Baby Lavender


I set out to write a diatribe on how evil weed barrier is, but Love is stronger than Hate, right, so let me write a little ode to lavender. Lavender is a fragrant sub shrub- I think it is actually what people think of when they say they want a shrub next to the patio- they want something a couple of feet high, with flowers, but mostly just green leaves. When plant people say shrub, they mean something that grows between 6 and 12 feet high- what the knights who say ni mean. knights who say ni

Anywho- I have a nice little lavender plant in a xeric bed in the back yard, but one of the other things about lavender is that is doesn’t have a very long life- my plant in the back yard is about 5 years old, and it won’t live much longer, no matter how well I treat it (sometimes it is not about killing exotic plants, different things just have different life spans) This little lavender bush will never grow taller than the house, like the oak, or form a sneak-out proof thicket in front of the window, like a rose bush (take that, sneaky teens!) It will just stay knee high, with fragrant leaves and purple flowers, much loved by bees.
Now, the reason I bring up weed barrier is that I was cleaning weeds out of the flower bed by the driveway. Previous owners had planted peonies and roses, in plastic weed barrier with lava rock on top. The bed is gorgeous in June- I probably wouldn’t have chosen those plants and that location and that quantity of lava rock, and certainly that black plastic weed barrier. I do love the garden, though.
The problem with the lava rock on top of plastic is that it doesn’t actually get rid of weeds, it just changes the way they present themselves.Over time, the lava breaks down into smaller chunks, and organic matter like leaves blows in. Weed seeds drift in and sprout. Bind weed finds a way to snake its roots up through any gap in the plastic, making it that much harder to pull out. In addition, the plastic cuts off oxygen to the soil beneath, preventing worms and other soil creatures from living there. It is awful. But, as terrible as weed barrier is, I love the little garden strip, and can’t face digging out the whole area to get rid of the plastic.
This all went through my head as I was cursing the weeds, so I figured out that I could dig it out the way the guy in the Johnny Cash song stole his Cadillac from the factory- one piece at a time.
I was working on an area with a small stump poking through the plastic- something had been planted there, and hadn’t survived. It created a 3 foot long space between peony plants, where opportunistic weeds jump in. So, I pulled the weeds, scooped the lava rocks to one side and cut and ripped out as much plastic as I could get to- there were fat worms living in the mix of crumbled lava and organic matter on top of the plastic, none at all in the dead clay beneath. That’s a problem. I added a scoop of composty soil from the back yard, dumped the lava rock back on and some wood chip mulch.
A few days later,after a trip to the nursery, I popped in a Provence lavender plant. I figure the lava will help aerate the soil, and help the clay soil drain better, which is important for Mediterranean plants like lavender. Three months later, with plenty of rain and sunshine, the baby lavender looks good, and more importantly, the few  weeds encroaching on it are easy to pull from the loose soil. Next year, I’ll clean up another chunk, pull out some more plastic, and plant something else- something herby? Any ideas?

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Resilience- you can grow that


kate hailstorm

“Hurry up, mom, it’s really cold!”

We had a hailstorm last night- after a lovely, breezy day with lots of garden puttering, I was sitting on my patio, listening to the neighbor kids scream on their trampoline. I heard thunder to the south and decided to move in. By the time I gathered up my iced tea and got the screen door shut, the rain had started, and then came the hail.
Kate decided it would be cool to go out onto the porch, then regretted it almost instantly- it was being blown under the roof. She struggled with the screen slider, and got hit in the shoulder. The stones were dime to quarter-sized, and they shredded the garden. Giant splashes came up from the pond, the iris and the peonies flopped over, ash leaves made pesto on the driveway. Looking at it through the window, I wanted to cry. I wanted brownies. I hate hail.
It poured rain for a good long time after, and we got probably another 1/2 inch, on top of the five inches we got during a very wet May. We usually get about 16 inches of moisture around here per year, so 5 inches in a month is crazy- the soil is saturated and there has been flooding downstream from us.
Now it’s the day after, and I hear a chainsaw going around the block. I take a tour of the yard with a cup of coffee.
Not actually that bad. Here’s where I get to my point about resilience.

