Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's the holiday season!

So woop dee do and dickory dock!

FINALLY the Mulch Boy and I have completely recovered our health, after losing all of November to colds and bronchitis and Mucinex and decongestants and steroids and inhalers. Despite being in rotten condition, we did manage to drive over the river and through the woods to New England for Thanksgiving with Mulch Mom and Brother Jeep and his family.  We were perhaps the most boring houseguests ever, spending almost the entire time lounging on sofas and taking drugs and eating, but WE had a great time.  Alas for the garden, though: all that lovely November weather, when you normally get to put in your last bulbs, plant your new shrubs or move them around, etc. etc., was wasted on the two sickies.  And now the ground is nice and frozen, so whatever will be will be, as Doris Day says.

Luckily, we have moved past our grief and sniffles and are embracing the Christmas season.  I love my yard and am proud as I can be of the lovely garden we've built.  But come this time of year, I am thrilled to drape my azaleas with big colored lights and populate it with my two light-up plastic snowmen.  I have a friend who finds these kinds of decorations "tacky" (you know who you are!), but I fail to see it myself.  Look, I agree that the all-white lights are lovely and elegant, and I honestly have nothing against them.  I, however, am still drawn to the types of decorations that appeal to a six-year-old.  This is probably appropriate when you consider that I can pretty much recite from heart the entire dialogue from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and "It's a Wonderful Life."  Who exactly are we putting up these lights for, anyway--the adults or the little people? 

Now we are about to embark on another trek, this time to brother Trebor and his family, and then to see my mommy (the Potato Queen Mother) and daddy (Daddy).  To that end, we've been scrambling like maniacs to get all the gifties bought and wrapped, everything packed, routes mapped, all so we can get in the car and then... sit in DC traffic, attempting to get out of town.  Cross your fingers for us that we don't get stuck in shnow.

I'm going to close this disjointed little entry and wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, whatever holiday you celebrate, even if it's none at all. See you next year!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't get bronchitis!

If you do, you might end up missing lots of work, and getting poked with needles and IVs, and having to learn about things like nebulizers, and missing three weeks of beautiful fall gardening weather. So just don't do it, okay?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Arlo and Janis: The Gardener's Comic

Have you ever read Arlo and Janis?  It's one of my favorite comic strips AND Janis is a gardener. Click on the comic below to go to cartoonist Jimmy Johnson's blog.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Time for a trip to the hardware store

Our backyard patio doesn't look quite as bad as the street in Amy Stewart's post on Garden Rant, but it's definitely come close.  I think I'll be checking out the Depot this weekend for some concrete and mortar for my caulk gun.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I was just reading "Five Ways to Know It's Winter in Alaska" on Last Frontier Garden, where Ms. Christine posed the question, "how do you know it's winter where you live?"  After gaping at her pictures, I could not but giggle at the idea of describing winter here. 

Mulch Boy, a native of Massachusetts, would argue that we don't have  winter here in Northern Virginia, not by his standards anyway.  Last year was an exception, as we were uncharacteristically buried under feet of snow for weeks, resulting in the inevitable complete shut-down of the entire DC metro area, including the Federal government. Such events, however, are rare here, and the following are the more common signs of Winter Inside the Capital Beltway.
  1. The parkas come out. Sure, it's only 55 degrees out, but you'd think the thermometers had dropped below zero as the natives pile on their coats and scarves and gloves against the "cold."
  2. Schools close because of snow. To clarify, schools close not because it HAS snowed, or because a lot of snow is expected or blizzard conditions are clearly on their way.  No, the fact is it MIGHT snow a quarter inch (!) (although it hasn't yet), and the closure is a preventive strike.
  3. The supermarkets run out of bread, milk, and toilet paper. One of the first winters after I first moved back to this area, the local news teams were all reporting on a Thursday that it might--MIGHT!--snow on Saturday. Perhaps an inch.  Maybe.  Every channel was broadcasting that Thursday from a supermarket parking lot, filming the carnage inside the store where panicky shoppers stripped the shelves of basic necessities to prepare for the possible inch of snow on Saturday. Which never came.
  4. Schools close because of rain. Because...  honestly, I have no idea why.
  5. Mulch Boy grills outside in his shirt sleeves and declares it's still like summer and he doesn't need a coat because in Massachusetts people would scoff--SCOFF I tell you!--if you told them this was cold. That Mulch Boy.

