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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fence Garden

If you remember a couple months ago I spent some time working on a garden remodel for my parents. I had purchased a few plants as gifts for Mother's Day for my mom and decided that I would redo the garden along their backyard fence. The remodel mostly involved moving plants around, installing a stone block border, and mulching, lots of mulching.  Now that the end of September is here it is time for an update.You'll notice that the lamb's ear has filled in from small transplants to become a lush bushy groundcover.  In the distance is a bench area perfect for sitting on a hot summer day in the shade.

Closer to the deck the garden is just now beginning to grow together. The coneflower that was planted will grow larger next year but did manage to provide quite a few flowers in its first season. The monarda is spreading happily while the Russian sage and catmint (which migrated from my garden via cuttings) have thrived here in front of a dappled willow. The variegated liriope hasn't filled in as fast as I had hoped but it's growing fine and should fill the area in front of the Himalayan White Birch (Betula jacquemontii) eventually, maybe as soon as next spring.

I'm pretty pleased with the way this area turned out. There are a couple Bird's Nest Spruce shrubs that probably need to find different homes as they are just being buried by the accompanying perennials like the drummers in a middle school band. The perennials will eventually fill in the gaps as they grow and by late next spring this area should become a completely lush garden.

Lamb's Ear: A Touchable Texture Plant

Could there a be a plant more touchable than Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina zones 4-10)? The soft fuzzy texture of its pale silvery tinted foliage just invites passing people to pet its leaves. It grows fast, likes full sun, and can easily take over a garden bed so be prepared if you plant it to make many divisions to give away or to increase your ground cover. It blooms in the summer with pinkish purple blossoms but the real show is the foliage. It would be the perfect plant for a children's garden because of its touchable texture don't you think?


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Leaf Casting for a Birdbath: My First Attempt

A few weeks ago I attempted my first ever leaf casting. We were putting some hand prints of the my children and nieces in concrete for my parents to add to their garden and had some leftover Portland cement to use. Conveniently my parents had a pile of sand in their backyard behind their shed (leftover from the patio/pavilion) that was perfect for this project.  I didn't mix a hypertufa recipe but I did incorporate a little sand into the cement. (Hypertufa recipes use peat moss, sand, and cement. The peat moss breaks up over time which leaves behind a weathered look on the remaining stone. Very cool stuff.)

Here's how I made my leaf casting:
  • I mounded the sand into a gentle rise. Higher in the center and lower on the outside.
  • Then I covered the sand with a plastic trash bag to prevent the sand from getting into the casting.
  • Next I layered three large sunflower leaves with the base of each leaf on top of the mound of sand and plastic layer so that the points radiated outward.
  • Then I carefully spread the mixed cement over the leaves with a spade. I had to take special care so that I didn't tear or move the leaves. I started from the center to anchor the leaves in place and worked outward.
  • When all the cement was in place I covered with a second plastic bag. 

I waited about three weeks before attempting to move the leaf casting. The shady location in the back and all the rain we've had helped because the longer cement stays wet the stronger it becomes.

Here's the result of the leaf casting:

The large veining pattern on the sunflower leaves left some really nice deep grooves in the birdbath. This one stays at mom's house so I'll have to make another one for us before the sunflowers are gone!

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Project of the Week

It's not the greenhouse, at least not today or tomorrow. Over the last couple years (yes I said years) my father and I have been working on a project in his backyard. It began as a patio in the middle of their yard where they could enjoy their backyard spaces and gradually grew into a patio covered with a pavilion that will eventually be screened. With the help of my brother, who lives in California, we put up the structure over the patio. Earlier this summer I roofed it with asphalt shingles and today's project was putting together the railing. (And no I won't come do your roof!)

We researched various designs for railings and settled on something that is somewhat Japanese inspired. Using 2'x2' lumber we built a frame then pieced together four smaller 2'x2' pieces to fit within several other spindles. Hopefully we'll finish the project tomorrow but here's a look at the work we've accomplished so far.

Only one side is complete at this point but several other frames have been put together. All the wood is pressure treated lumber and will eventually get a coat of stain.

The Nashville Music Garden

Here's a clever idea for a theme garden: A Music Garden! And what better place for a music garden than in Music City, USA (AKA Nashville, TN) the home of country music. An article in today's Tennessean highlighted this garden that was planted back in the spring with plants named for various songs and music themes.

from The Tennessean:
for example, there are roses named for the songs "Amazing Grace" and "White Lightning" as well as "I Will Always Love You" and "The Streak."
Check out the article on The Nashville Music Garden and take a visit to the garden next time you're in Nashville!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The White Pathway

In our yard exist many corners that have not yet been cultivated. Most of these spots may never receive more than a cursory attempt at management. While I was mowing today I drove through one such area that completely caught me off guard. Along our back property line is an old fence that I'm sure was there before our subdivision became what it is today and was probably used to keep cattle contained. The back area of our yard, which continues up a hillside and along the fence, was completely left alone and naturalized for several years. Last fall I began to make pathways through the brushy hillside so that we could move around our property. The pathways aren't anything spectacular, just simple cut grass areas through the brush, but enable us to use a little bit more of our yard.

