Monday, March 31, 2008

Slow As Snails Seedlings

It's about time... I muttered to myself as I watered my bitsy babies.

The laziest of my perennial seedlings (Bellflowers) poked their heads out of the soil this weekend. I started them a month ago. Gave up hope after 2 weeks. That's when I referred back to the seed packet for instructions that might have prevented me from ever planting them in the first place.

Seed starting is a lost art. It's slow. It's messy. Most houses need a grow light for good results.
But, I've got a big, sunny, bay window. One that inspires me to experiment with most every type of seed. Including bell peppers ~ which I grow with the leftover seeds from peppers I buy at the market. (Saves me a bundle on over-priced produce. :)

Most seeds germinate in about 5-10 days. I'm discovering that Balloon Flowers take forever. Which probably means they'll take forever to bloom, too.

Seed packages will generally tell you the time it takes for seeds to germinate and also how long to first flowers. Some perennials require 2 summers to put forth their first flowers. Such is the case with these slacker Bellflowers. If I'd know that ahead of time I would have saved my $1.79!

PS: Want instant gratification? Plant Cosmos. They'll sprout in 1-2 days if they're in a good mood.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Miniature Heirloom Veggies

Yippy skip! My seeds arrived.

Yikes. This might be a sign of old age:
For years, I've been a perennial purist. If it's growing in my yard it had dang well better be a flower. Practical produce is a job for Farmer John.

Until now. This spring, I have a burning desire to live off the land. Grow pure and wholesome heirloom veggies! My own personal Garden of Eden, if you will. (Who knows? Come harvest, I might be dancing around out there, naked.)

What's most ridiculous about this is that I don't even like vegetables. Well, that's not completely true. I love potatoes. I'm evolving into a potato! I'm growing rounder and plumper every year.

So, here's my plan: I shall grow them in containers on the deck and bestow this bounty on all my friends. If they taste like crap I've got that covered, too. I have a mean neighbor who deserves a bushel basket of this stuff...

Lots of veggies grow well at high altitudes. Start them indoors 6 weeks prior to planting for best results.

Seeds of Change contributes $$ to advance the cause of sustainable organic agriculture worldwide. I think that's pretty cool...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Day Late, Buck Short: Faux Shamrocks!

Oxalis deppei Iron Cross

If only plants could talk. Imagine how gorgeous our gardens would be.

Of course, in my case this would be more painful than raising a dozen teenagers. Non-stop complaining and an incessant battle of wills. Because I know ~ I just know ~ they would accuse me of never understanding their needs.

I scooped up this pretty little baby the day after St. Patrick's. Like most of my houseplants, she was half dead on the dollar table of a local store. These folks simply cannot get their heads around the fact that they should water the plants they sell.

Since she was a Shamrock, or so I thought, I watered her a bunch and put her far away from the sunny window.

Who knew?
Turns out she loves sun, prefers dry soil and flowers, too! Bright pink blossoms showed up as soon as I (accidently) placed her in the sunny window.

* If you ask me, the name Iron Cross, like most plant names, is pretty inappropriate for such a dainty little bloomer. It refers to the shape of the leaves. (zone 9)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Princess Megan & Queen Anne's Lace

The taproot of Queen Anne's Lace is a wild carrot, from whence hybridized carrots originated.

At dinner, people were asking: how do you know when a horse is mad? Trust me, Sue says. It's easy to tell when an 1,800 pound animal is upset...

This is 100 pounds of carrots!

It was the best way I could think of to say "I'm sorry" to 3,000 pounds of horse.

Once upon a time there was a horse-crazy woman who simply could not wait a moment longer for the first horseback ride of the season...

Things were going just fine until we walked across what appeared to be a thin cover of snow. It turned out to be a deep hole filled with snow. The horses sunk in up to their bellies, tossing Sue and I off in the process.

Megan and DH are pretty good sports about most things, but this episode pissed them off royally.

Meg was still giving me the silent treatment the next afternoon when I stopped by to see how she was doing.

So I begged and pleaded with the produce manager at the local supermarket. Bada bing, bada boom, 100 pounds of carrots fell off the truck (for the low, low price of $38.00!) A small price to pay to get back into their good graces.

Depending upon where you live, Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is a either a blessed wildflower - blooming all summer in dry, poor soil. Or, a tyrannical ruler - east of the Mississippi she is sometimes considered a noxious weed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lavender Cookies & Other Purple Passions

"You can never have enough purple in the garden." - Grandma Anne
Critters outsmart me, gobbling my tulip bulbs, so I force Tulips indoors.

