Advertisements

A Tower of Flowers- you can grow that


My Pinterest feed is full of these pictures of graduated flower pots stacked up, sometimes crookedly, sometimes straight. At first, I was appalled by the amount of soil that must have to go into them, then I realized that they must have fillers. Sure enough, an upside down pot inside each larger pot both takes up space and supports the pot above it.
DH got me some adorable fish pots a few years ago, the largest about 12 inches in diameter, the smallest about 6. I figured they’d be perfect for pansies and petunias on the front porch.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

I've seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

I’ve seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I'd put in marigolds and dahlias.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I’d put in marigolds and dahlias.

I’m a day late on You Can Grow That day- started by garden writer C.L. Fornari- where the challenge every month is to write about what is growable.

 

Advertisements

Hens and Chicks- you can grow that!


IMG_0556My wonderful mother in law introduced me to Hens and Chicks-official name is semper vivem, which means live forever, and they do live forever. It is a succulent plant, with fleshy leaves that grow in a low rosette. The only thing that will kill these things is too much water- I love them for their ground covering ability. I can plug them into mulch and they will spread- each little rosette will grow offsets all around it. That is how it got its common name, someone saw the big plant as a mother hen, with baby chicks underneath. You can break off every offset baby plant, stick the stem into the ground, and it will take root and grow. I have covered a lot of ground with hens and chicks.
I struggle with hanging baskets. I love the way they look, but I never remember to water them. Enter the Hens and Chicks! A week ago, I pried up a clump of them, and plopped them into a coir lined basket I had planted last year (with something that died, because I had forgotten to water it…) The offsets will dangle over the side, and the big green rosettes are just at eye level on my patio.
If you do not have an obliging mother-in-law, (and, believe me, I am not in any way suggesting that you choose a spouse based on the gardening abilities and generosity of his or her mom, but, think about it, how else should you decide? Kindness? Attractiveness? Sense of humor? Bah!) then by all means buy some sempervivems at your local garden center and let them spread. They don’t take much foot traffic, but they look great on the edges of things, near paths, or in the corner of a bed, by a gate, where the sprinkler doesn’t reach.
Hens and Chicks! You can grow that! Viva sempervivem!

Quality time with q-tips and a bottle of alcohol


See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

My son noticed a resurgence of scale insects on one of the citrus trees that spend the winter in his room.
Back in early February I had noticed a lot of leaves on the floor, and sticky leaves, so I showed Will the insects on the veins and stems, and showed him how to scrape them off. He checked them out with a magnifying glass, which I never had before. I just thought of them as a pest, where he saw them as “specimens”. We thoroughly inspected both citrus trees, (one is lemon, one is lime, but I wasn’t sure which was which- the tags got lost) and only one was infested- the other is closer to the window, so maybe the additional sun helps?
I figured the bugs would come back- not enough sun, not enough humidity, scraping them off with my thumbnail wouldn’t take care of them permanently. Sure enough, Will noticed more dead leaves on his floor, got out the flashlight and started scraping. I got out the big guns.
I heaved the plant up to the kitchen sink- thanks to Kate for the help; she’s strong enough to help me carry these massive plants now. Both trees are as old as she is, in 14 inch diameter pots. I rubbed down the stems and leaves with rubbing alcohol, then sprayed the whole thing down with the sink sprayer. Yeah, it made exactly the mess you would think it would.
We harvested the 4 fruits- I couldn’t remember if this particular citrus was lemon or lime. “Well, I think they’re limes, because, you know, of the way they look…” Kate says. I think about it for a minute. “Oh, you mean no nipples!” At this point, my husband turned around and left the room. When I removed the leaf litter from the soil, I found the tag that confirmed she was right: Dwarf Persian Lime.IMG_0539
Ordinarily, I am big on leaf litter, whether it is in potted plants, or in the ground- it helps retain moisture and releases nutrients as it breaks down. In this case, though, the reason there was so much litter on the top of the potting soil was because bugs were sucking out sap. If there were eggs, or more bugs living in the dead leaves, I don’t want them creeping up the tree again, so I tossed it, and added some coir I had sitting around to the top of the pot.
Bugs being bugs, I predict the scale will come back. However, as soon as it is warm at night, the citrus goes outside, and there are predators around, and rain. I haven’t had a problem with scale when the lemon and lime trees are outside. C’mon, Spring!

So, when am I going to get homegrown vanilla?


The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

The vine is halfway up the two-foot tall trellis- I keep bending it to the side so it will wrap around the trellis, but vines want to grow upward.

