Friday, September 30, 2011


Another new book, Composting inside & out by Stephanie Davies, the urban worm girl, is one I will not be reading word by word.  I compost.  I do not want to be an expert in 14 methods of composting.  Neither do I want to read any more closely about composting human waste. I do not want to compost indoors.  And the worms in my compost bin are there naturally; I do not want to manage a little worm farm. 
But beyond all my ew, ick, reactions to this book, it has really solid information.  There are chapters on soil health and beneficial bacteria and fungi.  When I see a yard where the soil has never been fed I cringe.  I do think composting and mulching are not just beneficial, but essential.  The pictures in the book of barren soil will convince you this is true, if you have not yet noticed for yourself.   There is value here in the clear explanations of different composting methods and systems.  If you are wondering how to start or which system to use, this will help.  The nicest part is it begins with the simple things.  Davies suggests simply burying egg shells, banana peels and coffee grounds, three nutritive power houses (not so icky to handle either) 8 inches deep.  The 8 inches is to keep animals away.  Denise does this in Alaska because their season is too short and cool for a compost pile to break down.  Another simple suggestion is wrapping kitchen waste in newspapers and deposting the bundle in the composter.  Or, similarly, using a brown paper bag.  The papers are the 'brown' elements that are necessary for the 'green' kitchen waste to break down.  Hmmm... I just noticed tips on composting in hot dry climates.  I think I will go read some more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall planting

Backdoor herb and salad garden in spring

Fall is officially here and I am thinking we are through that last hot week. Fall planting started a month ago, but I ended up having to replant most of my veggies.  I know some beets and peas sprouted, but they were gone when I came home from Ohio.  I do not know if birds or snails got them.  So new peas, chard and beets sowed directly into the ground out back.  In pots I sowed more lettuce, spinach and carrots.  I also started a new pot of potatoes.  The photo above shows what the newly replanted pots will look like come spring. 

It is just about time for new annuals as well.  Lowes had their fall bedding plants in today.  Pansies, poppies, snapdragons, sweet peas, and so many more can all be planted out from six packs now, or sweet pea, poppy, nigella, larkspur and other seed sown in the ground anytime from now through the end of October.  I struggle with fall bedding plants.  They must be planted out after the hot weather, but here in the valley they must get a good start before fog.  With none planted, the garden will be bare through winter and spring, but the summer annuals, especially my zinnias and salvia, are making a great show now and will continue into Thanksgiving.  What to do?  Seeding is effective because the plants sprout amongst the existing plants.  Otherwise, I like pots.  I have decided that since summer annuals can be planted in early March and bloom through November or even December they have more value than the winter annuals which sit and pout through the cold and then die the minute the temps hit 80.  A few pots of pansies or other annuals brighten up the winter months and make all the difference without redoing the beds when fall is in full swing. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The garden Mid-September

As we near the autumn equinox I can see the garden sigh with relief from less sun.  This morning I walked out and counted 40 kinds of flowers blooming.  Several are a bit of out time, like a little foxglove, a new bloom on the oakleaf hydrangea, and lots of lavender.  I do not recall lavender blooming the entire season before. 
Problems that need addressing include the purple potato vine that has wobbled over inspite of careful pruning.  It apparently needs to be kept smaller.  The orange tree continues to put out diseased foliage.  I am not sure what it is, some sort of leaf miner maybe, but we are dealing by cutting it all off.  In the back corner bed the anenome and other spreading perennials continue to spread in spite of all efforts to dig them out.  Now that it is cooling off I need to get back to being aggressive with those.  For some reason the roses have not done well this year.  It is disappointing to have so few roses, and those so small, and the bushes looking unhealthy as well.
On the bright side, there are several pumpkins growing and one is even turning orange.  It is quite small, but there will be at least one pumpkin on the porch this fall.  My new species peony browned and hasn been cut to the ground.  I remember last year thinking oh, no, it has died but it came back just fine in the spring.  I am hoping the same is true this year.  Maybe it just has a short season.  The Solomon seal is turning yellow and the eupatorium is blooming, both more signs that fall is on the way.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More thoughts on shrubs

I did some more research on Enkianthus and Fothergilla and even though I am sure they are gorgeous shrubs I think they just are not fitted to our location.  They want quite acid soil and plenty of water.  At heart I am a northern gardener, that is for sure. 
I did a walk around outside and decided the only place that might need more shrubs is the far back corner.  We are still waiting to see how the lilacs do there.  That area as a whole is still problematic.  I did not make much headway there this year with the restructuring after the arbor came down.  I am thinking dwarf fruit trees might be a better way to go. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Researching shrubs and perennials