It was this seldom cared for pathway tucked away in the back of the yard that struck me as being particularly special. As I drove the mower through the pathway the sun shone down in such a way to illuminate all the white wildflowers that have grown on either side of the path. The filtered sunlight and dappled shade highlighted the area in such a way that I was forced to immediately drive my mower back to the garage and retrieve my camera. I was struck by the well placed, natural beauty of the scene. Has a scene from your garden ever prompted you to do the same?

Planting en mass is a popular technique that works very well in places but I never would have though to plant so much white in one area. It's clear that a mass of white flowers might be a nice treatment for certain areas particularly those in full to part shade. Mother nature planted this area with two white blooming wildflowers:

Symphyotrichum ericoides var. ericoides
or White Heath Aster


Heath Aster has a wide distribution across the states and is widely considered a weed but looks pretty nice in the right setting. Each year they will produce thousands of seeds and have almost completely covered our hillside.

Ageratina altissima (Eupatorium rugosum)
or White Snakeroot

Here the white snakeroot is mixed in the shade with the heath aster. Snakeroot is blooming all along our back property line where it receives mostly shade. It's white flowers brighten up the shade and seem to make those spots glow with a light of their own. There is some interesting information at Wikipedia concerning it's poisonous nature.

Together these two naturally occurring wildflowers have created a white pathway for fall.  Since I have other areas to attend to and other projects in need of attention I'm content to let the white pathway stand as it is. Maybe one day I'll add a little something to this area but for now I'll leave it to Mother Nature to design!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Gaillardia 'Oranges and Lemons'

If there is one plant I intend to keep in my garden every year it would be a gaillardia and more specifically 'Oranges and Lemons'. 'Oranges and Lemons' gaillardia (blanket flower) is a prolific bloomer that gives a bright and sunny look to the perennial plantings from summer through fall (zones 5-9). Even after the blooms have faded the seed heads still provide for some fall and early winter interest. 

Last year I had a really nice gaillardia in the front garden but unfortunately it didn't make it. After analyzing the location I suspect that its demise was caused by a wet winter combined with a poor location. (It was planted on the northern side of our house.) No sun and too much moisture means dead plant. Good drainage is a must, after all it is very drought tolerant once established.

If you try to raise 'Oranges and Lemons' from seed you will find a surprise waiting for you. 'Oranges and Lemons' is a hybrid and will not come true from seed. Instead you will find a gaillardia of another color and size but don't let that discourage you from planting the seeds. Sometimes new variants from hybrids are worth keeping! The gaillardia that died self sowed in our front garden revealing this red colored version in its place. The bloom is fairly large and bears a resemblance to Gaillardia x grandiflora which is probably one of the cultivars used to breed 'Oranges and Lemons'. Perhaps I'll try to back cross my surprise gaillardia with my 'Oranges and Lemons' just to see what happens.

Right now I have two 'Oranges and Lemons' planted, one in the birdbath garden and another one alongside our deck. The one next to our deck is paired with a moonflower and caryopteris. Next to, underneath, and all around the gaillardia is some spearmint which we use in our iced tea.

Gaillardia can be propagated through stem cuttings fairly easily and is how more 'Oranges and Lemons' are made for cultivation. Unfortunately 'Oranges and Lemons' is a patented variety and propagation should not be done (without a license) but if you have a non-patented variety stem cuttings can easily make many more for you!

Here's how to propagate gaillardia:

  • Select a piece if the stem with one to two nodes
  • Treat with rooting hormone
  • Stick in moist rooting media
  • Keep moist for up to 3-4 weeks.
  • Pot up when rooted

Gaillardia is an easy grower that could find a place in every garden!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Color is Coming!

The colors are on their way! This is just a quick post to remind everyone about the Fall Color Project. Everyone who blogs is welcome to join in and if you don't then maybe its time you did! Get out there and take those fall color photos when they are in their peak and show them off.

The leaves have started changing here in Tennessee. The earliest of the fall foliage begins with the sassafras trees and their ripe reds. This sassafras' mottled red foliage is just the tip of the iceberg and very soon the cherries, maples, crape myrtles, and all the other trees will be bursting with fall color. The abundant rain we've had should guarantee a great autumn color season!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Propagating Arborvitae

Fall is officially here but that doesn't mean it's time to stop propagating. In fact it means that many of the best plants are in their ideal state for hardwood and semi-ripe cuttings. Arborvitae is one plant that does well from cuttings taken from autumn to mid-winter.

A couple things to think about:

  • Take Semi-ripe to ripe cuttings.  Semi-ripe cuttings have put on nearly a full season of growth and are beginning to develop thicker tissues.  Semi-ripe arborvitae cuttings work well for propagation since they have had a longer time to develop and store energy for rooting. They also don't lose water as quickly as greenwood cutting would. Semi-ripe and hardwood cuttings root slower but more reliably than greenwood cuttings.
  • The cuttings need to be kept moist. Just a little damp and not soaked. Anytime a cutting dries out it is a death sentence for the hopeful plant to be.
And here is how I took my arborvitae cuttings:

First I selected the right type of cutting. I took about 5 different semi-ripe cuttings looking for wood that was mostly brown in color on the outside. Each cutting has several branching leaves extending from the main stem.

