Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Hills Are Alive on Green Thumb Sunday

"Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow..."

It's not the prettiest flower in the gardens, but what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for as a
conversation starter. Visitors bend down to get a closer look at the plant marker to see what the fuzzy white star blooms are. Invariably, they'll get a smile on their face and say, "So that's what Edelweiss looks like!"

No doubt we all became familiar with this unique plant thanks to the classic movie, The Sound of Music. This was one of the very first movies I saw in a theater and I was so taken with it that I played my parents' soundtrack LP over and over and over again. I knew every song by heart and practiced my imitations of Maria, Liesl, Mother Superior, and little Gretl.

When our family was fortunate to get to visit the Swiss Alps area of Europe the summer of 1974, I once again encountered Edelweiss, incorporated into tourist items such as pressed and framed specimens, embroidered handkerchiefs, and the like. We got to visit Salzburg and saw familiar sites from the movie, including the gazebo where Liesl met Rolf on that rainy night.

I've had Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) in my garden for three summers now and while it hasn't spread much, it's faithful about returning and producing several cottony blooms. When I walk by and take notice of them, I'm taken back to those days of my youth and I break into song...

"Small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me."

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Do You Want These Plants? Are You Sure?

When I started gardening for real, and Max's Garden was created, I accepted donations of plants of all kinds. It didn't matter what they were, I wanted them. I begged, borrowed, and nearly stole whatever I could get my hands on. Gardening was so new and exciting to me that if it flowered and had leaves, I wanted it!

Mom was cleaning out her garden, getting rid of a few things and dividing a few others, so she shared. And there was the garden club's sale where they offered plants from the members' gardens at a great price. I was glad for both and before I knew it, my garden was more than half full.

All was well, until a season or two went by. And then I figured out why many of the acquired plants were available for free or for sale at a cheap price. Things that are easily propagated don't cost much, if anything. They're like zucchinis - here, take some! There are plenty more where those came from!

The first to try to take over the garden was the misnamed Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). Who named that plant anyway? Was it someone's idea of a cruel joke? The flowers are pretty, and the plants are nice enough, with virtually no disease problems like powdery mildew or pest problems like slugs. A rampant grower like this ... well ... just dig out what you don't want, right? Sure. But make sure you don't leave any little bit of its root in the ground, because that's all it takes to grow a plant.

Next was the Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea). What a pretty grass it is, with its green and white striping! Who wouldn't love to see that in their garden? I loved it, that's for sure, and it was such a great grower. So great, in fact, that just two years later, it more than tripled in area. This one spreads by underground runners - it's sneaky that way - kind of like the iceberg that took down the Titanic.If you really want this in your garden, it would probably be a good idea to plant it in a large container and sink it down into the ground. I still have it in my garden and I need to take my own advice. I'm really getting tired of ripping it out every time it has a growth spurt.

The next thing that grew REALLY WELL in my garden was the
spearmint (Mentha spicata). I hadn't yet learned about mints and their proclivity for spreading. They're all like that. Every last one of them. But remember the Obedient Plant? Same deal here. Even the most minute piece of root will grow amazingly into a big healthy plant. But they do smell good.

I found the most beautiful variegated plant at a local plant sale a couple of years ago and was thrilled with it the first season when it grew well and formed a nice thick carpet around the base of the Japanese Fantail Willow. The cats love sleeping in the Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens), which hides them in its lush foliage. This one sends out above ground runners, much like strawberries do, and if you don't watch out, you'll have an entire garden of it. If you can't grow this then you might want to consider another way to spend your time than gardening.

Then there are the daisies (Leucanthemum sp.). Don't ask me which kind I've got, but Mom gave me a clump of them and that clump has turned into two HUGE clumps. I adore white daisies, which is probably why she gave them to me, but even I don't need THAT many of them. I couldn't tell you how they spread; I just know that they do and each spring and fall, I end up digging out several clumps of them in an effort to control the size of my two daisy spots. Nothing makes me smile more than to see those daisies in full bloom.

Now how about those self-seeders? Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it isn't. First, the bad news: Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). I love this grass with its herringbone seed heads, but I learned the hard way this spring that you do NOT want to let those seed heads dry and fall off. They don't just fall off, they miraculously spread themselves all over the garden. It doesn't matter how large or small your garden is, you'll find little seedlings in the nether regions and swear those seeds had legs.Now the good news: Nigella. It's such a beautiful annual and if you plant it once, you'll likely have it forever. It's a well-behaved self-seeder though and I've never found it outside of the immediate area where it's previously grown. Can I say that about Snow on the Mountain? No. Or Balsam? No. Those two have explode-a-pop seed pods and it's amazing how far those seeds can be propelled!

Love-In-A-Mist (Nigella damascena)

Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are another well-behaved annual self-seeder for me. I thought I'd collected all the seed pods from these last summer, but this spring, I found out I wasn't as good at that as I thought I was. They returned, in all their papery loveliness and that was fine with me. I just added the collected seeds from last year to supplement those that already were growing.

