Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cut your gardening costs: Go native!

If you're looking to cut costs as well as labor in your garden this summer, consider water-wise planting that includes native plants in your landscape. is still a hot trend, especially in parts of the country that are... well... hot!

Many nurseries now specialize in plants native to the U.S. that require little or no watering during the hot summer months. is one of the finest. I've always recieved top-quality plants from the. But beware: the most water-thrifty plants may be native to the southwestern deserts where summers are hot and dry. These plants may wilt and mold in the humid southeast. "Native" is a highly relative term!

Therefore, when shopping for natives, find out what landscaping plants are native to your region. Check your telephone directory and the internet for local nurseries that specialize in natives. Find out what kind of care the plants need, because some natives can be as fussy as the most high-bred horticultural specimens.

Check out this article on xeriscaping in Colorado: New wave of gardening water-wise

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Let's go to the park, Mom!" "Okay, get your books."

Park designed for easy reading

For the literary gardener, nothing goes together better than a cozy outdoor spot where you can curl up with a good book. Looks like some people in Chicago have the same idea. A new park that was just dedicated is designed with comfortable benches and quiet, shady nooks, just right for readers.

Now there's an idea worth spreading further.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Happy Earth Day: My Garden, My Kitties

As I predicted, I spent the better part of the afternoon today on my knees pulling bucket after bucket of weeds. And that was just the front yard. I piled them all up in a little corner formed by a clump of bamboo and the ratty arbor vitae hedge between our house and the neighbor's, since there were way too many even for the compost bin. They'll decay slowly (compost happens), and one day will return to the soil.

Once done, since it was such a lovely day, I decided it was high time that the kitties, normally indoor cats (too many speeding cars, loose dogs, psychotic cats, raccoons, and skunks in our neighborhood), got to enjoy the outdoors. Our big boy, Licorice, used to go out on his leash and harness, but the winter has been so sloppy, and I've been either busy or sick, so it's been months since he's been out. Belle, our teeny gray tabby who came to us in December, hadn't been outside at all. I bought her a shiny new red harness yesterday, and today was a good day to try it out.

Licorice loves exploring new smells, though speeding cars make him scuttle for the bushes. He had a lovely time taking in all the sights and smells, stopping to chew on grass, and otherwise having a fine time.

Belle was another story. She's been curious about the outdoors, and sticks her nose out the front door in the morning when I get the paper (Licorice likes to be carried out to "help"), but when I picked her up and opened the door, she dug in her little claws. Once outside, she crept around and jumped at every noise, not straying beyond the porch. And as soon as I reached for the door again, she was right there, eager to get back inside.

After I came back in and fed the zoo (cats, birds, guinea pigs... oh my), I started a loaf of nice earthy multi-grain bread. It might have been even more earthy if I made it entirely by hand, but by the time I was done with all that weeding, my arms were tired, and after all, what's a bread machine for if not to make bread?

Now here's a gallery of kitty and garden pictures:

Licorice explores the front walk.

Ooh! A crow!

Belle was NOT happy about the whole thing. After she came back in, I found her sitting by the front door, meowing her distress meow. Poor baby.

I spotted a white-breasted nuthatch passing food to a mate inside the birdhouse. Hooray! They're nesting!

Our poor crabapple, dubbed the "Hobbit tree" since it looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, is in dire need of thinning and pruning. The handyman who lived here before us, and whose repairs almost function, must have done the pruning himself. The result is a rat's nest. We have a tree specialist coming out next week. That nasty concrete pad behind it can go anytime, too.

Tulips, ferns, lady's mantle, and a mass of other green stuff in the front yard.

Flame-colored tulips in the front yard.

A blue heron fringed tulip set off by a backdrop of our native wild bleeding heart.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

So What Are You Doing for Earth Day?

