Friday, June 20, 2008

The "Creative" Gardener

Okay, maybe unprepared, unschooled, and cheap would be better descriptors for this post, but hey...

What the heck is so creative about the picture here? Well, no one told me not to plant Scarlet Runner Beans as one of the components of my Three Sisters garden (actually, a Two Sisters garden because I knew the pumpkins/squash just wouldn't have enough room to sprawl in this small bed... another mistake that will soon be remedied). They are shooting up much faster than the sweet corn I planted (Golden Bantam) and have nothing to cling to. The situation has been exacerbated by our adorable *coughcough* squirrel population who deprived us of several corn plants by getting beneath the green plastic "chicken wire" I'd used to keep the crows out. I had actually saved several very long, straight limbs from the redbud tree that was felled last summer by a lightning storm to use as a bean teepee, but when I changed my garden plans (a weekly occurence) and decided to go the Three Sisters route, I turned the teepee into mulch. What's a girl to do!?

Use the umbrella that goes to the kids' sand and water table of course! :D They never use the umbrella anyway because it's on the side of the yard that's too shady for me to garden in... hehe

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Treasures of my Garden: June 20, 2008

Ever heard of The Church of the Old Mermaids? It was founded by my favorite author, Kim Antieau, and I'm a firm devotee. Old Mermaid legend has it that the desert used to be covered in ocean. That ocean must have come all the way to Ohio because we've been finding shells in our garden. The one above is a shell impression in a stone. A fossil? I don't know, but it's gorgeous, and it's become part of our garden altar now.

The shell I uncovered today while digging up some more lawn. Its graceful inward curves are filled with dirt, but Annie kept insisting that she could hear the ocean and that I should hear it too. Later, she said she heard a voice coming from the shell. I asked her what it was saying. She whispered in my ear, "she sells seashells by the seashore." LOL Reminds me of Sister Laughs a Lot Mermaid...

I may not have heard the ocean in the shell, but I somehow hear it in the trees. Not the ocean, exactly, but Lake Erie, where I am most at home. There is a very distinctive rustling of the wind in the limbs of our Mama Maple that instantly transports me back to those days of my childhood and teenage years when I could hear the lake lap at the shore from my bedroom window. Oh, how I miss home! Thank you, Old Mermaids, Old Sea, for giving me these little gifts...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review: The Shaker Garden by Stephanie Donaldson

I admit it, I picked this book up for its pictures. I love Shaker style everything with its simplicity, practicality, and natural beauty, and this book did not disappoint in the realm of photos. With a mixture of black and whites from bygone eras and stunning colors from Donaldson's own Shaker garden, it was absolutely lovely from beginning to end.

The book was set up with an all too brief introduction and history of the Shaker garden followed by sections on each component of the garden, from selecting picket fencing to paint colors. The brief chapters were beautifully illustrated, but don't look here for historical accuracy. Donaldson is completely upfront about the fact that the garden plan presented in the book is not a reconstruction. Nevertheless, some of these sections have simple projects that can be constructed, including a miniature Shaker garden, wooden seed trays, seed packets, and a shingle-roofed birdhouse from a wooden crate. The seed packets and possibly the seed trays are on my to-do list! "The Shed" description was of particular interest to this organization-obsessed Virgo, despite the fact that I don't have the room for a garden shed. I still plan to incorporate some of the ideas into my little potting area. I've also been coveting the bamboo cloches pictured covering strawberries in the "Accessories" section. As beautiful as I find their glass counterparts, these bamboo cloches provide air circulation, a must for edible plants!

After the garden component sections, Donaldson jumps into a discussion of soil, its types, cultivation, weeding, watering, pest control, and of course compost. If you've been gardening for even a short time, you probably know most of the stuff on soil types and cultivation, but her passages on growing and watering were new and very helpful to me. One of the most beautiful things about this books is that Donaldson includes passages from historic Shaker gardening literature. For example, on transplanting, an excerpt from The Gardener's Manual of 1843:

"A prevalent, but erroneous opinion concerning transplanting is, that it should be done just before a shower, in order to succeed well; but experience has shown that a day or two after, when the ground has become dry enough to work again, in the evening, is a preferable time, and perhaps with the exception of cloudy weather, is the best that can be selected." (pg. 56)

Really? I didn't know that... The watering section also included some new-to-me information, also from The Gardener's Manual:

"Some gardeners spend much useless labor in sprinkling water over and around their plants. When the ground is very dry, at the time you wish to transplant, water the ground where you intend to set plants, a day or two beforehand, may be beneficial. But to plants in open ground, that have good roots, watering in the customary way, with a hand watering pot, is of but little use." (pg. 60)

Very interesting stuff. This soil chapter also included two garden projects: making a soil tamper and making a compost bin, both now on my to-do list.