Direct hit!

Direct hit!

The water lily leaves have holes in them, but none of the fish are belly up in the pond, the iris are still flopped over, but they were pretty much finished blooming anyway. The few peonies that had opened are shattered, but the rest that are still in bud look fine.The new baby peach tree seems fine, with just a few torn leaves. The giant ash trees took most of the brunt of the storm, most of what was in their shelter is okay, and no large branches fell down. Tomatoes were in walls of water, which protected them from damage. The traditional, “grandma’s garden” types of plants show damage, but they should bounce back.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Now, I planted a garden bed last year, in full sun, no shelter from big trees, of mostly native and dry-land plants. How did these baby plants do? They look fine. I can’t tell they were in a storm at all, other than the fact that there are some shredded leaves that were blown onto them. These native plains plants have evolved to get hailed on periodically, go without rain, shrug it off and grow anyway.
I got my collection from the Garden in a Box program from the city- sometimes you can get rebates. The garden was designed by Lauren Springer, and cost less than what I would have paid at a nursery. The water department wants people to plant them to minimize the amount of turf that people feel obliged to water. The side benefit is that they are resilient to other weather events, too.

IMG_0686
We happen to live in a hail zone, with frequent thunderstorms, and infrequent (fingers crossed) tornadoes. Maybe your extreme weather events include blizzards, or floods, deep freezes, droughts (I’m looking at you, most of American Southwest). Why not plant things that thrive in the weather that you have? Plant things that have evolved, or have been bred, in a climate like yours, that don’t take additional irrigation once they have been established. For my homies along the Front Range, Lauren Springer has books ( go to the library, I don’t make any money off this, not that you shouldn’t buy the book, but libraries are good, too) or David Salman runs a Santa Fe nursery called High Country Gardens. His catalog is an education in itself. Bounce back after sever weather. Resilience. You can Grow that.

On the 4th of the month, C.L. Fornari challenges garden bloggers to share encouraging words about what is growable. Search for other You Can Grow That posts!

Garden in a Box- you can grow that


I live in a semi-desert. You wouldn’t know it from all the green lawns and sprinklers and weeping willows around, but it is pretty dry here. We rely on snowmelt from the mountains being stored in reservoirs, and as more people move here, we want to conserve the water we get.

My city water department, in conjunction with Boulder’s Center for ReSource Conservation (yeah, I don’t know what the deal is with the capitol s… it’s annoying) is selling gardens in a box. They have for several years. The Center has hired designers to put together some preplanned gardens with drought tolerant plants. People who live all over the front range of Colorado can participate, and several city utilities give rebates. Depending on where you live, your local utility may offer something similar. Google it.
I have pooh-poohed the idea of a pre-planned garden in the past- I felt like I could design my own gardens, thank you very much. Plug in some iris, srpinkle on some larkspur- BAM! its a garden!
This year I had a lot of space to fill, though. We got rid of our swing set, and so we have about 400 square feet of weedy grass to convert. I plan to put in a couple of fruit trees, but I want flowers around them. Grass also typically takes much more water to look good than the xeric flowers and shrubs that I like.
The preplanned garden was a great choice for us because of the water use thing, (which is why the water department wants to sell them-once they are established, the plants

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone,  Remind me to use my real camera...

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone, Remind me to use my real camera…

are happy with natural rainfall) and also because it is a boatload of plants for not very much money. Remember, I’m frugal.
How much? That’s a very crass question…oh, wait, I brought it up. Well, with a rebate from the city, it was $110 for 29 plants in 4 inch pots, which covers 100 square feet.
My typical way of planting new gardens is to get my mother in law to give me divisions from her garden, and divide stuff that I already have, which is essentially free. However, the garden I chose has plants that are new to me, and my wonderful mother-in-law. Maybe someday I’ll be able to divide these, and give back to her. Someday.
If I were getting these plants at a nursery, it would cost more, and I would be unlikely to choose these particular plants. I’m a person who reads about compost for fun, I read seed catalogs and garden books and even listen to the garden guy on the radio. I think about plants a lot, but I hadn’t heard of most of these before.
The garden in a box is expanding my horizons, and saving me on my water bill, and it could do the same for you. You could grow that…

Die! Larvae, Die!


