Monday, April 30, 2007

Aching Back

Raking, hoeing, weeding, mowing...

Schlepping hundreds of pounds of compost and mulch...

Digging halfway to China to find the roots of a stubborn dandelion...

Whoever thinks gardening is 'easy labor' hasn't toiled in my yard.

According to the calorie count website, this hard day's work burned off 3 Big Macs, a half dozen Snicker bars or 10 glasses of wine. (Now you're talkin'...)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Early Bloomers: Primrose

Perky little Primroses are so misunderstood. They're generally sold as houseplants and most folks (me, too) assume they're tender annuals. Who can resist these cheery little flowers? So, we bring them home and put them in a sunny window and... watch them curl up and die.

Primroses can't take the heat. They're winter-hardy, zone 3 perennials who would love you to death if you'd just put them outdoors in a shady spot. They happily bloom, in early spring, at the same time as your Daffodils.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Down & Dirty

"You can bury a lot of problems in the dirt."

I don't know who originally came up with this quote. Perhaps a savvy gardener who understood the Zen factor in putzing around the flower beds.

Or, maybe Tony Soprano. He might have invented the term 'pushing up daisies,' too.

Whatever the case, you can bury a lot of problems in the dirt.

But, what if your biggest problem IS the dirt?

Testing soil is something people hardly ever do, though it's a nifty way to finger somebody else for your garden woes. Some plants need special types of soil. Nurseries sell what's pretty, not what's guaranteed to grow.

Why test your soil?

Because flying blind isn't exactly saving the world...

- When plants start suffering, the first thing we do is layer on the chemicals.
- Gardeners use 4 times more chemicals per square foot than farmers.
- Runoff from lawns and gardens is a bigger water pollution problem than farms and industry combined.

* Soil tests expose the failings in your soil, not your abilities as a gardener. I've got lots of things growing that I never should have planted (I just don't tell anybody.)
* Learn what your soil has an abundance of and also what it's lacking. Then you can amend your soil with dirt cheap organic matter that improves your odds.

Get your soil tested.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jacobs Ladder

When Amy made the long, lonely drive over Parley's Summit to pay me a visit, she came bearing gifts. That might have something to do with the fact that I have Tivo and she does not. Or, because I promised her dinner and she was probably expecting something fancier than chili and Fritos. Whatever the case, I made out like a bandit on this particular night.

Jacobs Ladder 'Apricot Delight' is destined for a prominent place in my butterfly garden. It's a long-blooming perennial that does well in high altitudes and partial shade. (In higher elevations, flowers fade quickly when planted in full sun.)

Jacobs Ladder gets its name for the leaf structure: successive pairs of leaves, on opposite sides of the 18" stalk, resemble a ladder.
  • Herbalists use this plant as a natural cough remedy.
  • For cats, it doubles as a punching bag.
  • I prefer it in a vase on the kitchen counter: bright green foliage and wispy pink blooms make a lovely wildflower bouquet.
* Jacobs Ladder, Polemonium caeruleum, 'Apricot Delight,' perennial, USDA zones 4-8. Pair it with the more common blue Jacobs Ladder variety to attract a number of unusual butterflies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Crossin' the Line

Back in 1928, a group of friendly folks started a service called the Welcome Wagon. It was a sweet, little gesture to anyone new moving into the neighborhood. My Aunt took on this job for about 5 minutes, when I was a little girl. Problem was, we lived in a crappy town in South Dakota where everyone was eagerly moving out, not in, so the position was fairly useless.

These days, people's attitudes show up long before they do. We generally discover we're getting a new neighbor when we bump into a barbed wire fence and a sassy orange sign that indicates we're on another hiking trail that no longer exists.

I didn't have much of a criminal record until Robert moved in next door. Since then, the sheriff has visited me three times. (I kid you not - his last name is Gunn.)

It's all because my cat, Pete, has the audacity to stroll over there and sun himself on the guy's porch. I don't know how to reason with a cat. Today was Pete's third offense and Sheriff Gunn was back. Lucky for me there are no laws on the books, with respect to cats trespassing, though it's his duty to investigate. And would it kill me to try to be a better neighbor?

Well, yeah. At this point it would. And, why don't you ask Robert that question?

No garden is complete until you add a pretty, little wind chime. Or, in the case of the garden closest to Robert's bedroom window, a half dozen wind chimes are in order. Big ones, small ones, I don't care, as long as they make noise. (Sandy, your solution is brilliant.) They don't call my neighborhood High Wind Estates for nothing... Visit the Wind Chime store.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Nuturing Place for Wildlife

"What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for others?"
- George Eliot

I busy myself with garden plans while I wait, impatiently, for the chilly rains of April to give in to the warmth of May. If you find yourself doing the same thing, spend a little time here.

