Saturday, March 31, 2012

Michigan Garden

It only comes around once a year, but when it does, it is a thing of beauty.  I'm talking about my Michigan Garden, of course!  

It's the colors of the University of Michigan football team - the maize and blue.  Not that it is maize - it is forsythia.  And not that it is the navy blue - it is the chionodoxa, Lake Superior on a bright summer's day.  It's Michigan to me.

I wait for this moment every year.  It is fleeting.  Some year's it happens during the week and I don't get to see it, but this year I was lucky and it happened on the weekend.  Both the forsythia and the chionodoxa reached their peak bloom on a Saturday.

How cool is that!?

It's the first highlight of the garden for me.  It reminds me of the first place where I grew up.  It reminds me of home.  It reminds me of family.

Even though the individual flowers are so small, they make a big impact.  I love that this is right up in the front of our bucolic manor.  I love that people stop to take a look and I see the smiles on their faces.  I even love seeing it lit by the streetlight when I go to work in the morning before the sun rises.

It's my piece of Michigan.  A little bit of home in the place I now call home.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Billions of Blossoms

There is almost a billion dollars up for grabs in tonight's Mega Millions lottery so I thought about the one thing here at our bucolic manor that number in almost the billions.  Forsythia blossoms.

Now I haven't counted them individually (I'm saving that for a weekend activity!), but just by looking at the sheer quantity of them, surely there must be close to a billion, no?

Their perky golden yellow blooms fill the front garden, the side and the bower gardens.  Even though there are bare spots due to the snow/warm snap last October where some of them bloomed early, there are still a ton of blossoms that came out for the Spring Show.

Just lovely - right?  And this is only a portion of them.

I wonder if forsythia blossoms were ever contemplated the way that cherry blossoms are.  They say that you can look at each individual cherry blossom for a lifetime and never find one that is absolutely perfect.  Has anyone ever done that with a forsythia.

I'm going to have to give it a go.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flowers in the Bower

The flower bower forsythia are in full bloom this week.  They surround our little garden love seat and flutter above the tiny pond with it's water cascade. It's a lovely place to sit and watch the birds flit.

Right now the forsythia are about 12-feet tall since they got beaten down a bit over the winter.  In just a few short weeks they will soar to over 17-feet tall and my DH and I will precariously balance on a ladder to trim them into shape with a hedge cutter.

Last year I called a halt to balancing on the tip-top of the ladder while it was on the hill of the bower, so my DH sculpted out little tunnels in the forsythia so we could sneak in and set the ladder on a flat surface.  Much safer that way.

This year I think I'm going to put in some surprises inside of the tunnels so when the children come through during the garden tours they will find them.

In the meanwhile I think I'll just enjoy sitting out in the bower and watch the birds.  The time to trim and prune and weed will be here soon enough - and I need to save my strength.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pretty Bird

The spruce trees around our bucolic manor tower above us and make a perfect lookout spot for the turkey vultures to roost.

They are huge ugly birds - really!  But they are the sweetest things.  If you look online, you'll find stories about how they act as baby sitters and playmates for young children - sweet and caring.

One of the strangest things I saw once was a turkey vulture pulling a deer that had been hit by a car off of the road and into the field.  There were a few other of its' friends hanging out, staying out of the way - most likely cheering him on.  This is not an unusual thing for them to do.

The best part of their vulture-ness is that once they digest something, no matter how...nasty, it comes out the other end absolutely bacteria free.  It's like they are nature's hazmat team.

I love how they soar on the thermals and come in for a landing at the tips of the trees.  All of them gather there for awhile, watching us watching them.  After awhile they fly away again.

They may be physically ugly to me, but their attitude and nature make them pretty birds.

Polly want a cracker?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I've Got Your Back

These two beauties were not stopped by the freeze last night.  Maybe because they really believe in the buddy system.  They clearly have each other's back!

When we get a freeze at this point in the cycle of Spring, it is a hit or miss type of thing.  Because of the mountains surrounding us we often get hit really hard - or totally missed by the weather.  We'll see rain on the radar and in the sky, but it will be 1/2 mile up or down the road.  Or they'll say the rain is going to miss us and we get flooding that Noah didn't even think was possible.