This post wouldn't be complete without mentioning violets (Viola sp.). You'd better love them a lot if you plant them, because they'll come up everywhere. They self-seed, much like columbine does, and the seedlings are easy enough to tear out, but if you're like me, you just let them go and bloom where they're planted. They're small, and a violet bloom is just lovely, no matter where it happens to surprise you.

There are many others, these supposed garden thugs, but these are some of the ones that grow here at Our Little Acre and they grow here because we want them to. Choose carefully what you want in your own garden!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Aerial View of Max's Garden

I've been asked to show more photos of the gardens as a whole here at Our Little Acre, so today I take you to the roof of the pool house (actually we call it the cat house, since the kitties sleep there at night). From here, you can get a better idea of the size and scope of Max's Garden.

Looking southeasterly

This garden is actually a melding of the old and new and in my mind is still two gardens. What we call Max's Garden is just a part of the whole and is the newer of the two parts. It got its start in October of 2005, when I decided to get really serious about gardening. I'd been bitten by the bug earlier that spring, after visiting Cleveland Botanical Gardens during the Cleveland Flower Show. Nothing like visiting an outstanding public garden to inspire you to create a bit of that beauty at your own place!

Area of Max's Garden before its creation

We debated on how to get rid of the sod. Discussed it at length and with much disagreement, actually. I wanted to strip it out all at once, which was very labor intensive, but it would be done and over with and we could get on with the fun part. Romie wanted to spray it with Round-Up and then wait for it to die and till it under. We didn't have time to wait if we wanted to get it worked up and anything planted before winter. And I could see those tufts of grass that would resprout here and there and I didn't want those lumps in the soil anyway.

I didn't win, because it was too large of a project for me to do myself at that late point in the season, so Romie tilled the grass under, without using the Round-Up. We raked chunks of grass from there for three solid days. What a chore! But eventually we got it done and ready to go. The soil back there is fabulous, because our property used to be part of a small woods. Very rich and loose and you don't encounter our infamous clay until you dig down about 10-12 inches.

All that got planted that fall were a few shrubs that Mom had given us and I made a mental note of how I wanted paths to travel through the area. We had two weeping willow trees that had been planted a short time earlier and one of them would be in the middle of the garden. We were warned that that might not be a great idea, but in the three years since then, we've loved having that tree there. It hasn't been a problem at all.

Max's Garden is so named because the majority of the time, Max will emerge from the undersides of the garden to greet you as you enter. The other kitties are allowed to visit the garden but Max lets them know they are on his turf. Max is a very laid back cat, but we have seen him chase intruders out from time to time. This is the only time and place we've ever witnessed that behavior from him. It's as if he knows that we have designated this as his space.

From this aerial view, it's hard to judge the size of the garden. Max's part measures approximately 35 x 40 feet, not including those odd-shaped extensions you see in the foreground (new this year). The rest of the garden is similar in size, but a little more rectangular in shape, and this is where the vegetables grow, along with more flowers.

Click on photo to enlarge

Now, to focus in on what is growing and blooming in Max's Garden at the moment, here are some images taken in the last couple of weeks:

Dwarf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus 'Gallery Red')

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Sea Holly (Eryngium 'Blue Hobbit')

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons')

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Dianthus (Dianthus 'Bouquet Pink Magic')

Coneflower (Echinacea 'White Swan')

Delphinium (Delphinium elatum 'Magic Fountain')

Rose (Rosa 'Ebb Tide')

Sea Holly (Eryngium amethystinum 'Sapphire Blue')

Leptodermis oblonga

Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoes)

Daylily (Hemerocallis 'Etched Eyes)

Rose (Rosa 'Pompeii')

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Corn . . . Sweet!

The recent storms in the midwest have created a situation where the crops grown there have suffered to the point where the harvest will be much less. What this means is the price paid for those crops has steadily risen and if a farmer is fortunate enough to have some in storage or have a crop that is unaffected by the storms, he will be sitting pretty. For example, corn was selling for around $4 a bushel a year ago. Today, it's over $7 and still rising.

We've raised corn here at Our Little Acre for as long as I can remember. The small vegetable plot we have was here when we bought our house and while some years we only managed to plant a part of it, there was always sweet corn. Harvest time in August has always meant a five-pound weight gain, due to eating so much corn slathered in butter. Sometimes we not only have corn with our meal, sweet corn IS our meal.

Corn always took up the most room in the garden, which means it has been grown in pretty much the same location year after year. The quality of that corn has made a steady decline in regard to number of stalks and stalks that produce nice full ears.

Plants take from the soil what they need to grow and unless those elements are replaced, the soil will suffer and plants grown there will suffer, too. We've historically never applied anything to our corn, including fertilizer, which no doubt has affected the quality of our crop.

As you can see from this recent photograph of our corn, we have issues once again, with spotty germination being the biggest one right now. Timing is everything when planting seeds and this spring, shortly after we planted our corn seeds, we received lots of rain and cool weather. The seed sat in the ground and a lot of it rotted, necessitating replanting.

We grow the supersweet varieties of corn, usually one white corn and one bicolor (white and yellow together). This year, we tried another variety simply for its novelty - 'Ruby Queen' is red! I've never eaten it before, so we'll see how it compares to our usual variety, 'Serendipity.'