Over 70,000 families have turned their gardens into backyard habitats, with the help of the National Wildlife Federation.

It's easy. A fantastic learning experience for kids and adults, alike. Plus, the end result is infinitely more beautiful and rewarding than a typical garden.

1) Set aside a portion of your yard for the habitat.

2) Discover native flowers and vegetation, important to local wildlife.

3) Create a water source to encourage them to stay.

4) Provide protection for nesting and raising young.

5) Tell NWF about your hard work! They'll certify your yard and send you a sign so you can tell the world that yours is a wildlife-friendly habitat!

Complete how-to instructions.

There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to human involvement with wildlife. Some say we should step aside and let nature take her course. Others feel that a people population in the billions is forcing nature to take another course. I tend to agree.

We're here. They're here. Nobody's going anywhere. So, perhaps we could find ways to co-exist. Local wildlife is adapting. Maybe we can, too.

Friday, April 20, 2007


In honor of Earth Day, 4/22, we're looking for new uses for items that would be heading to the recycle bin. It's what we call upcycling.

Wunx had such a clever idea, I thought I should pass it along. Two-litre, plastic Coke bottles make great, temporary planters for big perennials who have outgrown their seed pots.

Have you ever noticed that most of the perennials you purchase from the garden shops have a thick, circular matt of roots at the bottom of the pot? They won't change their bad habits, when placed in the ground. These 12-inch deep 'planters' allow plenty of wiggle room for a healthy root system.

Buddy up to the neighbors who have teenage kids. It's your best bet for finding left over soda bottles. Don't bother with the neighbors who have younger kids. They're still slightly brainwashed by Mom & Dad. (They probably haven't figured out that the stories about juice being 'better' than soda are lies, all lies.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What's Eating the Tulip Bulbs?

At dawn, my wayward friend climbed back into bed, snuggling against me in an effort to warm his chilly hide. It annoyed me for barely a moment. I draped a blanket over his damp body and fell back asleep.

That cat, my Mother used to say, is not worth the fur he's printed on.

She's got a point... We had an agreement. Unrestricted freedom in exchange for a nightly patrol of the garden perimeter. His job is to keep the critters from eating my tulip bulbs.

Dine & Dash:
Near as I can figure I've donated at least 50 bulbs to the wildlife who determined I've got a slacker for a night watchman.

High mountain gardening tips I should have followed:
  • Sharp gravel around the bulbs improves drainage and deters critters.
  • Cover newly planted bulbs with wire mesh.
  • Surround your tulips with daffodils and frittilaria. Critters hate the smell of these bulbs.
  • And, I hate to rain on your parade but even if you do all of this and they bloom, your troubles are just beginning. I met a new lady Moose last spring who was utterly thrilled with the tulips that did survive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Glory of the Snow

The real 'glory' of this morning's freshly fallen snow is the knowledge I couldn't possibly get back on my bike for another training ride. For that, this aching body is eternally grateful.

Dwarf, six petalled flowers are peeping through a blanket of white. C. forbesii, Glory of the Snow, is proof positive there's more to a spring garden than Daffodils and Tulips.

Small, lily-like blooms poke their heads through melting snowdrifts, gracing my garden with a month-long show of icy blue flowers.

They do their best work in a sunny location though most bulb companies recommend partial shade.

Naturalizes beautifully, critter resistant...
Bonus: Drought tolerant after flowering.
What's not to love?

* Plant Glory of the Snow bulbs in late autumn. Available in blue, pink and white. USDA zones 3-8. Blue is the wild variety, blooming first and blooming longer. Before you invest in white, think about it... If they peek through white snow, how would you ever see them?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Comfort Foods

My daughter is moving home for the college summer break. Aside from the fact that I miss her, an important benefit of L living at home is that she hardly ever has 2 dimes to rub together. That means each time she tries to borrow money I can put her to work pulling weeds! Seeing as how my weeds outnumber my flowers 10 - 1, I'm getting more excited by the minute!

Comforting traditions tie us together more so than any of the 'defining moments' of our lives. My Grandmother made this recipe for her daughters. Mom made it for me. I make it for L. And, though she swears it will never happen... Someday, she will be walking down the hallway, to deliver a plate of these cookies to her own daughter, who is pulling an all-nighter on a term paper she should have started weeks ago.

Chocolate Drop Cookies
Preheat oven to 350. Bake for 12 minutes. Makes just enough for a study break.

