • Since the 1990's, the population has been drastically reduced. The Baltimore Checkerspot colonies are now only found in about 5 counties.

Here's what the Baltimore Checkerspot needs for survival:

  • Wet meadows with lots of White Turtlehead - their required larval food.
  • A habitat kept open and sunny, but with very limited mowing.
  • For long-term survival, they need a patchwork of nearby sites located no more than 1/4 mile from then next.

There are major conservation projects around the area:

  • Efforts are being made to fund deer exclusion fences.
  • Scientists and conservationists are looking for ways to raise butterflies in captivity to replenish the population (The Baltimore Zoo, Carroll County Outdoor School, and other locations participate).
  • Landowners will search for colonies.

Sources: http://www.fairhillnature.org/, my daughter, The Washington Post

EDITED TO ADD: Sixth graders - that's cool that you're reading my blog to get ideas for your project, but please click and read this post about using credible sources in your project!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My father's house: pond, vegetable garden, ducks, geese, etc.

Visiting my parents each weekend offers a multitude of activities to observe and participate in. Below, I wanted to capture my father's evening routine to share with you. Each night around 6pm, with bucket of food in hand, he walks towards the duck/goose pen. With a whistle, the geese all know it's dinner time and start rushing in from every direction.

As you can see below, there is no pushing or shoving. The geese file in in an orderly line while my father stands at the gate. I find this totally hilarious.

Here are some of his white geese.

Here are the newer members of the family - the Chinese geese. He has a pair of brown and a pair of white. These geese are supposed to have great personalities. They follow you around the garden, are protective, and are smart too.

Here below, are the ducklings, almost at full size. These ducklings were hatched last month. Click here to see my photos of the hatchlings! You can just see some of the parents in the upper left hand corner of this photo below.

When the ducklings are done with their dinner and fresh water, they go immediately to their enclosed area in the pond. As most keepers of ducks know, many predators lurk after dark, but these lucky ducks have a large, safe, area to enjoy life.

Now that the ducks and geese are content, I turn around and check out the vegetable garden. This photo is taken from the back of the garden. You can see the ducks' area under the tree at the right of the photo. The property is 8 acres, and the pond is about 6 of those acres. This photo does a good job showing the width of the garden, but makes the length look shorter than it actually is.

A closer view of the Chinese squash growing on the trellis. Notice the bamboo - more on this later...

I'm taking a stroll down the left side of the garden. You'll see a sea of sweet potatoes below. These yield a firm white sweet potato, but my father actually grows these sweet potatoes for their greens (and pushes the sweet potatoes on me in the fall!)

Below, you see gourds on top and below the trellis. Some of the bigger ones are sitting on pots for support, and some are tied to the trellis with the orange tape.

In the photo below, my back is to the pond. There are watering cans in the blue bin, and you'll notice a hose running into the bin. My father has a connection of long hoses and pumps water from the pond to water his vegetables as needed.

Here's the view from the other side of the garden. You'll see mostly neat rows of Chinese greens and lots and lots of tomatoes straight ahead. Notice again the bamboo supports. See the willow trees in the background? This shades a little creek. My father has sectioned one area off and grows watercress in the creek. Notice also all the willow trees you see in all the photos in this post. They all come from one parent tree. My parents moved to this house in 1992. My father cut branches from the parent willow tree, stuck them in the mud and rooted all these "baby" trees.

In the area behind the shed, there are several fruit trees. Each summer, we get to eat fresh from the trees: apricots, Asian pears, standard pears, white peaches, purple plums, California (green and hard) plums, and now on the tree - dates.

Now I move towards the house and check on how the chrysanthemums are doing. The vegetable garden is behind the evergreens. Looks like many of the chrysanthemums are in bud and will be in bloom sometime in the next several weeks. I've got to talk to my father about that orange tape.

Here you see 'India Summer', the first bloom of the season. Many more interesting colors and shapes to come.

Here, a trio of plants tucked away in a corner. The red flowering plant was my father's day present to my father. Not a mandevilla, but I'm blanking on the name.

A closer pic of the pomegranate.

This cleome is literally growing out of a crack in the pavement next to the house.

Here's a much uglier photo. My father spent the day scooping out algae from the pond.

Across the pond is my father's friend/neighbor fishing. Here's what's in the water: bluegill, crabby, large-mouthed bass, sunfish, catfish, bullfrogs, turtles. My mother has made turtle stew, which is supposed to have some serious healing properties. We often have fresh fish (like literally just caught!) when I come to visit.

Here's my father, contemplating nature on the pier/deck he built by himself about 10 years ago. Or maybe he's thinking about what he needs to do next.