Earth Day is this Saturday. If you haven't made plans yet, check out the site and see if there are any events in your area. Check out your while you're there (oh, dear, I thought I was doing well, but if everyone lived like me, we'd need 4.4 Earths to support everyone). If there aren't any events in your area and you think there ought to be, the Network provides an , a set of resources that can help anyone become a community leader and organize a fabulous Earth Day.

Me, I'll most likely be on my knees in the dirt, pulling weeds and perhaps putting some of my home-grown seedlings in the ground. They're outside right now, the little darlings, in the shelter of a rickety old mini-greenhouse, its old, rotted plastic cover now replaced with a swath of perforted plastic.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Recycle your pots

Article link: Turn Used Gardening Plastic into Botanical Garden Admission

Kudos to the Missouri Botanical Garden, major center of plant research in the U.S. St Louis gardeners who take their used plastic pots to a recycling location near the garden get a free admission ticket. A marvelous way to encourage recycling!

Not all public gardens can afford to give away free passes, and some have free admission already, but many will take used plastic pots for their own needs. If you have stacks of plastic pots piling up in your garage or shed, call your nearby public gardens and see if they need pots. Or if you normally throw these pots away, consider saving them for re-use.

Some nurseries, too, will re-use pots. As at your local garden center, or call a nearby nursery to find out.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Chasing Weeds

The weeds have been having their way in my garden for far too long, romping all over the flower and vegetable beds, through cracks in the concrete, to the point I wouldn't have been surprised if they started banging on the windows, demanding to be let in. So between data analysis for my dissertation this weekend, and the numerous showers that dumped on us, I took the time to go out and chase down the weeds.

I got a large swath of the back yard done, mostly the asparagus bed, the xeriscape border at the bottom of the driveway, and the vegetable beds. At the left is a shot of the overwintered lettuce, now weeded and nicely mulched with used guinea pig bedding and shredded junk mail, giving a lovely tacky effect. A couple of hours later, the rains flattened the junk mail ribbons. If you squint carefully, you can see that the rosemary bush is in bloom. I took a sprig of it in to make pasta with sausage and rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes. Mmmm. Some of that lettuce went into the salad along with it.

We also had a handful of garden-fresh asparagus, which you can see popping up through more piggie litter, looking like so many space aliens. The peas are along the edge, right alongside the asphalt driveway that soaks up the morning sun, so they're getting the benefits of the heat. Looks like the little guys need thinned out, a chore I always hate to do, but it must be done. That's what I get for planting them so thickly. Sounds like such a good idea at the time, to plant thick in case germination is poor or the squirrels find the nice, soft, juicy seeds. But I feel like such a murderer. "Noo, nooo, I'm too young to dieeee!"

The new strawberries are coming in nicely, too. As the picture shows, they're putting on a good set of leaves. I hope they'll bear well this year. All that good cow stuff that I put in the bed first, then good guinea pig litter all over the top of them. They're well-nourished, that's for sure.

Next I must tackle the front yard. The tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are blooming away, but they're awash in a sea of green, everything from California poppies to forget-me-nots, to thistles, dandelions, peppergrass, and a lush green composite with the unlikely name of nippleweed. The California poppies and forget-me-nots are thick enough to need some serious thinning, and the rest just need yanked out.

That'll have to wait until next weekend.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Great Gardens in Just 20 Minutes a Day

Review of The 20-Minute Gardener
Tom Christopher, Marty Asher (Random House, 1997)

If you can spare 20 minutes per day, on average, you can have a great garden and have a lot of fun with it, too.

Why 20 minutes? Because that, minus commercials, is the average time for a half-hour television program. If you can give that much time to just one program each night, you can spare that time for your garden. Give up some of your T.V. time and get outside.

But can you really do it all in 20 minutes?

That depends on how you define "all." Create a stunning replica of Sissinghurst, complete with clipped yew hedges? Not likely. Create a garden that suits your wants and your lifestyle? You betcha.