I know everybody is tired of people complaining about the cold- it is February, it’s supposed to be cold. So, I am going to turn it around, as I sit at my desk, gazing out the window at…hey, what is that squirrel eating? Avocado pit? Stupid squirrel, get out of the compost pile!

Where were we? Ah, yes, gazing out the window at the frosty back yard, I am both gleeful, and hopeful.

Gleeful, knowing that here on the flat it is -2 Fahrenheit, but up in the mountains, it is colder. Maybe cold enough in the woods to freeze the pine beetle larvae that are eating up our trees. Maybe it will be cold enough, long enough, to destroy a large percentage of the larvae, and we can get our woods back.

I say our woods, knowing that foresters and naturalists and others who take the long view see that pine trees falling to pine beetles doesn’t kill the forest, it just changes the forest. I’d like to be one of those people who take the long view, but I can’t. I love the woods, and I hate to see the trees go brown and topple over.

Pine beetles have always been here, but typically young trees can survive the attacks, and bitter cold kills many of the larvae, so there has been a balance in the past. Recently, winters haven’t been cold enough for long enough to kill them. So the forest changes.

Now the new larval threat is Emerald Ash Borer- they haven’t always been here- they came over from their native China around ten years ago, and are spreading. Native ash trees have no resistance. Signs of the insects have been found in Boulder County, (Boulder! Dang hippies!) and they are under quarantine. No products made from ash trees are supposed to leave the county, no mulch, no firewood, no nursery trees. Knowing that we are right next door, though, and that beetles don’t respect county lines, makes me wonder if they are soon to be discovered here in Larimer county.

They attack…well, not attack really. I mean the bugs are just living their lives, right, having sex, making babies, but it feels like an attack. So, the adult female ash borer lays her eggs in bark crevices of branches of ash trees. The larvae develop in the space between the bark and the wood, the cambium. The thin green layer of cambium is where sap flows, where water and nutrients flow out to the leaves from the soil. If enough larvae develop and destroy the cambium, that branch dies. If enough branches die, the tree dies.

The long view of the forester or the naturalist is hard here, too. Even harder, actually, because as much as I love the woods, I don’t live there. I have 2 big ash trees in my yard, and there are many more in my neighborhood. Losing these big old shade trees would will break my heart. Sigh. They will die eventually.

The city of Minneapolis has set up a system of proactively chopping down ash trees, and replacing them with different varieties of trees. Yep, chopping down trees that are fine, because in a few years they won’t be fine.

How does this connect to the weather? (Remember, 600 words ago I started out by saying I wouldn’t complain about the cold?) My hope is that the trees that are currently infected will be so cold during this cold snap that the overwintering larvae, curled up in their little serpentine tunnels under the bark, will freeze and die. Mwahahahahaha. Die, little larvae! Die!

For more info, and some alarming photos, check out http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/will-we-kiss-our-ash-goodbye/

Why did I put my compost pile so far away?


That black bin...way over there...that's the compost bin.

That black bin…way over there…that’s the compost bin.

It has been really flipping cold. Pardon my language. I keep my orange peels and coffee grounds in a big plastic cup on the back of the sink. If I have to put on boots and a scarf and assorted warm woolies to dump that cup, it just isn’t going to happen that often. The next time the temperature gets above 50, I’ll move the bin closer to the house. Like, right by the back door.

 

I can’t believe I am spending money on grass!


Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one...ever.

Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one…ever.