Career Criminal

I confess: I am a repeat offender of The Rule Against Onesies.

When I first began gardening, my cousin the landscape architect (hi, cuz!) laid down the design law: don't plant single examples of plants around your garden. Instead, plant in groups for impact, and always in odd numbers to avoid things looking too regimented.

I've had this lesson reinforced to me many times over the years, and the pros definitely know. I've seen enough violations--my own and others--to deny the truth.  So why do I continually break this rule, over and over and over?

Impulse buying. Those who know me well know I can spend hours at a time snooping around the garden center, my face covered in pollen as I literally stick my nose into every promising blossom. I may have come for a bag of garden soil, but I'll be leaving with a cart full of random plants that are "so pretty"! However, since I have no real plan regarding what to do with them, I've only bought one each--because who knows where I'll be able to fit them in at home?

I have learned my lesson, somewhat.  Those single perennials who looked okay in my little square patch at the townhouse look like little orphans lost in the mulch in my big beds at the little blue house. To be fair, I inherited a bunch of onesies when we first moved in, so I'm not responsible for most of them . In fact, I've divided a good many of the little fellers to remedy the situation.

But then there were shrubs.

My beds are way too big to fill with just flowers. They need some anchors. They need some shrubs!

Problem is, well, the same as before: I see, I impulse-buy ("so pretty!"), I have no plan. Now I don't impulse-buy to the same degree as I used to with the perennials--after all, shrubs aren't $5 each, and I was brought up to be a thrifty girl. But even so, I've ended up with quite a few singletons when it comes to my shrubs: nandina, mahonia, St. John's wort, beauty berrry, forsythia, broom, abelia, virburnum, boxwood...  And just a month or two ago, a Mugo pine, a goldthread cypress, a bluestar juniper, and a...  a...  another thing that was 100% impulse buy and I have no idea what it's called (but it's PRETTY!). Oh, and that other one that was reddish and droopy; what was its name? (Also SO pretty!)

Right now my yard probably sounds pretty crazy-looking, but I swear, somehow it works.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oddly, I HATE to vacuum in the house...

Normally, I'm not a big fan of power-driven gardening tools. I don't think there's anything wrong with them per se; it's just that I get a peculiar enjoyment of doing things with my own two hands, even if that turns out to be the hard way. I also like the quiet of using my hand tools. Plus my little garden is just that: little, so the need is really not there. It's true the lawn is large, but I'm afraid of our gas-powered mower, and to Mulch Boy's amusement I bought myself a little rotary mower this year, which I happily push around the yard when Mulch Boy doesn't mow it fast enough to suit The Queen. It makes this great little "whiiiiirrrrrr" noise that I love. AND the doggies are not afraid of the rotary mower, so we can all be together while I mow. Good times!

There are, however, exceptions to every rule, and my exception is my fabulous new electric leaf blower/vaccuum/mulcher. Oh how I love it! It is my new best friend. Mulch Boy even named it: Sookie. (Pronounce that "Suckie.") (Yes, we are addicted to True Blood.)

Thanks to Sookie, this weekend we vacuumed up and mulched all the leaves in the front yard and filled up our both our compost heaps with nice shredded leaves. No more endless raking piles to the street for the county to pick up. Instead, we're recycling it all on our own property. And of course there's more to come, as Fall has really just started here in NoVa.