Christopher and Asher have the secrets to gardening with just 20 minutes per day. Their master plan begins with making your priorities and changing some of your methods to make your garden task list as short and simple as possible. Their quest is not for the perfect garden, but for a manageable garden, with weeds and pests kept in check by simple, ecologically-sound means. This leaves time for having fun in the garden: trying new plants, experimenting with new vegetables, or trying one of the 20-minute projects that are scattered throughout the book: build a kitchen windowbox so you can impress your friends by reaching out the kitchen window to snip fresh herbs, root "graveyard roses" to cultivate cheap and sturdy low-care rose bushes, construct the world's cheapest compost bin, grow an Egyptian water garden, and more.

Not that the two authors agree on all points. Christopher has a background in horticulture and landscape design, and has a distinct tendency to go overboard on his projects. Asher, by contrast, is extremely laid back about his garden, and his idea of a garden "task" would be to lie back in a hammock with a tall beer and supervise the grass as it grows. Between the two of them, with Christopher pushing Asher along, and Asher putting the brakes on Christopher's more outrageous notions, they find a middle ground that's just right for most busy homeowners. Along the way they infuse the book with their characteristic good humor that makes this book a delightful read.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A New Twist on Edible Landscaping -- With a Little Help From Science

For people with small yards, edible landscaping is a great way to have your beautiful garden and eat it, too. Many traditional vegetables are lovely to look at. Tomatoes, in fact, used to be grown as an ornamental before people were quite ready to trust them as food. Bright Lights chard is stunning in the border, and a trimming of frilly green parsley can wake up a bed of flowers.

But for those who still want their roses, researchers at the Luther Burbank Institute have a new option: roses that produce large, juicy, delicious fruits. Rose Apples, as they're being called, may be available in garden centers as early as 2007.

It wasn't a giant leap. Roses already produce hips, which are in fact edible, though not tasty. Apples and pears are members of the rose family, as are cherries, peaches, and many other common fruits.

Dr. Avril d'Poisson of the Institute has led the team that developed the Rose Apple. "It all began when I was about twelve. I tried to graft apples scions onto a rose bush because I'd heard they were in the same family. It didn't work, of course, but the idea stayed with me."

After Dr. d'Poisson joined the Burbank Institute, she eventually found a way to make the graft work. "It took . I know that's a dirty word to a lot of people, but really, it wasn't that much of a . Roses and apples are, as I knew at twelve, in the same family. All it took was moving the gene for one particular cell membrane protein in roses to an apple so that the rose would accept the apple wood as "self," then cutting scions from that apple and grafting them onto the rose. That project is still in the research phase because right now the rose canes aren't strong enough to support the apples. Cherries, being a smaller fruit, may be better suited for GE-assisted grafting."

The rose apple was a project that Dr. d'Poisson began two years after she joined the Institute in 1996. "I was still working on the grafting project and kept hitting barriers. But after reading several papers by some researchers in France who were developing roses with larger ornamental hips, I figured hey, what if those hips were edible and tasty, too?" She began her own work on investigating the specific genes that cause the ovary walls in apples to expand, grow fleshy, and produce fruit sugars. "It only took three key genes," she said. "As it turns out, there were already similar genes in the roses. We just enhanced the genetic information that was already there."

It took five years to create a rose that produced large, fleshy, and tasty fruits. Taste was a big criteria for Dr. d'Poisson, for she knew the rose would never meet with commercial success if the fruits were unappealing. The current Rose Apple yields large, bright red fruits that are somewhat pear-shaped. The flesh is slightly soft, with a texture more reminiscent of pears, but with a distinctly apple-like tang. It can be eaten straight from the bush, or cooked into sauces.

"We still need to do extensive safety testing before bringing this to market," Dr. d'Poisson said. "But I expect that we could have the Rose Apple out by sometime next fall, or perhaps the following spring."

She also reminds us that her name is a twist on Poisson d'Avril, the French way of saying, "April Fool!"

(The truth: The Rose Apple is a real fruit that grows in the tropics. It is not a product of genetic engineering. It is a member of the myrtle family.)