The last element of the book is the sections on herbs (including medicinal, culinary, and tisane uses), flowers, vegetables, and fruit. Each section includes a description of the usage of the various plant types, as well as a rough garden plan, recipes, and/or projects. It was interesting to see the progression of Shaker ideas on these various sorts of plants.

All in all, this was a light, easy read. There are a few helpful hints, but it's not a book I would buy to keep in my garden reference section. I've copied down the recipes and instructions for the few projects that struck my fancy, and back to the library this book goes!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Gift of Toads

Even though I'm still feeling quite under the weather, I really needed some time out in my garden to weed and tidy things up. Maple saplings wait for no one, I tell ya! That's one prolific Maple Mama we have...

Anyway, I'm sprawled across one mulched path trying to get all the little bits of green that are threatening to outgrow my carrots when I hear a raucous yelling from next door. What the...? It's our little neighbor girl, A, calling me name. (Did I just channel my pirate personality from a past life? ;) She comes bearing gifts! I've already given it away in the title, unless you're really extra dense, but the gift was indeed three of the tiniest, most smoochable toads I have ever seen! I really, really wanted to kiss them, even if I didn't get one of these out of the deal, but they were so little and so very, very hoppy. These little fellas were about the size of my pinky fingernail. SO cute. A's mom, J, managed to get two of them onto Madame TrashHeap (aka, the compost pile) and one into my jungle of lemon balm. Hopefully these little guys will stick around 'cause we were really being eaten by the mosquitoes today!

Wait! Where in the Darkness did my neighbor get baby toads? Apparently, she had walked with her kids to the library, and on the way back, they were stunned to see the sidewalk and road literally hoppin' with these little guys. We've surmised that they must have come from a clutch of eggs laid in a mud puddle somewhere. Knowing that they were gonna get smushed by the oncoming traffic, J scooped up about 10 of them into one of the bags that they'd been carrying library books in. She let 7 go in her garden and presented the remaining three to their new home with us. Woohoo!

I truly wish I had a picture of these irresistably cute little buggers, but they were much too bouncy to capture on film. Instead, I'll leave you with a picture of (whom I hope is still) their competition: Mr. Toad, whom I uncovered last year while ripping up the English ivy (Hedera helix) behemoth that covered what is now my perennial/herb bed. I really hope he stuck around after I demolished his home, but I haven't seen him since... :(

Monday, June 16, 2008

Independence Days Challenge-- Week 2

First of all, let me give a world of thanks to all the wonderful people who commented on my Imperfectly Beautiful Garden post. How kind of you all to visit my little blog space and to leave such encouraging messages. It really lifted my spirits. Really, thank you!

Now onto Independence Days. Week 2 is going to be particularly light on doings because the whole family was ill, AND it rained several days. Fun stuff. Still...

1. Planted: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in pots (will I ever have rosemary this year?)

2. Harvest something: Sage for the herbal steam inhalation. Some more lemon balm for tea.

3. Preserve something: Dried the lemon balm and some of the sage.

4. Prep something: Got a teensy bit more of the lawn ripped up. That's really it. Read several library books, some helpful and some not. Look for book reviews here soon! Researched columnar fruit trees and talked with the neighbor about planting them between our very close together houses.

5. Cook something: Didn't cook anything from the garden and didn't try any new recipes.

6. Manage your reserves: Was going to use some overripe bananas for banana bread, but The Husband got to them before I had the energy and tossed them in the garbage. You heard me right. THE GARBAGE. Not even the compost pile! I really wanted to cause him bodily harm...

7. Work on local food systems: Didn't really do anything here. I did send some of my rabid lemon balm to my bestest pal, but she's in West Virginia. I don't think that really counts as "local." T, you'll be rolling in lemon balm before you know it! ;)

8. Reduce waste: Brought home the scraps from our Father's Day dinner at The Husband's mom's house for Madame TrashHeap (That would be the compost pile. What? You've never seen Fraggle Rock?) rather than letting them put them all down the garbage disposal. Put some more stuff from the attic on eBay.

9. Learn a new skill: Learned how to make Sleepytime Balm with Crisco.

This coming week will be better.