I don’t want to come off as a shill for the maker by trumpeting their name (what are the ethics for that on a blog?). But if you want to know the brand/make, shoot me an email or comment and I’ll share. It really is a good tool and works great. Or just do what I do and go to Consumer Reports and live your life according to their reviews and recommendations. I’m sort of a slave to Consumer Reports. A dork slave.

Monday, October 18, 2010

10 Things I Enjoy

I just found the Garden Musings blog of James Roush in Kansas and have started following him. His reflections on his gardening, Kansas, and life in general are nice stuff, and he has some lovely lovely roses, of which I am now jealous.

In September, James proposed a garden game in which he invited ten of his favorite bloggers to share ten things they enjoy doing (he in turn received this request from the blogger at Onenezz, who was invited by someone else in what appears to be, as James called it, a blogger Ponzi scheme). Well, I've not been personally invited and they were doing this a month ago, but it sounds like fun and I'm gonna give it a whirl anyway.

Ten Things I Enjoy Doing (Garden Edition)
  1. Renew the garden. Come Fall, my yard has usually become a weedy mess due to neglect during the hot summer months here in the DC area. When the temperatures finally become bearable, I'm rarin' to dig out all those weeds, move/divide/replant the overgrown perennials, and plunk in some new pretties. The work is hard, but so so gratifying..
  2. Taking a shower after renewing the garden. You're exhausted, you're coated with soil, and you're speckled with mosquito bites. The shower you take now will be more satisfying than any other. Then you can put on your pajamas and sack out on the sofa with your puppy dogs and your husband.
  3. Sacking out on the sofa with my puppy dogs and my husband. Especially when worn out from gardening. There's nothing snugglier than the entire family pack smooshing together.
  4. Watching seeds sprout. I've only been growing vegetables from seed for two years, so there's still a large part of me that thinks "this will never work." Thus I'm astounded and thrilled when it does.
  5. Picking food from my very own garden. Much as I'm amazed that seeds I planted actually sprouted into plants, I'm equally excited when I can go out and actually fill a colander full of vegetables from our own little garden patch. There's dinner!
  6. Composting. My good friend and I went to a free composting class given by Falls Church City, where the wonderful instructors assured us that compost is not rocket science, and if you're in no hurry, you can just make a nice pile of leaves and wait a year and voila!  Compost!. So I went home and started a little compost pile. Soon, Mulch Boy got into the game and created a second, double-wide compost heap behind our shed. And it really does work, and now we don't have to rake all those leave to the street. 
  7. Collecting rocks. I have a rock fetish. I'm not sure when or why it started, but I love rocks in the garden. Some I've collected from the side of the road on the interstate (those Falling Rocks the signs tell you to be cautious of), some I've collected from friends' and family's homes (and which moved with me from my old townhouse to the little blue house), and some I've bought from the quarry down the road. Yes, although I am in the DC metropolitan area, there is literally a quarry up the street from me that sells all kinds of rocks, including beautiful boulders!  My first birthday after getting married, I told Mulch Boy I wanted rocks for my birthday, and he knew I didn't mean from the jewelry store.
  8. Collecting plants. I also have plants that have come from friends and family, mostly from my dad. I am very sentimental, so they are extra special to me. When I moved to the little blue house, it was February and the ground snow-covered, and so many such plants got left behind. I still fantasize about going back to my old townhouse under cover of darkness to recover some of my old buddies.
  9. Digging. There is nothing like digging to work out your frustrations. Especially with a hand trowel. Using a stabbing motion. Stab stab stab. Also, that business about digging deep in your vegetable garden? They are not lying: it makes all the difference.
  10. Enjoying the fruits of my labor. After I finish a project in the garden (like, for instance, the Fall renewal), I find myself darting outside over and over again (sometimes in my jammies) to glory in the results. Then I take pictures and send them to my daddy.
If you're willing, I hope you'll share ten things you like to do in the comments or by linking to your blog in the comments.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pitiful Pearl

I mentioned in my last post that my new little red shrubby replaced a spirea that I probably killed. This spirea:

"What did I do to deserve this?"
 In this picture, you see where I have transplanted my apparently dead little shrub. But maybe it's only mostly dead, which would make it slightly alive! This probably unreasonable optimism has led me to giving it a second chance in a sunnier location, hoping that next spring will see it leafing out anew.