1 Egg
6 Tablespoons Butter
6 Tablespoons Dutch Cocoa
6 Tablespoons Milk
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/3 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Mix in:
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 1/4 Cup Flour

* Don't even think about lowering the fat in this special recipe.
** Looking to satisfy a sweet tooth? Double the sugar. This family loves chocolate, but not sweet treats.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Uphill Battles

Bevy and I are going on a bike trip. I started my training this weekend.

The fact that I even got on a bike this morning, after yesterday's hellacious ride, is strong testament to the fact I am ready to rekindle an age-old love affair. (Don't get too excited. It's with an inanimate object named Bianchi.

Saturday wasn't half bad. I didn't start swearing out loud until I hit the first high hill. Sunday, on the other hand, was a completely miserable experience though I know it will get better.

While I was flying down the other side of that big hill, I started thinking about the old me. Recalling the days when I loved biking - truly, madly, deeply loved being on my bike. And, how over the years I've allowed too many things to chip away at my confidence and ultimately defeat me.

Sometimes I think I hide in my garden because I'm so damn tired of people passing judgement on me for all the mistakes they're pretty sure I made. You see, maybe those mistakes were intentional. Maybe I needed to walk away from certain things in order to figure out whether I really loved them or not.

If you open the book of my life, I doubt you could start in the middle and really know what's going on. Yet, I think, in a nutshell, that is what most people do to me.

I know getting back into tip top shape will be an uphill battle (pun intended,) but I am thrilled to have become reacquainted with the old me. Because I kind of like that girl. She was a whole lot more fun-loving, and passionate, than the girl I see in the mirror today.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hot House Flowers

Hundred of flights have been cancelled due to a fabulous winter storm out east. Here, in the mountains, where we like to play in the snow, we're begging for such things. Instead, we're parading our lily white legs around in short shorts, wondering if we should turn the sprinklers on early. (Please don't.)

Meanwhile, back at the nursery, my babies are crying for attention. Help is on the way. I was just informed there is a plant swap next Thursday - where I can put the most unruly ones up for adoption - down in the valley, where gardening season has begun.

In prior years, my seedlings minded their manners, growing slowly in a cold, winter window. This year, they are a month ahead of the game. It just never occurred to me that the unseasonably warm temperatures outside would translate to hot house conditions inside.

Friday, April 13, 2007

As Luck Would Have It

Strolling around my garden, this morning, I started thinking about how I wished I could be like my flowers: focused and quiet, plodding along on an easy timetable to create beautiful blooms in the coming months.

I always wanted to be born in April. April signals rebirth, a new beginning. The clean, fresh air and warmth of April is exhilirating, leading me to believe that pretty much anything is possible. (Bonus: People born in April are relatively sane!)

According to my horoscope, my rear end is firmly planted in my 9th House of Big Ideas. If you're a Libra, like me, you have probably already discovered that your infernal optimism and openness to all things risky is the bane of your existence...
  • I have taken on a construction project I can't afford to finish.
  • My window sills are overflowing with root-bound perennials that won't survive 'til planting season.
  • I've got 2 short weeks to get my sorry ass in shape for a marathon bike trip, when I haven't been on a bike in nearly a year.
  • I could go on and on...
That's the problem with being a Libra. We gamble on the future, never learning from our mistakes. Because we firmly believe a miracle will happen and everything will turn out okay. Reality is the perk for those astrological signs that lack imagination.

So, we are what we are and there's no changing that. Still, I sit here this morning wishing I’d followed through on that desire to become a magician back when the world made perfect sense - back when I was eight. Perhaps at times like this, when miracles are becoming mandatory, I’d have better tricks up my sleeve.

(Read the Witless Wanderer. She has some good observations about why we can't always get what we want.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blood From A Turnip

"We've squeezed as much blood from this turnip
as we're ever gonna get."

And with that, my tax guy handed me a pile of forms and a big, fat bill and sent me on my way. Each year, it's the same old story. I show up with a stack of receipts 12 inches thick and then the battle begins. If it were up to me, I'd write off everything as a business expense. Including the bike I pedalled to the Fed Ex box one day last summer. The only time it's physically painful to be a freelancer is when it's time to pay the piper.

Bill, the tax man, is a turnip lover. (Yet another reason to distrust him.) Turnips are a love 'em or hate 'em vegetable. Mom forced me to eat them as a child and I loathe them to this very day.

That's because she made me eat the wrong part. The roots are nasty, bitter, disgusting things but the above-ground leaves, the turnip greens, are quite tasty. They're also loaded with vitamins A and K, important ones if you're searching for that proverbial fountain of youth.