When I was a college kid, I tried hard to be dark and brooding. I even went through the black and white photography phase. Mostly because I thought that made me look artistic and hopefully kind of cool.

French Lavender (Lavender stoechas, zone 8) grows fast by seed in a sunny window, with true flowers vs. narrow sprigs.

When I showed off my artsy fartsy photos to my Grandma Anne, she yawned and told me they were not 'snapping her socks.' (i.e. boring) Then she proceeded to educate me on a few more inescapable truths:

Kate, she said, give it up. You're never gonna be cool. The real point of taking pictures is to document the bright spots in a colorful life.

All Lavender is edible but most of them don't taste that great. Grow English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) if you plan to cook with it. Do all Grandmas smell like lavender? I hope so.

These are for you, Gram.

Lavender Cookies
  • 1.25 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lavender flowers, crushed
Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Mix in the flour and lavender flowers. Spoon onto a cookie sheet. Bake about 15 minutes @ 350 degrees F. (You might as well double the batch right now because you know in your heart that you want to...)

Forced Tulips and French Lavender spend their days sunning themselves on my deck. Both warm their toes, indoors, at night.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Sanity Garden

I've been deputized, by Sandy, to host Easter dinner. Clearly I am slipping. For years, I've suckered her into doing all that hard work.

This, of course, has inspired a cleaning frenzy, indoors and out.

I began by searching for the walkway to my front door. During our winter of record-breaking snow, I threw in the proverbial towel and quit shoveling. (My way of encouraging friends to invest in snowshoes if they want to come visit.)

This acreage has what we call severe micro-climates. The Backyard Garden is still resting under 4 feet of snow. The Sanity Garden is completely melted, with tiny daffodil shoots and hardy geraniums peeking out of the mud. (Both gardens in full sun.)

And, this, my friends, is why I named it 'sanity.' Gardening defies logic high in the mountains. I keep my wits about me by making mud pies in this hot spot, while impatiently waiting for spring to grace the rest of the yard.

Happy Spring. Happy Easter.

Easter Side Dish: Sweet Baby Veggies
  • 1/2 lb. miniature carrots
  • 1/4 lb. miniature zucchini
  • 1/4 lb. patty pan squash
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 2 tbs. dark brown sugar
  • Sprinkle with lemon pepper and chopped fresh chives
Steam veggies to crisp-tender. Melt butter and brown sugar in a stir-fry pan. Toss baby vegetables for about 5 minutes, until warm and nicely glazed.

Micro Climate Gardening: I can cheat zones in areas of my yard with heavy snow. Drifts serve as a blanket, keeping zone 6 and tough zone 7 perennials alive. The Sanity Garden is zone 4 since the bare ground suffers from hard freezes without snowdrift protection and moisture.

The rock behind this blanket flower seedling is the culprit. Intense mountain sunlight heats it up, even in the midst of a cold winter. The heat it generates melts surrounding snow.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Parade

I strolled through the blogosphere yesterday, visiting everyone ~ from casual acquaintances to good blogging friends.

Gardeners were giddy over the coming of spring.

Photos of bright daffodils, luscious violas, and feisty little crocus greeted me wherever I went.

A feeling of spring is in the air here, too. Warm mountain sunshine is making short work of this tiresome snow.

The horses are shedding their thick, winter coats. They kicked up their heels and raced the length of the corral, when I arrived. That's their way of saying: Me! Pick me! For the first spring ride.

Horses, like plants and people, too, all have special things that make them particular happy.

Megan (right) is a sucker for crisp, crunchy carrots.

Smokey Bear (left) would stand on his head if you offered up a Fig Newton.

The cactus pictured below sits squarely on a furnace vent to encourage these bright blossoms.

My bug-eyed alien is laden with blooms:

And, Heirloom Hyacinths have a sweet perfume.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nickels, Dimes & 5 Buck Plans

Goodies for the gal with no sprinkler system. (That would be me.)
Purple Coneflower (obviously named by a blind botanist) is a lovely shade of petal pink.* Less xeric than some waterwise perennials, she's a great indicator of when the garden needs a drink.

My biz partner and I got in a little argument about that evil entity, the bank. Wells Fargo Bank charged us $1 whole dollar to do online payment transfers between our personal checking accounts.

Orange Geum blossoms on tall, skinny stems
that wave back and forth on windy days.

She thought that $1 charge was reasonable. I think it's an outrage! That bank holds the mortgages for both of our houses, making a fortune off us every month. Would it kill them to pick up the tab once in awhile?

I'm not nearly as cheap as I sound. I'm just irrational and old-fashioned. I have a devout belief that customer service is a necessary part of doing business.