Is this as pointless as appears?  Anyone know?

And then I did THIS!

So after I did all that cleanup in the front yard, I found myself at the garden center.  Of course.  I had a plan for a change: to buy three different evergreens to plant together in the bed by the street. Naturally, I ended up buying those three, plus two other shrubs, three extra junipers, and three perennials.  You'd be surprised what you can fit in a Volkswagen Beetle.

Upon arriving home, I realized that I would have to do some major renovation in order to make space for all my new pals.  In short, all the circled plants would either have to move or go.

Two of the first things I planted at the Little Blue House were these purple
coneflowers and these Shasta daisies. They've gone from two little
singletons to taking over the bed. They had to move.

Last year I thought I was a genius for moving and dividing a bunch of lilies and
yarrow. The bed filled out, yes, but it turned into a real mish-mash, with
everything pretty much overwhelmed by yarrow.  Note to all: never pay money
for yarrow. Come to my house and take some of mine.

So I got out my gloves and Forky and my little trowel, and I dug up all those guys. I confess: some paid with their lives to make my little landscape plan a reality. But I did manage to give away a bunch of lilies and yarrow and even a few peonies. I hate to throw out healthy plants, even if they are taking over the garden.

Then, it was time for the new guys to go in. And after nine hours of digging and planting and transplanting over two days, I ended up with this.

Closeup of new clematis: white, fragrant, and fall-blooming.

Daisies and coneflowers out, tickseed, stonecrop, and clematis in!

New barberry and relocated coneflowers and daisies.

The little red shrubby in the middle is new, replacing a spirea that is
most likely dead. In the background, three new junipers, two still waiting to go in the ground.

So many lilies, I had to relocate some way on the other side of the yard.

Lilies consolidated, yarrow moved and, um, reduced, and new plants!

The original plan was just this: the mugo pine, the goldenthread cypress, and the
juniper. I am so excited that I actually managed to follow through.

I am so happy with how this turned out. How much better will it look with mulch!

"In gratitude for your hard work, we have decided to bloom again!"

Proof of labor. Does everyone else end up this dirty?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who are you?

During the killing spree, I came across a handful of little plants that I did not plant, but that I couldn't quite bring myself to tear out because I like them. Anyone out there know what these guys are, and whether I'm safe letting them take up permanent residence in my yard?

The little lanterns make it look like a volunteer tomatillo. What is it?

I love the leaves on this. Never saw whether it bloomed.

This had, I believe, tiny little bell-like flowers.

Bloom Day Followup

When I posted for my first Bloom Day, I only posted pictures from the front yard, because...  that's where I was working. This was unfair to the backyard. In the interest of equality, I am therefore posting these pictures of my backyard blooms.

Beauty berry: okay, it's not a bloom, but it's so pretty!

Butterfly bush and charging turtle.

Last gasp of the hydrangeas, beautiful even when spent.

Knockout rose, soldiering on.

September Cleanup: After!

And now, how the front yard looked after the killing spree.

Is this the same yard?  BTW, anyone know why the sweet
woodruff would die out in the middle of the patch like that?

I know it's better this way, but I do miss the spurge.

"We can breath again!"

I guess I taught those black-eyed Susans a lesson.

What a difference a day makes.

September Cleanup: Before

A while back, I posted about my amazing killing spree, where I ended up with a pile of weeds in the road the size of a coffin. Now that I finally got my photos on the computer, I thought I'd share the before and after of this endeavor. First:  Before.

Oh, spurge. Is it wrong that I kind of like you,
even though you are a weed?

Flamingo with propellers is Sneezy.