I am back in the mode of researching new shrubs and perennials.  I love to look through books, magazines and sometimes catalogs for ideas.  Catalogs are iffy since too often their pics are overly stylized and touched up and bear little resemblance to the real thing.  Plus very few offer real info as to where plants actually grow.  So I sit with the Sunset Guide to Western Gardens on my lap along with whatever else I am reading so I can narrow down thoughts to realistic ideas.  I bought several new plants last spring at farmers market that have settled in happily either in front or in the back sunny garden.  Now I would like to find more perennials for the shady garden.  One I want to try is Alchemilla Mollis which has chartreuse flowers.  I am also thinking about shrubs again, after reading Gardening for a Lifetime this week.  I keep going back to fothergilla and enkianthus.  I have tried enkianthus to no avail, but have come to realize that bareroot plants and very small container grown plants, unless annuals, need a year or so of coddling in a gallon pot. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Time Energy and Health

I am thinking about the concept of not trying to do it all myself.  I no longer wash my van because of my shoulder problems.  Likewise, pruning is really difficult when it involves wide shoulder motion.  For now Jerry is doing all that, and 'little tree', my purple potato vine standard, shows the quality of his work.  It hasn't looked so well shaped in years.  But I imagine it will at some point need to go.  We are cutting back the fruit trees to a height where we can pick from the ground, and as I hopefully add more they will be the five foot dwarfs.     
Other than pruning, the garden work that is the most difficult is dealing with roots.  Especially in the case of seasonal annuals I do not want to be digging out tenacious roots such as those on rudbeckia and sunflowers and the annual coreopsis.  I prefer plants like poppies that can be simply plucked from the ground. So the plants that require routine digging are becoming fewer as I find more congenial alternatives. 
So I think for the garden there are ways to minimize labor to fit what we can do, and continue to do it all ourselves. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wiser Garden

Deb gave me some Border's gift cards since they were going out of business and even though I had to sort through the dregs and settle for whatever looked OK, I found four new books at 70% off.  I read through one of them, Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older by Sydney Eddison, this weekend as I came home sick from Ohio.  Keep in mind that in true gardener style Sydney is talking being older as meaning being 80ish  : )  However, her tips and ideas are useful and wiser for anyone who does not have the time and energy to really get out and garden as a primary activity.  The basic idea is to focus on easy to no care shrubs, underplanted with a no care ground covers interspersed with hardy bulbs, and protected with a good layer of mulch.  She warns against the labor intensive self sowing annuals and too many perennials.  I do have next to no care perennials, but the typical sunny perennial border needs quite a bit of upkeep. 
Mrs. Eddison reached the older stage of gardening only after 50 years in the same four acres, the death of her husband, and a hip replacement among other physical ills.  I found it interesting that she talks about the overwhelmingness of work as being not her beloved garden, for which she now needs a few hours help each week, but the paperwork formerly handled by her husband.  Her solution was to hire someone to come in once a week and deal with bills and mail and office supplies and all that other work of that type.  She does say it took someone else to help her learn to prioritize and plan  before she could get both the garden and home in order.  However, I think it fairly genius to decide to continue in her home gardening as best as able and pay someone else to do the part that was so distasteful.  I pretty much read straight through this book, stopping to add to my paperbackswap wish list as other books were suggested.  I will need to read it again, but right now I am challenged with several thoughts.  One, what are the areas of work I would be happier paying someone else to do once I am in a situation where I cannot do it all myself, two, what are other shrubs to add to my garden to begin a process of less labor with equal enjoyment, and three, I need to add more unique perennials while I am in the prime gardening years.  : ) 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Late perennials

Aster 'Purple Dome'

Today I saw goldenrod blooming along the freeway in Ohio.  I have never seen it outside a book before.  As pretty as it is, it is the yellow I do not care to have in my garden, so it can stay in Ohio.   : )  This is one of the 'fall' blooming perennials, and yes, fall has arrived in Ohio.  Apparently fall begins at Labor Day and progresses into November, just like we all wish fall would always do. 

At home the asters have begun to bloom, as well as the helenium.  Japanese anenome is budded up as well.  The Eupatorium 'Chocolate' waits for October and is just so lovely as a true fall bloom, looking like cocoa foam on the chocolate leaves.  The advantage of late blooming perennials is that the foliage stays nice all summer.  When plants bloom early they are done and the foliage begins to die back in preparation for the new year.  For those of us with a long season, too many spring blooming perennials means an old tired garden come August.  

My mums died this year, no great loss.  I saw a pretty double red at Lowe's that I might buy if they get new ones in once it actually cools down.  Mums do not keep blooming.  What you see at the store is what you get and if they have already opened that means about two weeks worth of flowers.  I will wait and see what's available in October, then after the plant blooms, cut it back and plant it outside for next year's color. 

Many of the summer blooming perennials are still blooming, but the new ones get the ooh's and ah's.