I bought thread at the craft store the other day, and the checker herself was shocked at how much it cost. She said something about it being cheaper to just buy a shirt than to make one. Never mind that I wasn’t making a shirt- you would think working at a craft store would accustom you to the idea that people do crazy things for hobbies.
A great example of this is my vanilla orchid.
I have had it for several years,  it is slowly creeping along the trellis I built for it, causing me to panic when it tipped over in the wind and most of the chunky orchid mix spilled out of the pot. I water it with buckets dipped out of the goldfish pond- weak organic fertilizer. The trellis is supposed to act as a humidifier, as well as a support. I baby it.
I moved it inside before it got cold. Vanilla is native to Mexico, warmer and moister by far than my back yard. It could never survive the winter here. The boy’s room has a south window, so all my tropical plants make his room into the jungle room in the winter.
The vanilla isn’t likely to bloom until it gets to ceiling height, and it is about 1 foot tall now.  No matter how big it gets, it won’t survive the winter outside. Once it blooms, I will have to pollinate the blossoms by hand, with a small paintbrush, then wait for the seedpods to develop, then ferment and dry them. Then make cupcakes.
Maybe someday, we’ll get a greenhouse. Just think how expensive that would make the vanilla pods- amortizing the cost of glass and construction into each little pod…
But for now,  I have a happy little vine in a very portable pot, which goes outside in summer, and inside in the winter, and gives me something to look forward to.

Be careful not to step in the big hole


At the beginning of the summer I was complaining about my lack of asparagus, and blamed it on lack of water. My super smart SIL was like, “you could put in a water feature, and where the water splashed out, that would provide moisture for the asparagus” and I was like, “yeah, I guess that would work, but…wait, I have a water feature!” Okay, the water feature is a horse trough, aka the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond,what would happen if I moved some asparagus plants over to  it?

See, at the end, it's like an infinity-edge pool, except not...

See, at the end, it’s like an infinity-edge pool, except not…

When I first set up the pond, I tamped down the soil to make it level, but over the couple of years of its existence , it has slumped down on the north side, so that is where I dug the hole. I don’t have a fountain, but when I refill it, it trickles over the side on that end. I dug down about 8 inches, added some compost, then transplanted an asparagus plant over from where they don’t get enough water.

A hole in the yard is not exactly the look I am going for, but I have high hopes for next year.

A hole in the yard is not exactly the look I am going for, but I have high hopes for next year.

As it grew, the plan was to add more compost, until the plant and the soil were at ground level. I watered the little baby asparagus the same way I water the containers around the pond- just before I feed the goldfish, I use a cup to dump water on each of the plants- they love the “nutrient rich” water. This worked great for a few weeks, then we went out of town, and I came back to nothing.
There wasn’t a dried up stem, it was just gone. I might blame rabbits, or squirrels, but the other asparagus plants, the ones that don’t get enough water? They are fine. Other than the fact that they don’t get enough water.
So, I put a little fence around the hole in the ground, and I will try again next year. I am convinced that the idea of putting asparagus near a water feature is a good one. Just try not to step in the hole, please.

Vanilla orchid- surviving the winter…


I tried to crop out the messy kitchen...

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen…

Last fall, I brought my vanilla orchid inside after its summer vacation on the back patio. It was alive, and had grown quite a bit, but it hadn’t topped out the trellis….Now, as I look at the thermometer and begin to count down the days until it, and all my “house plants” can go outside, the vanilla vine is still alive, but still not huge.

The trellis I built is basically a quilt made out of hardware cloth, wire fencing with smaller holes than chicken wire. The middle layer of the “quilt” is sheet moss. I rolled the quilt into a cylinder about 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet tall. I filled it with orchid mix, then set up a pop bottle with pinholes in the bottom.  It is both a tower for the vine to climb on, and an evaporator. It is also modular- I can build another cylinder that will fit into the top, if and when this little vine decides to grow up to the top of this one.

If you are wondering about how much support you need for your vanilla plant for the first year or two, the answer is, a chopstick would have worked for this guy. It doesn’t need a two foot tall tower.  However, the other design element was for a humidity source for the plant- it is dry here, inside and out, on the front range of Colorado, and the trellis also acts as a humidity tower. It spends the winter in The Boy’s room, which also has a fish tank, and a new anole habitat-( and the cricket habitat that goes with the lizard- I didn’t realize that when I said yes to the lizard, I was saying yes to crickets, as well) The fish tank evaporates quite a bit, as well as the anole habitat, but it is still a centrally-heated room in a house in a semi-desert.

When I first built the trellis, the vine was only 4 inches tall- now, roughly two years later it is about 12 inches tall. If I were starting again, I might just use a chopstick, or piece of bamboo, and maybe use a hurricane lamp as a terrarium.