These two beauties are in a pretty good spot.  They have a nice little hedge behind them to block some of the wind.  A lot of mulch to keep their roots warm.  Full sun from from first light at sunrise to sunset.

Even with all of that going for them, they are still looking out for each other.  I think that's so sweet!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Apple Blossom Time

Last October our apples tree took a big hit in the snow storm. We had to prune them back really severely and we weren't sure if they were going to make it through, so it was wonderful to see them come into bloom this weekend.

They're not as heavily blooming as last year, but considering that they have lost over 1/2 of their limbs, I think they're doing really well.

Their blossoms are so delicate and lovely.  It's to bad that we're getting a hard freeze tonight.  Tomorrow they will be gone and no apples for us this year.

They good news is that the trees survived their storm damage and will live another year.

Not bad for "rescue" trees.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Playing in the Garden

What could be more fun on a sunny afternoon than playing in the garden?  There are squirrels and chipmunks and birds everywhere to chase.  And the red ball is even outside.

It really doesn't get much better than this for our pup - hours of continual attention and affection from both me and my DH.  

It's all she really wants.

Well, that and the red ball --- and maybe some treats --- and that squirrel, the one over there!  Let's run and chase it!!!

She's such a good girl.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Checking In

It's been a whole week since I planted the peas in the vegetable parterre.  Of course I had to rush outside as soon as possible to check on them.  How high would they be?  Did they have their little leaves yet?  Or those cute little tendrils that grasp onto anything within reach like a baby's hand?  I'll bet they are going like gangbusters!

Ummm.  Not so much.

No sign of them yet, but it's only been a week.  It's okay.  I didn't really expect anything to be there yet.  I only thought that it could happen because it's been so warm this week.  It almost feels kind of summery.

I'll check them again next weekend.  Maybe they will be peeking out by then.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Annual Planter

Since I had to come up with a perennial planter design, I figured it would only be just and fair to come up with an annual planter design.

I think that annuals are more showy then perennials, probably because they have just one year to be all that they can be to attract whatever pollinator they need in order to produce seeds for the birds to eat and spread around.  Whatever the reason, an annual plant is really a lot of flash for a season.

I again looked for plants that did not need a lot of watering and could withstand a bit of drought.  I wanted some yellow - to discourage deer from eating them.  And, of course, I wanted the three-layers of plants (spiller, filler and thriller) to move your eyes around the planter which lets you get the overall effect of the display instead of getting stuck on just one plant.

So here's what I came up with:

Starting at the bottom with the spiller, these vines will be the base color for the display.  I'm starting off dark here so they will "ground" the planter and make it seem a bit more substantial.  The movement of the vines when the wind blows will make it dance a bit.  They'll go around the pot about 4-inches in from the edge.

Ipomoea - Sweet Potato Vine

Because I chose the black/purple sweet potato vine for the bottom, I wanted to give it a little flash of color.  Even though this next plant won't really grow very big by the time the season ends, that smaller stripe will make for a nice bit of interest in the planter as well as tie in the colors of the plants above.  Also plant these about 4-inches from the edge of the planter, mixed in between the ipomoea.

Lysimachia - Creeping Jenny

Now we move up to the filler.  First I wanted to brighten up the black/purple of the ipomoea and bring out the reds.  Second I wanted a lot of blossoms.  Third, I wanted a plant that would fill down and blend with the vines as well as fill up to blend with the thriller plant.  Fourth, I didn't want to have to deadhead the flowers as they died.  Plant this about 8-inches back from the edge of the pot.

Million Bells - Calibrachoa 'Super Scarlet'

Again, I needed a contrast plant for the red of the calibrachoa.  I decided to play off of the yellow in the lysimachia and the yellow centers in the calibrachoa.  I needed something a bit higher.  I also wanted something that was a bit more circular.  The lysimachia is sort of round, the calibrachoa is round, now I want something really round.  And yellow.  Plant this about 8-inches back from the edge of the planter.

