Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ditzy gardener

I am seriously thinking of changing my blog name to the ditzy gardener.  There are moments when I have such mental clarity and organizational energy it is scary.  I have drawn a detailed map of where when and what will be planted in my veggie garden.  I have a mental image of how it will look.  I have painstakenling listed the seed packets, their germination times and which company they come from.  In the spring I wrote down when and what I planted to see how they grow.

Have I continued to write down when and what I have planted?  Have I meticulously followed the plan that I worked so hard drafting with pencil and ruler on graph paper?  No I have not. An unintended army of weeds, crop failures, too much rain (so no spraying for fungus), lack of energy, and now intense heat are my excuses.  In fact, at this point I am not sure where the map is on my desk (another disaster area, although I cannot blame this on weeds.)  Yet some crops grow without much care; the radishes, mizuna, arugala, lettuce (done in by the heat, but delicious beforehand), most of  the peas.  The potatoes in bags look like they are doing well, but not yet ready for harvest.  The pod radish has turned out to be easy to grow and very tasty.  A successful experiment.  Somehow the spinach also did well, although next year I think I will devote a larger area earlier so I can have loads of baby spinach.  Also, the snow pea seedling are so very tasty they will also get a larger area, earlier in the season.  Since I am cutting back on vegetable gardening size I may have just spinach and peas seedling in early spring! Surprisingly I have eaten at least 6 strawberries from the plants first year of growth, very tasty, hopefully next year there will be more!  One type of strawberry seems to be doing better than the other.

My failures are legion.  Beets are a bust.  Rapini a no go (maybe I just needed to harvest them very early, not sure what happened).  Kale may work out but it is getting hot, perhaps they should only be grown as a fall crop.  The soil in the brassica bed turned out to be crummy (long story, not telling), so it is a wonder that anything grew at all, like the arugala.  I have learned a lot from this experience.  My garden next year will, of course, be perfect, a veritable Eden.

So here is my philosphy, I mean the real one, not the one I hope to have:  Read up on the science, try to put it into practice, try to make the best compost possible and then work within your energy level and attention span. 

Something will grow!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just visited DeBaggio Herb Farm and Nursery

I am in heaven!  Or I should say I am back home after visiting herb heaven.  I have a confession to make, mothers never want to admit that they have favorites so don't tell the vegetables and flowers in my garden but I love herbs the best.  As a group of plants they can't be beat.  They smell, taste and look good.  On top of that most of them are very easy to grow.  A little neglect, no problem.  Crummy soil, you can probably get a pass on that as well.  So when I read about DeBaggio's in Adrian Higgins' Tweets and in his Washington Post articles I just had to visit.  Chantilly VA. sounded far away but it isn't far from Falls Church.  It took me about 30 minutes to drive there from the center of Falls Church City.  It is easy to find via their directions on their website http://debaggioherbs.com/. DeBaggio's is a small place but packed with many healthy herb plants, unlike some places that sell plants that are in terrible shape (they shall remain nameless but it rhymes with Dome Hepot). The selection of herbs is also wonderful.  They have several types of basil, sages, lavenders and lavandin (the latter is more suited to our climate), and a great selection of tomatoes and pepper plants as well.  I went there expecting to blow a whole lot of money.  I wrote a list that I tried to stick with, but ended up purchasing more things than I had planned (not a surprise).  The surprise was that it came in under budget by almost $20 because the smaller plants are well worth the price of $3.29.  Since they appear to be healthy I am not too worried about them making it through the summer either.  If they don't it will be something I have done wrong.  In addition to herbs and vegetables they also have some annuals and perennials.  Check on their website or call (703) 327-6976 before you visit since their inventory changes every day.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Growing tomatoes upside down?

I have been curious about those upside down hanging pots for tomatoes that seem to be advertised everywhere.  At first glance it just doesn't make sense.  Plants need water, water goes down through the soil to the roots, it is called gravity.  Plants need sun, they seek it by growing up and moving to face the sun, that is called heliotropism.  I can't believe that watering them from the top doesn't lead to a bit of dirty water trickling onto the stems and leaves.  I have not tried these myself but after reading many forums and blogs I have come to the conclusion that they will grow tomatoes despite the fact that the infomercials make claims that defy the laws of physics. 

They are not for every situation, however. They lose moisture very quickly, and may have to be watered every day.  One must use plants that are at least 6 inches high when planted, use a type of tomato that will not grow too large and use very good soil, fertilizing every month. The claims that the pots last years is not born out by most evidence, they will need to be replaced, perhaps as often as every year, because the plastic does degrade fairly quickly. 

The bottom line is that they save space and the tomatoes ripen a bit sooner, but the plants are not as prolific as they would be growing them the ground.

I Say Tomato

New Falls Church News-Press article on tomatoes.  Garden Time: E-issue p.23. Information about tomatoes, how to grow them and how to pick the kind you wish to grow.  Plus a tip about those upside down hanging pots for tomatoes. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Essential tools

There are two tools that I had never used before in the garden that now I simply could not live without.  First is the "ken ho" weeder.  I have 2 now, one is from the Asian grocery store and it works very well, and only cost about six dollars, but it isn't stainless.  The other is stainless a bit smaller but works just as well.  These suckers can weed!  They are especially helpful on things like ground ivy and not bad on crabgrass either.

The second tool is a real workhorse, the garden knife or soil knife.  It makes dividing perennials much easier and for really big weed roots it can't be beat.