Not much to be pround of here. But how about that Airstream?

Wow. I should be ashamed. And I am!

Look, black-eyed Susans, you do not own the world.

This was beautiful once, I swear.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My First Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

It's my first Garden Blogger's Bloom Day! My blooms may not be too impressive, but I'm still happy to have them.

Black-eyed Susans

See that tall thing on the right? What is that thing? I kinda like it.

Geranium on its last legs. After 4 years in the front yard, it finally
took off this year and made me proud.

Thanks for the second bloom, sedum.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pop Quiz: How can you tell it's been too long since you last weeded?

If your pile of weeds is this big, consider yourself tipped off.


Weekend Killing Spree

Saturday, spent five hours on my hands in knees in the dirt, weeding the front beds. Felt GREAT. Looks GREAT. Photos to come.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm on Garden Rant!

I'm so excited! My rant was finally published today! Click here to read it. And thank you, Garden Rant, for publishing it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Garden Blogging Galore

Thanks to Susan in the Pink Hat, I've just found this resource at May Dreams Gardens, where Carol provides all kinds of advice on how to meet and mingle with this online gardening community. Thanks, Susan, and Hi, Carol!

High of 83?

That's what the weather forecast is for this weekend here in the DC metro area. If you live here, you know how astonishing and wonderful that is, as you have to be prepared for brutal summer heat and humidity to persist into October around here.

Sounds like the perfect weekend to get outside and reclaim my garden. If you've been following along here, you may have noticed that I appear to have been living in the past, relating my garden experiences of several years ago. That's because it's been a crazy summer at the little blue house, and sadly the yard has fallen victim to many other distractions.

But that is going to change this weekend. There will be weeding. There will be reorganizing. There may be... a trip to the garden center! I guess I need to dig out The Gardening Jeans and find my leather gloves. And then I will post pictures of what Potato Queen and Mulch Boy's yard is now.

Note to self: trim off all fingernails before I break them off clawing up dirt with my bare hands.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Help! When and what is Garden Blogger's Bloom Day?

I've figured out that it's a day when garden bloggers post pictures of blooms from their gardens. But when? How frequently?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Susan Harris on Sedum

I love me some Garden Rant, and Rant regular Susan Harris lives locally in the DC area. I actually hired her as a garden coach last Spring, and she was funny, informative, and just a really neat lady, the kind you want to be your new best friend. If you're in the DC area and need some garden coaching, I highly recommend consulting her.

Susan also has her own blog, Sustainable and Urban Gardening, and she's added this great entry on creeping sedums.  She also has a second article that goes into more detail about creeping sedums--the different kinds, how to make them happy, and the best choices for your little patch of ground.

I love sedums and have even before I started gardening. Before I knew what a succulent was, I was fascinated by Hens and Chicks and their thick, springy leaves. Once I started digging in the dirt and visiting the garden center, I fell in love with all the varieties I saw. In our front yard, I have (I think) four different kinds sharing a bed with black-eyed Susans (from Dad), Shasta daisies, purple coneflowers, zebra grass, and a flowering quince. It's getting a little crowded, though, and my little succulents are getting overshadowed. This Fall I think I'll be relocating a bunch of things so that everyone gets their fare share of attention. And find some new creeping sedums to add to the mix.

Killing, Part 3: This Time, It's Unintentional

What is that quote from A Christmas Story? "Life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us."

So while my previous post about my successful garden transformation--in one year!--was truthful, I cannot hide the other, uglier truth.  Which is that a lot of those beautiful plants fell victim to my inexperience.


Undeterred, however, I replaced the dearly departed with new little friends and hoped for the best. Wonder of wonders: the more I planted, the better my survival rate became. And so by my final spring in my townhouse (2006), things looked like this--and all these guys were survivors.


Garden assistant posing behind the crape myrtle.


This also marks the beginning of my rock fetish.

How about that little brick border?

Dad's peonies!