For years, my secret plot has been to rid myself of as much lawn as possible (oops, not so secret anymore, huh?) I have mulched, and created shrub beds, and laid out veggie beds, and perennials, and even sneakily scooted the edging bricks out, expanding the width of every bed by 4 inches each year.
I hate grass- hate mowing, hate fertilizing, hate the amount of water it takes, hate the judgement of people driving by who see my dandelions and shake their heads.
And yet, I just spent 30 bucks on “Revive” an organic, Colorado made fertilizer/soil amendment/wetting agent. Wetting agent sounds gross- it has chelated iron in it, and “pure chicken-shit” as my brother says. (The label actually calls it DPW, which stands for dehydrated poultry waste, which means my brother is right.) The idea is that water will be able to soak in more deeply, and we will be able to water less frequently, but the grass will grow better.
It won’t kill dandelions, but maybe the grass will be able to out compete them? Those judgey people driving by will just have to find something else to judge me on….What will that turn out to be?

(Sorry to anyone who has missed me- the day job plus gardening has left me less time to write…no disasters on the home front, just normal busy-ness.)

What is your deal, Asparagus?


I ate 4 spears of homegrown, organic, purple asparagus the other day. And that might be all the asparagus I get to eat this year from my garden. This really bugs me- I love asparagus. This patch has been growing for maybe 4 years, and I planted another one 2 years ago, and I see no shoots coming up this year at all.
What the heck?! What is your deal?!
I followed planting instructions, I watered the new bed faithfully, I really want asparagus. The universe should give me what I want, right?
I suspect the issue is water. The asparagus that does well around here grows near irrigation ditches and cattle waste lagoons (yeah, that’s what it sounds like). This has been a wet spring, but a dry winter. We do live in a semi-desert. So if I want to grow asparagus here I need to water more, all summer.
I think what has been difficult about that is that you only pick asparagus for a few weeks in spring, but it needs water all year, and I have a hard time watering ferny foliage that doesn’t feed me. In my head, I think the ferny foliage should take care of itself.
What I came up with last night was maybe I should interplant some things that I do want to eat with the asparagus. Carrots? okay. Lettuce? cool. Beans? okay. I’ll water it like any other veggie garden.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that's just an error in perspective.  This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that’s just an error in perspective. This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

So, I’ll try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Science Fair- please, no wagering


“When is your science fair?” I asked the Boy one cool evening not long ago.

“I don’t know…” he responds.
Ooops. Hope it isn’t tomorrow, because we aren’t ready.
The Boy is a self proclaimed nerd, and loves science. He is memorizing the periodic table of elements (hint, if he asks you if you want to hear him say the first 37 elements, insist that he sing them. He’ll blush, but he’ll do it!)
He loves weather, and nature, and dinosaurs, and is getting into chemistry, and so there is a lot of pressure to have a really amazing science fair project. Pressure from his peers, but also from himself.
The problem is, we are pretty bad about follow through around here…
We brainstorm, and come up with things…then we get distracted by something shiny.

It turned out that the Science fair was a few weeks away, so we had time to follow through.
So,  the decision for this year was to examine the life growing in the jar of pond water we collected last summer . The 1 quart jar has been in his west-facing window, growing algae and stuff.

Look- follow through! With a map and a video and everything!

Look- follow through! With a map and a video and everything!

When we first collected the samples, we didn’t intend to make it a science fair project. I had read about the project in a garden book, and when I told the Boy about it, he thought it was a neat idea, and nagged me about it until I got a jar, and went with him to the park.

This made the “research question” portion of the science packet problematic… we couldn’t just say the question  was: “wouldn’t it be cool if we had a jar with pond water…?”

So, the research question became: “Can an ecosystem be formed by mixing materials from different sources?”
We took a video of the little critters that are swimming around, and looked at them with our thrift store microscope. With help from the interwebs, he determined that they were daphnia.

The science fair was a success- there was the usual supply of baking soda volcanoes, and several decomposition displays.  The Boy was the only one to have a jar of tiny critters with a water cycle. Our school fair is non-competitive- just an exhibition, not a competition.

This was on someone else's display. Now, I don't know Tyler or Jack H., but I am pretty sure they touched it.