I'm also egotistical. I think my huge spring plant order requires a lotta respect! Hugs and kisses, even.
Paprika Yarrow puts up with all sorts of abuse,
while happily putting on a pretty show.

I've never placed a truly huge plant order before but this summer's project is one that requires extra creativity. So, I wrote to several garden companies for advice...

White Flower Farm was wonderful:

Sadly, High Country Gardens was the worst of the bunch:

Five Dollars a Day:
Drinking coffee is great for the garden. Not drinking coffee is even better!

These days, I save the 5 spot I used to donate to Starbucks every morning. It goes in a shoe box, because if it goes in the bank it goes for something completely boring, like utilities.

$5 a day = $1,825 in one year. (Do NOT under any circumstances use this fun money for something practical.)

Spend a nickel, save the dime.

*Purple Coneflowers are now available in a variety of colors, though interestingly enough, they still don't come in purple.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monarchs & Milkweed

Tropical Milkweed
Monarch Butterflies love this stuff!

The first of my seedlings have sprouted, tiny green shoots poking out of the soil in my sunny window. Ah... spring, exhilarating spring... It's been a long time since I've experienced one. Years!

That's because spring doesn't really happen in the mountains. We go from snowstorms to summer in the span of a week or two. Massive melts, knee deep mud...

Swamp Milkweed
(What an awful name for such a pretty perennial.)

This, of course, is why I'm a passionate seed planter. Growing in my sunny window are two kinds of Milkweed.

I'm hopeful they will thrive and flower in containers on the deck - because wouldn't this be cool!?! Watching Monarch Butterflies flit around me while I'm sitting on my arse, postponing another weeding session!

Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on Milkweed. These are two varieties recommended by a real pro, my Aunt Jan.

Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is hardy to zone 3 though it needs a lot of moisture to thrive (hence my container planting.) Great for egg-laying and nectar.

Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, serves as a gourmet meal for monarch caterpillars. Plant as an annual.

Smart Cookies:
Why Milkweed? The plant has a substance (cardenolides) that, when eaten, makes Monarchs taste downright awful, saving them from hungry birds.

* Some varieties of Milkweed, especially Common Milkweed, can be invasive in the garden.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wee Bit o' the Emerald Isle

I've been to Ireland 3 times. Twice with family, once for business. On the business trip, to Belfast, I was detained by men (with guns!) I was traveling on a brand new passport so clearly I was a terrorist.

This happened pre 911 ~ before US airports started behaving like prison guards ~ and I was terrified.

But that wasn't nearly as scary as my 1st trip to Ireland, when I was traveling with my (crazy as a loon!) older sister. 'Nuff said about that.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Home to Roost

Original oil painting by my very talented friend, Karen.

I turned the dining room into the war room, spreading out all the garden catalogs from my great, big stack. Time to stop screwing around and figure out a plan of attack. My mission: what to plant in the [coming soon!] Street Garden [aka weedy ditch in front of my house.]

What's holding me back? Public failure! I love to gamble with my gardens but this one faces a busy road for all the world to see. When those flowers drop dead, everyone is gonna know I screwed up.

K's glorious chicken watched over me during the planning session. As I stared at that painting, it dawned on me...

The colors that bring K's chicken alive are the same bright, bold colors I want in that garden. Colors so demanding passers by will be transfixed on the success stories and they won't notice the dead junk planted right next to it.

Some folks are bursting with raw, natural talent. Others succeed through perseverance. Karen is a card-carrying member of the talent group. I'm a perseverance sort of gal. I don't perfect things. I dabble.

Like knitting. I learned how to knit a scarf and not drop a stitch and I thought I was pretty hot stuff. Then I tried to knit a hat.

Möbius Strip
When you knit a hat you must pay attention to detail and stick to that project to the bitter end. If you don't, all hell breaks loose. That hat grew to magnificent proportions before I realized it had become a never-ending circle of stitches from whence there was no escape.

Here's hoping my Street Garden doesn't follow suit.

Chicken poo is very high in nitrogen ~ the richest animal manure in the N-P-K ranking system. (That 15(N)-30(P)-15(K) plant food analysis shown on the side of the box.) Elephant poo is ideal! But, just imagine the size of bags that stuff comes in...

PS: Thanks, Karen. I think Mr. Chicken is happy in his new home.

These photos are the wildflowers I've decided upon so far. Globe Mallow, Prince's Plume, Red Penstamon, Blue Geranium, lots and lots of Wild Four O'Clocks. Please send me any ideas you might have. (No sprinkler system so they need to be very xeric.)