In fact, I became so successful that I ran out of room and was forced to branch out into the median to fuel my new gardening obession.

 The best thing? My neighbor gave me the irises, my parents' neighbor gave me the day lilies, my friend Vera gave me sedum acre from her yard, the grape hyacinths were volunteers, my dad gave me black-eyed Susans, and I recycled all the bricks from my yard (a bunch of them were actually buried in the yard).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Follow me?

If you'd like to follow my blog AND boost my ego, please click the Follow button in the right column. The more followers I get, the more popular I'll look, and maybe they'll let me write more on GardenRant!  (Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream. Still waiting for my guest rant to be published--maybe tomorrow??)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A New Beginning

The continuing story of my first gardening experiences, way back in 2001 - 2003, as described in Killing, Part 1, and Killing, Part 2.

Having successfully eradicated nearly all signs of life from my overgrown yard, I now faced a new and no less intimidating task: what to do with the blank moonscape I now faced. You will recall it looked like this:

"Houston, we have a problem."
Did I have what it takes to bring life back to my now lifeless landscape? Somehow buoyed by my successful killing spree, I thought, sure! But how to start?

Luckily, my principle gardening mentor (Dad) answered that question for me the first time my parents came to visit my new little home. Among the many housewarming goodies, Dad had brought a big bag of plants for my very first garden.

To be perfectly accurate, he brought me bulbs and roots. Little sacks of crocus bulbs and jonquil bulbs. Best of all, a big bag of dirty knobs and roots: these were black-eyed Susans and beautiful white peonies, dug up from their yard.

So that fall of 2001, I planted my first bulbs and roots in the blank canvas of my yard. And the next spring...

My very first flowers

To passersby, this was simply a hardscrabble, dust bowl landscape in miniature. To me, it was my first garden miracle--and the encouragement I needed to attempt to fill the rest of those dusty blank spaces. Between that Spring of 2002 and the Spring of 2003, I enthusiastically learned the joys of the garden center, of impulse plant shopping, and of mulch. And within the space of that one year, the front yard went from the dust bowl above to this:


Clearly there was no rhyme or reason to my planting choices. My "plan" was "put things in the ground and hope they live." And surprise, many did!

Did it look crazy to others? I honestly don't know. To me, it still looks beautiful, and I still feel proud looking at this picture. I will not lie: not everyone shown here survived. (The ones in the clay pots almost certainly all perished; I am not good with potted plants.) But a good many DID survive, despite my lack of skill and haphazard care. That was enough to give me the confidence to keep trying.

Lesson learned: don't let lack of experience or knowledge or even initial failures prevent you from soldiering on and trying again. This former black thumb is proof that persistence pays off.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I'm gonna be a guest ranter!

This week is guest ranter week at Garden Rant. AND... I am excited to have been selected as one of those ranters!  Don't know which day mine will appear, but I will post when I know.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Morning Glory, Why Are You Such a Jerk?

In my old neighborhood, I used to walk my doggie past a lovely old white farmhouse, whose white picket fence supported beautiful morning glories all through the summer. What lovely old-fashioned flowers, I thought each time I passed. In the back of my mind, I added morning glory to the list of flowers I'd like in my own yard someday.

Fast-forward to now. I've changed my mind. Be careful what you wish for.


MORNING GLORY! What are you doing? Where did you come from? And why are you trying to smother all the shrubs and flowers? Leave my yellow rose alone!

This is our fourth summer here in our little blue house, but this little minx only showed up for the first time last summer. No, I did not plant it. It appears to originate from the other side of the chainlink fence that divides our front yard from our neighbor's driveway. Not satisfied to occupy the inch of ground between the fence and the blacktop on its own property, it has decided to invade my beds and entangle itself in every other growing thing. It's certainly taken advantage of the fact that I haven't had time to give proper attention to the yard this summer.

Alas for the morning glory, its reign of terror is now being brought to an end.

Who's sorry now, Morning Glory?