We put fertilizer between the rows last week, and hopefully that will boost those weaker plants. In any case, I don't think we'll be reaping the benefits of higher corn prices with the corn we're growing in our garden. It doesn't matter anyway - we eat all the profits.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Dad's Better Than ... Well ... You Know

As the only daughter and only child of my father, I never had to share his attention with anyone except my mother. And she seemed to have a way of captivating him that took me years to truly understand - years of being married myself, and to a man very much like my father.

My dad is a quiet man of many talents, and one of these is his superb woodcrafting abilities. Nearly a life-long passion of his, he is a perfectionist when it comes to many things and the furniture he has made over the years is a testament to that.
Those of us that he loves (and love him) have been fortunate to be recipients over the years of many of his very special creations. He is a humble man, thinking that what he does is no big deal, even though we assure him it is.

Our home is filled with his works: a 3-section wall unit that holds many of my books and our television (and a cat now and then), built-in bookshelves along a stairwell wall, a cedar chest that doubles as a coffee table, a grandmother clock, a built-in desk and cabinets that house my Classic Pooh collection, a bookend that holds five wine bottles, and an inlaid walnut Reuge music box.

The star of our collection is our bedroom set which he made in 2000, to copy Thomasville's Encounter collection that I'd seen at Kittle's, and was a gift for our 25th wedding anniversary.

Photos taken in 2001

These are just a few of the things that we're fortunate enough to have in our home. Earlier this year, Dad made me something else that was a special request - a porch swing. When Kara, Jenna and I took a garden tour in Ft. Wayne a few years ago, one of the homes on the tour had a swing on their front porch and Kara remarked, "Mom, you need one of these on your front porch." Brilliant, that girl!

And now we have a porch swing, a la Dad:

But wait! There's more!

A matching chair!

Let's put it all together now...

Romie has decided that a matching rocker would be rather nice and Dad has graciously agreed to make one this winter, when he spends more time inside, in his fabulous woodworking shop.

Now lest you think that my dad has never said no to me, I assure you that's not true. I asked for a pogo stick for Christmas when I was two and I didn't get it.

Thanks, Dad. I love you!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New at Our Little Acre - Campanula 'Pink Octopus'

Last spring, I looked all over for this in every garden center and nursery I visited. I asked about it but the closest I ever got was when we were in Columbus. "It was on the order list, but it never got sent to us."

It seemed I wasn't going to find it locally, so I ordered it from one of my favorite mail-order nurseries, Big Dipper Farm. The order arrived and while the plant itself wasn't all that big, it had a healthy root system. It wasn't in the ground too long before I realized it was going to be a strong grower. It spread a bit before fall and frost, but it didn't get large enough to bloom yet that year.

When spring arrived this year, 'Pink Octopus' was one of the first perennials in our garden to wake up and I could see that I was going to be very pleased with this plant. It has very lush foliage that has an interesting enough shape that I like it even when it's not in bloom.

In the last week or so, it has begun to bloom, and what fascinating blooms it has! I can see how it got its cultivar name.

I'm quickly becoming a big fan of Campanulas. They're proving to be vigorous, tough plants in our gardens and there are so many different leaf shapes and blooms in the genus. You could have a small garden comprised of nothing but Campanulas and there would be enough variation in form and color that it would be interesting to even the most veteran gardeners.

Example? Compare 'Pink Octopus' to 'Dickson's Gold':

Besides the obvious difference in foliage and bloom shape and color, the growth habit and size of the plants is quite different as well. 'Pink Octopus' grows to a height of about 12 inches, while 'Dickson's Gold' is a small-leaved ground hugger.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sure Signs of Summer

I know the calendar says it's now summer, but there's one thing around here that means it truly is. Lightning bugs. And we saw them and all their cousins and brothers and sisters and friends tonight.

I was talking to our neighbor Tom as he was burning brush and our other neighbor Tim had walked over to join in on the chat, when we noticed the flashes of light that magically appeared before our eyes. None of us had seen any before tonight.

Tonight's appearance upped the percentage of averages for first sighting on the first day of summer. That's when they typically arrive to herald the start of summer. Last year they were a week early.

The Monarchs arrived a month ago. The Baltimore Oriole was here before that. All that's left is for the cicadas to buzz in.

Illustration taken from Wandering Home (Artist unknown)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Old House Journal . . . and Us!

I've marveled before at just who happens to read my blog, and once again, have been surprised. A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail from Old House Journal, a publication of This Old House, requesting use of a photo from my blog for an upcoming issue. I granted that permission and yesterday, a copy of the August issue arrived in the mail.

The photo is one I took a year ago of our patio and pergola. It was the pergola that caught their eye, as they wanted to use the photo for an article on wood preservation.

The article is on page 60 and at the lower right corner, the credit for the photo is given. They even spelled my name right! (Over the years, it's been misspelled a hundred and eleven ways 75% of the time.)

When Romie saw the spread, he was so tickled. He couldn't imagine that his house would make it in a major publication. A pergola that he and my dad worked to build during one weekend back in 2001 was there for all the world to see. Good work, honey!

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