Self watering pot- a goldfish story.


Frozen Hillbilly Goldfish Pond.

Frozen Hillbilly Goldfish Pond.

I pinned something on Pinterest that was repinned more times than anything else I have put up. Then, my brother found it somewhere and sent it to me, as well.  It is a tutorial for a mini pond in a pot, with divisions for a wetland area with more soil and cattails, and a pond area, with a water lily. It is honestly adorable.

I have worked my way up in mini-ponds- from a 10 gallon tub, to a 20 gallon half barrel, to my current one, a 100 gallon horse trough, aka the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond. I have learned that the more water, the better the pond works. The fish like it better, (although there is some…attrition). The plants like it better. This experience tells me that the little patio pond depicted probably wouldn’t work, but it is adorable. People like adorable.
It makes me think, though, about adding more “wetland” area to my pond. And with that, it makes me wonder about combining the idea of a self watering pot and my pond. A self watering pot is a porous pot  with a reservoir underneath that holds a constant source of water. Roots are always able to access the water they need, so they tend to grow better than they would in regular containers. Earthbox is one brand. They seem expensive and  ugly. (that’s one way you can tell I don’t make money from these links.   If they were affiliate links, I would say, “kind of expensive, and kind of ugly.”)

In a six foot long pond, what about putting in some cinderblocks, and some pots that would keep the roots wet, but the tops dry, so the plants don’t rot? Or islands, out of floating styrofoam, for lettuce and spinach? Or grow bags with squash, and the vines could drape over the sides of the trough? I would still want enough open space for fish, and I wonder if the goldfish would wind up eating the roots?
That’s what’s great about winter- I can imagine these ideas all day and night, waiting for the pond to thaw.

Beet Greens- you can grow that!


When C.L. Fornari, the genius garden blogger behind “You Can Grow That” suggested that for the month of February, we pick a plant related to the theme of love, I had to think about it.  I considered the plants I love, or the plants that symbolize romance, and I was kind of stumped.  February is a tough month for planting, around here anyway.  So, I decided to be contrarian, and write about beets.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don't heart them, but I like them.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don’t heart them, but I like them.

I have to confess that we don’t love beets at our house.  When we had a CSA membership, I tried to like them. I roasted them, which is my favorite with most veggies, and I threw them in stir-fry (which made everything weirdly pink) and I marinated them…not popular. I did learn that I liked beet greens, though. A friend insists that beet greens taste just like beets, but I disagree. Or maybe it’s the texture. Anyway, when I saw directions for forcing root crops in a pot, I thought to myself, that’s a good way to get greens without having to actually eat beets.

The directions come from Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, which is a funky combination of a book- part how-to garden tome, part we-went-to-the-south-of-France-and-drove-around-looking-at-gardens-in-winter travelogue. My kind of book, in other words.

Coleman describes  taking beets, or turnips, or celeriac, putting the roots in damp sand in a sunny window, and eating the greens that sprout.

I decided to start the experiment with beets. I bought a cute bunch, and cut off the leaves that they came with to sautee, then eat in garlic soup (really tasty- follow this link!)

I then filled a 6 inch pot 1/3 of the way with potting soil, then put in the roots, then covered with soil and watered.

BIrd's eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

Bird’s eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

The roots won’t get any bigger- storage crops are biennial. During the first summer, they put energy into the root. When they send up leaves again, they use the energy store in the root to prepare for blooming. This means you don’t have to worry about leaving room in the pot for root growth.IMG_0056

We haven’t gotten enough for a big salad, but there should be leaves to add to stir-fry or soup or whatever.  I’m adding some to Quinoa salad tonight.  I hope it doesn’t turn weirdly pink.

 

Citrus- you can grow that


The leaves are falling, must be time to cover the tomatoes and bring in the houseplants.