What is my 11 year old doing with the net? Give that kid a bucket and net and she's good to go for hours here.

Ok, so this is what she's doing today...

It does not take long for her to engage her grandfather in her activity. He's totally wrapped around her finger.

I walk towards them and to the right is the area of bamboo. My father uses this bamboo throughout his garden. It can be found staking tomatoes, made into a trellis, and in a variety of other places in the garden. My father has also made brooms with the bamboo, little cooking spoons, and other things that I'm forgetting at the moment. In the fall, he'll cut some down and put them through the chipper to make as much mulch as he could possibly need. In the spring, new shoots come up for eating. When the shoots are sticking up out of the ground about several inches high, my mom will literally kick them down. She'll cut them in half and take the heart out to eat in stir-frys, or to dehydrate for later.

To the left is this long path my parents exercise on. You can see it's getting well worn! At the very end, there is some very attractive black bamboo and a fairly young chestnut tree that is producing those delicious nuts.

I also wanted to add some earlier photos I've taken of the water lilies and lotuses, but can't find them at the moment.

In the photo below, where the water looks sort of choppy in the left half of the photo, is the large mass of deep pink water lilies. It's a spectacular sight in the mornings when they open. In the background, the blue/green horizontal strip of foliage is the mass of lotus flowers. It's a shame you can't see the depth/quantity of the flowers in this picture. Interestingly, after the gorgeous white lotus flower is done, the seedpod produces lotus "nuts" (seeds, I suppose) that can be eaten. Additionally, the seed pod itself can also be stewed and eaten. Wish I had some better photos. I'll look another time and post again. Hope you enjoyed visiting my father's garden!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Keeping it subjective

I'm not sure it's really possible to look at a garden objectively. When I read about gardens and gardening, I'm always irked when I sense that someone passes judgement in a negative kind of way. Luckily, I have not found much of this, because in all the different arenas that elitists can be found in the world, being a gardening elitist is almost an oxymoron to me. I do believe everyone is entitled to his or her own personal opinion. In fact, in the blogging world, that's exactly what most of us are doing - expressing personal opinions. However, upon evaluating other gardeners' gardens, I personally will strive to live by the motto - to each his/her own. Some illustrations...

You will never find dirt under my fingernails. Dirt under the fingernails seems to be somewhat of a gardening cliche. I read something somewhere recently that implies that one is not a "true" gardener unless one has dirt under one's fingernails. Though I come in from gardening with my clothes and hair covered in dirt, grass, bugs, etc., you'll never find dirt under my nails. Why? I just don't like it. I own about 10 pairs of gardening gloves and wear a fresh clean pair every time I walk out the back door. I hope my hours in the garden, and not the dirt, would qualify me as a "true" gardener nonetheless.

My neighbor has Mickey Mouse statues in her garden bed. The statues of the original Disney characters are about 10 inches high and are dressed for Christmas, with Mickey as Santa. I don't understand this. I don't like it. I would never have it in front of my house. I chuckle in my head every time I walk by. However, I try not to scoff. I try not to shake my head. Surely there must be some reason? Maybe they were a gift from someone special? Maybe they sit on cement bases that are buried in the ground? Maybe someone died this year and they've not gotten around to putting them away? Maybe they just like them? I really don't know, but I do know this - Merry Christmas, and more power to them.

I almost got the silliest tattoo. When I was 16, I was certain the coolest tattoo would have been a skull with rainbow eyes. It had a symbolic meaning for me. It was an amazing concept. I would have worn that tattoo with pride. For about 2 years. Until I realized it was pretty silly. Surely tastes change over time. Surely what I think is really cool this year and took pictures of, and maybe even posted on this blog, I will look back a few years from now and think - oh how embarrassing that I would think this was attractive. Hopefully my artistic eye and gardening skills will improve over time as well. Garden elitists - surely you started somewhere too? Surely you were inexperienced and naive about what looked good at some point in your life? Surely as dynamic individuals, your tastes have evolved over time?

I live in a split level house in the suburbs of Maryland. The walkway to my house from our little driveway is a typical curve, and I have shade on the left side of my house. My husband grew up in Florida with a dirt/sand front yard and he loves our grass lawn. All these factors play a big part in how my garden will look. I basically have a little patch of land in the suburbs. As much as I would like to subscribe to the anti-perimeter planting school, I don't have a lot to work with. I don't have tons of money to put into landscaping (not more than I've already invested in my backyard slope project). Aside from some colorful Target pillows and chair pads, I don't have great backyard furniture. Regardless of the garden that is put in, it will always exist next to a beige siding split-level house in the suburbs. I can, and will, make it a lifelong goal to improve the way my garden looks, but it will never be a charming clapboard cottage. It will never be a stately brick colonial. It will never be a modernist bungalow.