Shrub Verbena - Lantana camara 'Samatha'

Finally, the thriller.  This is the topper for the display.  It has to be showy, but blend the other two layers together.  Since the strongest color in the display is red, I want something red for the thriller.  It also has to be the tallest thing in the planter.  And I want it to pull in the foliage from the rest of the plants (in addition to pulling in the color), so I want it to be spiky.

Mexican Bush Sage - Salvia leucantha

The bright fuschia purplish-red color will bring in both the ipomoea and the calibrachoa.  The spikey blooms and foliage will echo the split leaves on the ipomoea and will be lacy enough to make the calibrachoa foliage not seem like a big brick in the middle of the display.  For the planters that get less sun, the foliage will turn a bit silvery and the color will be a bit more pink than fuchsia.  Plant this in the middle of the pot.

These plants will do pretty well if we have a dry spell this summer.  They won't need watering everyday - even in really hot dry temperatures - and they won't look all wilty.  They will move in the breeze created by cars going past them, not breaking.  They do alright in shade for those planters without a lot of sun.

I think this is going to be a good display.  Now I just have to wait 6 more weeks until I can plant it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Commuting Bud-ies

In Manhattan, all of the trees on the avenues are in bloom, but up north we're just starting to get some serious buds on the trees and bushes.  After a night of gentle misty rain, the buds on this magnolia seemed to swell up instantly making for a lovely lace against the dark morning sky.

It will be a race to see if it will bloom before the next weather roller coaster ride brings us some frost.  There is a chance that the buds will stay nice and tight and make it through the frost, so only the tips get a little frostbite.

I'm going to hope for that.  

A few years ago when we had a warm February, all of my flowers came up early.  I was so happy!  There were blooms everywhere and they looked magnificent.  But then, as it usually does when we have a warm early Spring, an ice storm came along.  Every single flower died.  And not only did the blooms die off in a single night, but all of the foliage died as well.

This meant that not a single one of the flowers that bloomed that early Spring survived to bloom another year.

So while I am enjoying the buds, I am very cautious in my optimism.  I am looking forward to them opening, but like with any new tiny little growing thing, I worry about it's safety.

Maybe I shouldn't worry so much.  These things have a way of working themselves out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No More Potatoes

I don't know where my mind was on my way home from work tonight, because when I got home I realized I had forgotten to get more dog food for our little pup.  Now I know that some folks just feed their dogs whatever it is that they eat for dinner - and that works for them.  Others cook their dogs special meals just for the dogs - and that works for them.  I buy dog food for our pup - that's what works for me.

But tonight I forgot to pick up her food on the way home.  So when I was greeted by one very hungry puppy at the front door, I needed to figure out something fast.  

Corned beef & cabbage.  That's what was in the refrigerator, so that's what she got for dinner.  Of course I couldn't give her any onion because you don't feed that to dogs.  And I didn't give her any cabbage because she has never had that before and a weeknight is not a time to be introducing your pet to a new food. (You need to know which end it will come out after you put it in, if you get my drift...)

So that left the corned beef, carrots and potatoes.  Corned beef definitely - she loves it.  It's meat, 'nuff said.  Carrots were a go - she's not a big fan of them, but she will eat them and I know they are good for her.  

Now about those potatoes.  Dogs eat potatoes.  Some dogs even love potatoes.  And I've told her again and again that potatoes are really yummy and she will like them if she just would give them a chance.

But there is absolutely no way that she is going to ever ever ever eat potatoes.  Won't. Ever. Eat. Potatoes.

However, I really appreciate the way she lines them up in a neat little row off to the side of her food mat.  It tells me that she has at least thoughtfully considered them and deemed them unworthy of actually being eaten.

So, no potatoes - ever.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring!

The streets were in bloom today, celebrating the first day of Spring!  Up and down Broadway, the daffodils  from the Daffodil Project were in full bloom.  They say there are now more than 10 million daffodils in the city now - and I think they were all open today, showing off their fancy frills and bringing a smile to my face.

It wasn't just the large daffodils either, even the smaller ones were showing off.

Of course the dogwoods had to get in on the excitement as well.  I just love how such a gentle pink can make such a bold statement when you put them in the middle of the avenue.