This was on someone else’s display. Now, I don’t know Tyler or Jack H., but I am pretty sure they touched it.

Now we have to think about next year.

You can grow that- locally!


All politics is local, they say, and gardening is the same way. I have driven myself crazy for years reading books about organic gardening in Pennsylvania, or Upstate New York, or Maine, or Wales. I have tried to apply my learning to the ground here- dry, clay, and alkaline. I have finally learned to read Western-based garden books, or to temper my fantasies to something that is sustainable with the soil here, and the amount of rainfall here.

Every winter I am inundated with seed and plant catalogs. I read them, and place sticky notes, and highlight the varieties I want to buy. It is similar to the garden book thing- catalogs from Maine, or Oregon, or Pennsylvania won’t necessarily have what I need here- drought tolerant in Massachusetts is different from drought tolerant in Colorado.  Full sun in Michigan is different from full sun here.

This year, rather than placing an order to have seeds shipped to me, I will bike downtown, and go into our local greenhouse, where they order seeds in bulk, and will sell me little envelopes of whatever I want to plant. Well, not “whatever” …last year they didn’t have leeks in bulk, so I got a pre-packaged envelope off the rack, but they have many popular varieties that do well here. They have bareroot strawberries and asparagus and seed potatoes and onion sets. They also have people working there who, if they are not experts, they are informed, about where things are located in the store, and when to plant most things.

Your homework- find a greenhouse or garden center that is local to you. Locally owned businesses will only stay alive as long as we support them, and often the guys in the *cough orange aprons cough* don’t know much about the plants they are selling. You don’t have to bike (and in fact, I might not, but I should) but find a place that is local, and support it.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

The lonely pile of seed catalogs this year- I am forsaking you for a local business.

C.L. Fornari, amazing garden writer, has founded “You can grow that!” where on the fourth of every month, garden bloggers write posts encouraging anyone to grow anything.  Check her out at http://www.youcangrowthat.com/

Family meeting


For many years, I have turned up my nose at the debate so many people have this time of year about real christmas trees versus artificial. We have used a small blue spruce in a pot, which we bring inside a few days before the holiday, and then taken back out again. I rolled my eyes at people with tree carcasses in their living rooms, or tree mannequins. I even wrote about having a live tree in my very first blog post.
It turns out, that separately, we have all been thinking about changing our tree situation. The Boy mentioned the other day that his grandma had teased that our tree looked like the tree from the Charlie Brown special. He felt sad. I felt defensive. She’s right, of course. It does.

This drought has made it hard to make sure this little guy got enough water.

This drought has made it hard to make sure this little guy got enough water.

I found myself rubbernecking the tree lots on the highway, and sniffing at the trees outside the grocery as I ran in to get milk, and as I was putting out our Christmas village, I looked at the box of all the cool ornaments we have collected over the years, but that we don’t have space for on our tiny Charlie Brown tree.

DH mentioned today that he missed the pine smell.
Kate has been lobbying for a big tree for a while- since before Halloween….
So today, we had a family meeting, and discussed pros and cons of live tree versus artificial versus dead tree.
Kate said she would feel guilty about having a tree murdered for her,The Boy just wanted something big and from what I understand, real versus artificial kind of balance out over the years. The carbon footprint of an artificial is huge- made of plastic, shipped from China, but it “amortizes” for a long time.

And, confession, some of the choice boils down to convenience- no stepping on pine needles, no crawling under the tree with a watering can.

We are crazy frugal here, and the tree we get will last us a long time. The interwebs tell me that the expected life of an artificial tree is 6 years- if we are buying a new one in 2018, then I will admit that we made a mistake. My prediction is, though, that we will keep this thing for-freakin’-ever.
DH went on the mission, and chose a 6 foot pre-lit tree.When it first came out of the box, I was nonplussed. It was all mashed together, unfluffy. I had a sad.

Then Kate and DH worked on spreading out the branches and making it lovely.

What is your choice? Fake, dead, live, stained glass? I’m interested in the thoughts behind your choices.

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