Two more essentials that you may not think are useful in the garden shed are a pair of scissors, and a pair of pliers.  The scissors cut twine, shade cloth and all sorts of things.  The pliers pull out nails that seem to be stuck in fences and pieces of wood, weeds emerging from cracks in pavement, and even stakes that seem to have been cemented into the ground.


It turns out that I have some lovely peonies in the yard that a previous owner planted.  They are gorgeous and smell divine.  Sadly, I can't bring them inside because I have read that they are poisonous to cats.  :(   My cat Zuzu will nibble plants I bring in so I will have to admire them when I am outside.  I made a bouquet of peonies for my sister the other day with roses and salvia.  Quite lovely if I say so myself!  At least someone will get to have them inside.  My sister and brother-in-law's German shepherd doesn't eat plants (although we are not too sure what she would do with a cat, lol). 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Just planted lavender between rain storms

Finally planted the lavender.  They were starting to look a bit shabby, at least the small ones.  The other ones, Super lavender, Goodwin Creek and Kew Red were still mostly looking presentable.  But the Lady lavender, the smallest look a bit under the weather.  Before I planted I need to have some bushes cut down and add some sand to the soil.  All of this had to be done in between several days of off and on rain and off and on energy!  At least I can rest now.  Well I can rest until the next round of planting and sowing which is, well, next week.  Yikes I better buy the tomatoes already.  Wish me, or the lavender, luck.  It should rain again soon.  Sigh.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


The previous owners of my house planted a lot of roses.  Also a lot of Japanese holly (blech).  Anyway, many of the roses didn't make it through last years summer.  I think they were A) planted too closely together, B) not particularly hardy for this climate and C) not repeat bloomers and D) they had no scent.  My philosophy with roses is they must repeat bloom all season and have a nice scent, otherwise you just have a bunch of thorny canes growing most of the year, not very attractive.  So any roses that looked like the wouldn't make it or didn't have the above attributes were pulled up.  That has left some beautiful wild possibly rugosa roses with a great scent, a scent free Knockout rose, an orange rose that blooms fairly well but also had no scent, and a lovely Queen Elizabeth rose, likewise no scent.  Plus a few that I cannot name that look alright but don't smell like anything.  Last spring I planted a Zepherine Drouhin climbing which is a real winner in my book.  It blooms repeatedly, smells like rose heaven and has NO thorns.  I will have to gradually replace the older roses with winners like the ZD and other old garden roses.  Black spot be damned, I will have my roses!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just changed to new photos

Just uploaded new photos.  The background is a Zepherine Drouhin climbing rose.  We have had such lovely spring weather in the last few days that I have been able to sit outside in the afternoons and read.  But of course the hot weather will come soon enough.  Please enjoy the photos of a snow pea, Japanese maple and seed pods, salvia and roses, ZD climbing rose, window box and squirrel topiary! 

I had a small salad of fresh greens from the garden tonight.  Yum. 

PS Please remind me to tone down the veggie garden next year.  Just too much stuff to take care of!  Next year I will plant a cottage garden in the side beds instead of veggies.  I swear, honest!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Just received lavender plants!

My order of lavender plants arrived from Richter's Herbs today.  They are tiny.  I kept thinking that I had to prepare a massive area in a side bed for these plants.  Of course they will eventually grow bigger but I really had grandiose plans.  Thank goodness the size of the plants and the amount of my energy (low) combined with a limited window of opportunity to get my neighbor's help will make the job much, much easier.  I was going to move a couple of shrubs and dig out some others (or should I say have someone do it for me), but now I see that one of these bushes is a lovely dark pink azalea and wouldn't that look stunning next to lavender?  Never mind that they require completely different levels of pH.  They will just have to live with the soil as it is!  Luckily I think they are both relatively adaptable plants and the soil there appears to be neither too acid nor too alkaline.  The other bushes are 2 Japanese hollies and a mystery shrub that doesn't flower and just takes up room.(why did a previous owner of this house plant so many Japanese holly bushes in so random of a pattern so close together?).   So out they go.  Or I should say off with their heads.  We plan to cut them down at the soil level and let the roots die off.  Well, that is the theory.  Wish me luck.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother's Day Gifts for Mother Earth

Instead of giving mom cut flowers for mother's day, why not give her a plant that she can plant in the ground.  This excellent advice was suggested by the people at "Plant more Plants", the organization to plant plants to help the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Yes, planting perennial plants, shrubs and trees helps the soil absorb more water lessening runoff which ends up in the bay after picking up chemicals and unwanted waste products along the way.  Ironically lawns DO NOT absorb as much water and filter it through the root system as other types of plants.  In fact if one plants turf (a fancy name for grass) made of the typical types of grass (bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass for cool humid areas, and zoysia for warm weather. We live in an area where neither type does well), the density of the grass can slow down the absorption.  Even worse are the massive amounts of fertilizer that people use on these lawns.  Because lawn grasses do not grow well in this climate, we have to use much more water and fertilizer to keep them green.  On top of the heavy use factor is that many people use too much fertilizer, so much so that it is not used by the grasses and is washed out into the bay instead.  When it gets there it contributes to algae growth and other issues.  So do both of your mother's a favor!  Plant a plant!  If your mother lives in an apartment (like mine does) plant something she loves in your garden that she can come and visit! 

Check out "Plant more Plants" and also the Maryland General Assembly Bill SB487 "Fertilizer Use Act"