Their blooms are fleeting - and very messy.  Good thing the street sweepers don't have to contend with snow.  Did I mention there's no snow?  Because it's SPRING!

These are my favorites, though.  They line the streets for block and blocks and give off a wonderful scent.  I'm not sure what they are - strangely enough I've never bothered to classify them - I just enjoy them.  Their little white bundles of blossoms are so delicate and beautiful.  It makes walking down the street feel as though you're walking through a field of flowers in the middle of the city.

Ah, Spring!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Weather Math

Here's the question.  What does 79 minus 42 equal?  Answer: 1 winter coat, 1 scarf, 1 sweater, 1 hat and a pair of mittens.  

On this last day of winter, I left for work bundled up from head to toe in warm winter garb.  But!  Since I work in Manhattan it was much warmer by the time I got down to the city, the temperature difference at this time of year is about 40-degrees.  Today it was a 37-degree difference.

So while I enjoyed walking around outside all day without a coat or even a sweater, I still had to lug my winter clothes back across town to the train and then layer them on to get to the truck once I got upstate.

I've been commuting a few years now, but this strange weather gap is something that I've never gotten used to.  I've been snowed in while my southern friends are picnicking at the park.  I've spent the day buried under blankets in front of a wood stove, they've spent it in shorts and T-shirts in front of a barbecue.  It is the time of year when I really feel as though I live on a different planet from where I work.

This year, again no complaints here as I am not still living in an arctic icebox, but still it seems strange to go to work wearing mittens and then walk around without even a jacket once I'm there.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Early Blooms

Pea planting wasn't the only thing happening in the garden this weekend, these Glory-of-the-snow (chionodoxa) decided to make an appearance as well.

I'm always surprised when I see these little guys blooming around the gardens.  Mostly because I never planted any chionodoxa anywhere on the property.   And I especially didn't plant them here - outside of the border of a garden bed in the lawn.  This was a gift from some of our landscaping squirrels.

Of course, they were sweet to move this crocus over into one of the daylily beds as well.

They probably just wanted a bit of color to brighten up the space until the daylilies start blooming in May.

Now if I could just get them to weed...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Growing Traditions

Aside from a delicious dinner of corned beef and cabbage, there is one other tradition that I always observe on St. Patrick's Day and it starts by cleaning up the remains of the Winter in a section of the parterre vegetable garden.  And yes, I know Spring has not yet sprung, but I am ever hopeful.

This space works best for the St. Patrick's Day gardening because it is has a corner column and I've also added some bamboo stakes to help hold up the plants-to-be.

I'm talking about peas, of course.  I don't know why it is tradition to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day.  Could it be because they're green?  Maybe because they have to go in early enough to start fruiting before the summer heat hits - they stop fruiting when it gets to be about 75-degrees.  But it is the official start to my gardening season.  Of course, the ones I planted a few years ago in a foot of snow didn't even have the decency to sprout let alone fruit, but this year's warm winter gives me high hopes for some pea pods in a few months.

The pea seeds are...well...they're dried up peas.  They don't seem much different to me than the dried up peas you  buy for pea soup - except maybe they're a bit bigger.

I like to lay them out on top of the soil first, just to make sure they are spread out enough.  Usually you would plant these in rows about 8-inches apart.  I plant mine 2-inches apart in rows that are 4-inches apart.  I absolutely overplant the space.  This does two things: it gives the weeds less room to grow in and it gives me the chance to pull any little runts out of the rows without lowering my potential crop yield.  (Crop yield! Look at me sounding all fancy-farmer-like!!)  

I follow the arc of the space so the peas will (hopefully) fill in the area without spilling over into the parterre pathways.  The clear spacing between the rows is also going to let me get in there to weed as well as let air move around the plants.  This will keep them healthy as they grow.

I used one of the bamboo stakes to push the peas down into the soil 1/2 to 1-inch.  It gives them just enough contact to coax the roots to grow, but not too deep that the leaves get lost on their way up to the surface.  Peas are a pretty little delicate plant, tiny little tendrils and all, so I don't think they'd make it if I buried them down much further.