Turnip greens make a delightful hot salad. Immerse the greens in boiling water for just a few seconds and then flavor with bacon, onion and vinegar. You could also try blogging about it and then maybe you could write off the grocery bill as a tax deduction. (Hmmm...)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring Snows

Ah, the false promise of spring. Those precious warm days that tease me into believing something has changed and perhaps for the better. I tune up my bike and pack away the mittens. Make all sorts of plans for this fresh, new season that's upon us. Then I wake to howling winds and blowing snow and realize that with this, like so many things, I have once again jumped the gun.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Blondes vs. Red Heads

Today I am feeling like that proverbial dumb blonde. And, I am paying tribute to the smarter red-haired stepchild.

Prairie Fire: In spring, the red rock canyons of Southern Utah are ablaze with the crimson flowers of the Indian Paintbrush. I just can't get enough of their brilliant beauty - which is partly why I ditched the rest of the group and set off on a poorly marked trail, thinking it just couldn't be that hard to find my way back to camp all by my lonesome.

I've watched the news reports of boy scouts getting lost in the wild and (happily) being found days later not far from camp.

Apparently, they were hunkering down and waiting to be saved. I'm not really big on hunkering. I'm more of the overreact and create a nice state of confusion kind of gal. Which is what I did when I realized that I had no idea where I was.

While I was wandering around out there, hoping to find a familar landmark, I was getting madder and madder at Big Red. AKA Bad Dog, AKA homing pigeon. He simply would not keep up. Instead, he kept hanging back and walking the opposite direction of where I was heading. (The direction I knew, for sure, was wrong.)

The only saving grace of getting lost in the desert is that if you can shimmy up to the highest pinnacle you can almost see to the Gulf Coast.

Once I sweated my way to the top, and looked down upon this broad expanse of nothingness, I saw Big Red sitting precisely on the spot that pointed to the trail that would take me back to the safety of my camp.

So, here's the deal about Big Red. Everybody hates him. He's loud and annoying and he practically invented flatulence. Plus, he snores like a truck driver. But, in a pinch, he's pretty reliable. And, I for one, have a new-found respect for his navigational skills.

Set your garden on fire with Indian Paintbrush. Grow it by seed from Wild Seed Farms. Plant it in the most inhospitable part of your yard (where it never gets watered,) and marvel at the tenacity of this low-maintenance perennial. If it does well here (picture below) it will do well anywhere you care to plant it.

According to local legend, even Butch Cassidy frequented this historic site, The Smith Cabin, where we camped. I was worried about getting lost in this wilderness forever. I imagine Butch was much cooler in a crisis. He probably just wanted to get out of here without shootin' the sheriff.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Promise of Spring

I woke, longing for dullness. And, that means the crazy train must be pulling back into the station. Life's been a little too interesting, lately. Time for me to plant two feet firmly on the ground.

In springtime, the walls of our home expand as quickly as the temperature rises. I no longer feel claustrophobic. I open the door and step outside, shivering in the early morning light.

Tiny blooms of yellow and lavender grace the sunniest part of the yard – tough little Crocus defying frigid temperatures, snow and ice. Thin green shoots are popping up all over – daffodils, tulips, iris and lilies. Covered in earth last year, 300 bulbs gave little indication of all my hard work - or the beautiful clutter we’d see, come spring. Now they are everywhere! It’s exciting to see they survived our long winter. With a pretty promise of better things to come.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pretty In Pink

Interesting that the Pink Moon should become 'full' on the day my good friend, Bev, celebrates her milestone birthday. It's a milestone 'cause she's heading into the best 12 months of her entire life. She just doesn't know that, yet. She's going to Nepal with me. And, while she's currently feeling that life might be over, she'll soon discover that there is much life left to live.

And, she will also finally figure out what the rest of us slackers already know - that it is entirely possible to live well and never 'work' again.

Whenever I think of Bevy, I think of the color pink. Part of that is jealousy. I can't wear pink and pull it off, but she can. In much the same way she pulls off a lot of things that leave me feeling slightly in awe of her unbridled energy and courage.

Flowers remind me of people and the shell pink Dianthus reminds me of her. It's an unassuming flower so sometimes it takes awhile for folks to notice. But once you do, you see a beauty that takes your breath away.

I know you're blue. Which is why I'm writing this for you. Because you're doing the same thing I'm doing - looking at life all wrong. Do you know where this quote came from? Under the brilliant light of this Pink Full Moon, celebrate your birthday and remember...

"Your destiny is always up in those stars.
All you have to do is look at them and ponder…
And you’ll realize where it is you should be going."

Boundary Waters Canoe Area, 1995.
Body and soul, you haven't aged a day.