I plan to grow hyssop. I don't know what this is. I do know that one day, I plan to have a special herb garden dedicated to my mother in law who passed away several years ago. There were certain herbs she always talked about such as hyssop and echinacea. Hopefully hyssop will not be an ugly plant. If it is, hopefully no one will stop by and judge the ugly hyssop, or the common echinacea, because there will be deep meaning behind their existence. When I find a garden with plants I don't love, I need to remind myself that I'm really not sure why a certain plant has found it's way into that garden.

Similarly, my mom used to wear Tea Rose perfume. She used to wear it when I was little - about 10 years old or so. Personally, I feel the rose is fairly common. To me, common usually means boring, though I've come to like the rose more and more each year. However, I do have one tea rose and when I catch that fragrance each summer, I am instantly transported to a different place and time. Of course I feel young, but I also feel protected, innocent, and just totally carefree - like I don't have to make dinner, or pay bills, or make doctor's appointments, or go to work. Like I can just play tag outside with my sister, or wait for my mom to tell us what the plan for the day is. This is why a tea rose will always have a sunny spot in my garden.

In China there are certain flowers all great gardens have. My father is obsessed with his large-flowering chrysanthemums. In a month or so, he will have about 40 or 50 potted plants all lined up on his patio. I thought he was just being nutty and going overboard like he does with most things, until I bothered to ask him why the hell he was growing so many. I also suggested he grow dahlias, which are also very pretty but bloom all summer. He told me that in China the traditional gardens of royalty all included large-flowering chrysanthemums. This is when I looked around and viewed his large pond filled with waterlilies, edged with weeping willows, framed by peonies, and realized oh my god. He is trying to create the China he left when he was a boy. While I thought he was just being dismissive when he shot down my dahlia idea, turns out there is a cultural and extremely endearing reason for the composition of his garden.

I do have personal opinions. I do think certain things are tacky. I do enjoy certain gardens I see more than others. I hope to refine my taste. I hope to gain knowledge over the years and become very successful at what I enjoy doing. And when I'm an expert in my area of interest, when my garden is totally kick-ass and looks straight from the pages of a magazine, when I'm asked to do shows and write feature articles about garden trends or garden classics, I hope to remember some of the factors that I've mentioned above and realize that a lot about gardening is subjective. We all love gardening for a reason, maybe many reasons. We all love certain plants, colors, combinations, fragrances, styles for a reason.


My garden and I are in love again (late summer garden update)

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder...

As such, I love my garden right now and my garden loves me. The past two weeks have been full with going back to work full time (I work in a school), getting into the back to school routine with kids, evening activities, fewer daylight hours, and just lots of busy-ness.

Sad to report on the tomatillo, but amazingly, this seems to be my only major summer veggie casualty...

Edemame - steamed, salted, and ready to enjoy as a little afterschool snack.

Weekend harvest of peppers. Some of the jalapenos went into last night's risotto (which was just mediocre). The rest will go towards some jalapeno poppers. The cayennes and Thai burapas were dried, then fried with garlic and oil to make an extremely delicious, spicy Chinese hot sauce to eat with my carryout dim sum.

I thought I was surprised with last week's 5 asparagus spears. More surprises for me!

The netting over the butternut squash is still working well - I don't think I will be eating the raccoons' leftovers this fall like I usually do...

And, looks like more to come as well!

I'm now awaiting my Georgia Jet sweet potatoes, which seem to be doing well - at least better than the past couple of years. This year, I worked hard to "fluff" the beds and planted in hills. They're also in a sunnier spot than last year's.

GBBD - Blooming in september - ornamental grasses

Diamond Grass

Benikaze - reddish/purple in summer

Northern Sea Oats - nice in shade

Purple fountain grass - usually not hardy in my zone, but this guy decided to surprise me by coming back this year

A couple of perennials are impressing me with their determination...
Burgundy Gaillardia planted this spring - leveled by deer as it was about to bloom, then leveled again a month or so after. This plant is a survivor and has lots of buds and several weeks left to show us what it's got.

Like a phoenix, Kim's Mop Head echinacea blooms rising from a left-for-dead plant knocked down with a mildew problem.

This month's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day post is a week early. Now that school is in session and I'm back to work full time, I'll need to post when I can... This full time work thing really puts a damper on my gardening hobby. For other bloom day posts, see May Dreams Garden's blog (link will be clickable after 9/15). See you here next month at this time - hopefully with photos of my large-blooming chrysanthemums...
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