The little indentations made during the pea planting will smooth out over the next week or so as it rains and the wind moves the bark and leaf bits on the top of the garden bed around.  Since I planted in arcs about 4-inches from the pathway towards the column, I'll know what is a pea seedling and what is a weed when things start sprouting up.  According to the package, on May 23rd, there will be peas ready for harvest.

So the only question I have left to answer is: was I gardening?

Based on the Knee Theory of Gardening, yes.  I was definitely gardening - even if it wasn't that much.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spotted Dog

I found the recipe card just in time for St. Patrick's Day.  I'm not sure where I got the recipe - I've had it for many many years, but I am sure it is the best soda bread recipe I have.  Actually, since it has raisins, it is really Spotted Dog, but just leave them out if you prefer plain soda bread.

Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

Cut in 6 Tablespoons shortening.

Stir in 2/3 cups raisins, 2 teaspoons caraway, and 1 cup buttermilk.

Knead the sticky mess for 1-2 minutes.  It will come together and smooth out.

Shape into a round then cut a 1/4-inch "X" in the top of it.

Bake it for 45 minutes at 375-degrees until it sounds hollow when tapped.

After you pull it from the oven, guard it carefully for at least 15 minutes so that no hungry men come around and pull off huge hunks of it before the steam inside sets a bit.

Then cut it up into chunks and serve with creamy butter slathered all over the top.

Usually I end up making about 4 of these on St. Patrick's Day.  1 for the dinner table, 1 for snacking on and the others for neighbors who seem to just show up at the door for some unknown reason...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Waiting Station

Some nights it doesn't pay to be 30 seconds late.  Because 30 seconds late for a train isn't really 30 seconds - it's actually 59 minutes and 30 seconds...the amount of time until the next train.

So what is there to do at a train station for 59 minutes and 30 seconds?  Well, not much.

If you're really bored, you could take a photo every 15 seconds, turn them partially transparent and then layer them all together.  But only if you were really bored.

Of course, now that I have this blog to keep me organized, I'm never late for the train by 30 seconds and I wouldn't be sitting on a wooden bench trying to use my hand as a tripod and take a picture every 15 seconds for almost an hour.  Of course that would never happen to me...

Well, it was either take 120 pictures and mess around with them or obsess about missing the darn train by a mere 30 seconds.

I think it looks kind of cool.  You know, if you're really bored.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Perennial Planter

It's almost time to start getting plants for the planters.  This year I'll be submitting a design to the town for some perennial planters.  Usually we just put in annuals in the town planters, but we thought that if we started putting in some perennial planters we could start saving some money on continually buying annual plants and buy more planters.  More planters is good!

So here's my thought.  I want something that will have 4 season interest, be drought tolerant (mostly), propagate easily, be very hardy, likes sun.  And here's my solution - daylilies.

Okay, perhaps I have a tendency towards daylilies because my gardens are filled with historic daylilies.  But the thing is - they grow in this area.  And a gardening friend of mine once gave me a very sage piece of advice - plant what grows.

So here's what I came up with:

Spring:  Bulbs are perfect for spring.  They will self-propagate even in the planter and look good year after year.  Since we won't be digging up the plants each year, we don't have to worry about disturbing the bulbs.  They'll go around the outside of the pot - about 4-inches in from the edge.




Summer:  This is where the daylilies will shine.  The ones I've selected will bloom from May through the end of September.  And the foliage will have a lot of movement and interest also.  They'll go in a "5" pattern in the middle of the pot - like the markings on dice.

Early Evelyn

Stella De Oro

Flava Major

Little Wine Cup

Autumn Accent

Camden Gold Dollar

Fall/Winter:  Sedum will add the color for Fall and the flowers will dry out and hold snow on them for some interest in the winter.  Also, the low sedum turns a really pretty golden color as the weather gets colder - so in those late November days, the planters will still look pretty.  These get planted at the 12-3-6 & 9 spots in the pot towards the outside, about 6-inches from the edge.


Autumn Fire

These plants do well in heavy planters in my gardens so I know they will do well in the town planters.  I also think that the reds and yellows will be really cheery to look at going down the street.

This is the kind of gardening I like - picking out plants, but no bugs or worms!