Freeze predicted tonight-the radio people keep saying “temperatures in the 30’s” which seems unfairly vague. It is  time to move my pots of citrus inside for the zone 5 fall and winter. and much of spring, if we are honest.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, now 12, I bought a lemon, a lime and an “orange” tree for about 10 bucks, for all 3 from a catalog- don’t remember which one. I thought I was getting a huge bargain- when they arrived, they were twigs.
The biggest was the lemon, which had a trunk as big around as a pencil, and about 4 leaves. The other two were like q-tips. So I planted them and waited.
I didn’t just wait- I had a baby, and watched the baby grow, and taught middle school, and then had another baby and watched that baby grow, and when that baby was walking, the orange tree bloomed.
Heavenly smell, tiny bb sized fruit, that grew to marble sized, then…what’s smaller than a ping pong ball? A big marble? Yeah, big marble-sized. They ripened to orange, but remained small and sour.
Since then, the lemon has produced actual real sized lemons, but not very many, and the lime has produced actual real sized limes, but, again, not very many.
Why bother, then?
They are pretty plants. I have other house plants that don’t do much of anything other than purify the air. When these bloom, they smell amazing, even on the patio. In the Boy’s room, which has the best light, they fill the air with fragrance when they bloom in the winter. The novelty is another reason- one year I brought them to school for the winter, when I had a classroom with windows, and students would bring their friends in and dare them to eat the oranges.
Order them, or if you have a good local nursery with citrus, buy there. Once they are big, they take a big pot- mine are about 12 years old now, and are in 14 inch pots. I use a dolly to move them outside in the spring and back inside in October.
When they come in, spray with the hose attachment of the kitchen sink, under the leaves especially to get rid of any hitchhikers. Looking at this, I realize it might make more sense to spray them outside, instead of in the kitchen, especially if by “hitchhikers” I mean “tiny bugs.”  Which I do.
Citrus like bright indirect light, and humidity. Much like myself. Not too much humidity, though. Dry air can make them drop leaves. It hasn’t been cold enough for the heat to come on very much yet, so there isn’t too much difference in humidity bringing them inside. The Boy’s room has a fish tank which evaporates enough that the plants do okay.
You don’t have to buy a plant, if you are in it to experiment. A neighbor of my mom’s planted a grapefruit seed, or her toddler did, probably close to 50 years ago. It grew big enough that they couldn’t fit it in their house, so they donated it to the public library, where it brushed the ceiling in the children’s section when I was a kid. Don’t know if it is still there.

Dead Junipers- what next?


The new edge of the bed in the front yard- we’ll be adding some compost and lots of mulch.

Most people who know me would agree, that I don’t seem like the kind of person who would pound stakes into the ground, stretch out string between them, and then follow that string as a guide when making the edge of a  garden bed. I was a s surprised as anyone when I found myself doing just that this afternoon.

Yesterday evening, I was cleaning up the edge of the area where we took out the junipers (link) and I used the garden hose to kind of make a gently curving, voluptuous edge, nipping it in close to the faucet, easing it out near the corner of the house.

Then I thought about mowing that line. I thought about all the other curvy, sensual edges in the yard that have to be mowed, then edged. I decided it would be easier to make a straight edge, and let the plants be curvy.

The bed is about 20 feet long, and the outer line is 8 feet out from the house wall.  (when I said I was going to make the bed about 8 feet deep, DH had a moment where he thought I meant 8 feet from current ground level to top of bed.  No.) I bought 40 brick pavers, because I didn’t want to get out the measuring tape and then do math, so of course I have to pay for my laziness with another trip to the big box store.

 

So, the plan:

buy more bricks

when there’s grass inside the line, pop it out and transplant it outside the line, when possible

pile on 2-4 inches of shredded wood mulch

when the weather cools, start transplanting the plants I want to move from the backyard

order bulbs

snake soaker hose around the bed

Plant list

Hazel bush (transplanted from nursery bed)

Sedum Autumn Joy (thanks, Sharon!)

Purple coneflower (divided from back yard)

Bearded Iris (divided from back yard)

Yarrow (divided from back yard)

Lamb’s Ear (divided from back yard)

Thyme (divided from back yard)

Comfrey (divided from back yard)

larkspur (seeds)

columbine (seeds)

lily (ordering- probably dark reds and oranges)

tulips (ordering, probably red and yellow triumph)

daffodil (basic yellow)

Most of these plants I already have, so this is a very cheap design for me. I also know they do well here, so I am not taking much risk that everything will keel over and die. The exposure is a little different- the north end of the bed is pretty shaded from the ash tree and the house, and the south end gets morning sun. The coneflower and lilies will go that direction, because they need the light to flower.  My “largish” plant is a hazel nut bush, and I want it to form one corner of a triangle with the ash and the Korean dwarf lilac under my window.

The plan for the tuteur- the exact measurements will depend on the wood I find.

I am also planning some structure- as you can see in the picture, there is a big expanse of plain wall, so I will put in at least one trellis, and some containers,  and am thinking about building some tutuers, which are french teepees- using lumber,rather than round wood or sticks. And, you know my policy, it should be done with the wood that is already piled up, going to the lumberyard is cheating! There are still some 1×2’s sitting behind the garage left over from taking down the playhouse, so I will start with those.

Previous Older Entries