Then I peeled back any lower leaves and branches. This removed some of the material the cuttings would need to maintain from the plant for more efficient water use. I peeled back the leaves rather than cut them to actually create wounds for the cutting to get more water through. It also increases the areas for calluses to form which are where the roots will grow.

Next I added the rooting hormone treatment. I use a powder rooting hormone from Greenlight but there are many products out there that are effective. Just make sure you place the hormone in a separate cup or container before dipping the cutting in otherwise you may contaminate the original container of hormone powder.

Then I stuck the cuttings into my moist sand medium and placed the whole container into a clear plastic bag. I set the container on a windowsill where it will receive filtered light over the next six-eight weeks. If there is too much moisture in the bag all I need to do is open it for a little while.

Will the arborvitae root? They should but we'll have to wait and see!

More on plant propagation through cuttings.
10 Easy Plants to Propagate
5 More Easy Plants to Propagate

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nighttime at the Arbor

While I was mowing the yard Tuesday evening I passed by the arbor multiple times where the moonflower vine was putting on quite a show. I went back after mowing and tried to take a few pictures in the dark of the nine blooms that emerged.  The challenge with taking pictures at night is movement. If you move the camera even the slightest amount all kinds of blurring occurs in the picture. I ended up using a drainage saucer from a pot to prop up the camera lens while I set the camera down to take the shot. Eliminating the human element definitely helped.

To the left of the arbor you can see the silhouette of a Japanese Maple and to the right the shadow of a crape myrtle. The moonflower fragrance was very strong with scent of the nine blooms combined with the heavy humidity. There was so much humidity in the air that as I mowed the yard a mist began to rise over the sections that were freshly cut.

Lately the weather has been very strange and very uncooperative. Constant rains have been drenching the garden leaving little to no opportunity to get anything accomplished. Thankfully Tuesday had a 6 hour dry window in the afternoon for the grass to dry out enough to mow otherwise I would lose my children in the grass the next time the girls step into the yard.

I managed to get some weeding done too, something every garden in our yard is in dire need of! Now if only the rain will stop for 48 hours and let the sun come out to play. Is it sunny where you are? If it is, I'll gladly trade you weather forecasts!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Greenhouse Project: Inspiration

Very little progress has been made on the greenhouse shed project yet.  The persistent rains combined with a much needed family vacation postponed construction, excavation and pretty much everything except for planning. But the planning is probably the most important part in any big project.  This is easily the biggest project I've attempted so far and I'm making sure to spend lots of extra time on the minute details. We settled on a location that would receive adequate winter sunshine yet mostly shade the rest of the year. I've gathered enough windows that every wall can be clear of opaque surfaces for plants to receive the light they need. There are even enough windows for the roof to provide light for the inside of the greenhouse. You're probably wondering what I'm thinking about for the design. Today you'll find out!

One of the places I frequent to read interesting posts on gardening is GardenWeb. There are all kinds of forums there from garden art to plant propagation to what else? Greenhouses! Among all these thousands of threads of information I found a link to Anna-Marie's photos of her greenhouse that she built from recycled windows, reclaimed decking, and other materials that looks just perfect for my purposes.

The exact size and dimensions of the greenhouse will be different because of the windows that are being used. My greenhouse will also have to serve as a shed for the lawnmowers as well as the greenhouse which will require a set of doors large enough to fit the riding mower through. It also won't have electricity, water hookups, or a phone line although my wife and I have discussed walkie-talkies so that I am not forever lost in the greenhouse...

Inside the shed Anne-Marie installed a sink and used folding table legs with balusters to create propagation tables for her plants. The flooring is partly made of reclaimed decking and the rest is made of discount paving stones. I'm aiming for stone or brick for the base of my greenhouse since they gather and store heat from the sun during the day and release the energy at night.


To read more about what Anne-Marie's greenhouse check out her post: Wyndyacre's greenhouse.

All greenhouse photos in this post are courtesy of Anne-Marie/Wyndyacre.

See how the Garden Shed is today: Dave's Garden Shed

Monday, September 21, 2009

From the Vegetable Garden

It's time for another peek into the vegetable garden! The fall vegetables are picking up their pace while the summer ones are rapidly screeching to a halt among the rains that have been making Spring Hill, Tennessee seem much more like the Pacific Northwest. I saw the sun yesterday for about 15-20 minutes and used that time to scope out the garden and its current state of disrepair. I'll post more on the work that needs to be done another time as the list making is just beginning but for now have a look at the vegetable garden. Don't forget to check out other blogs for their vegetable garden updates at In the Garden!

By far the greenest of the greens are the radishes. I've never actually eaten radish greens before and recently have come across some radish green soup recipes that look interesting. I picked a nice sized radish this morning perfect for slicing and dropping in a salad.

A few beets are coming along. I'm a little disappointed that more have not emerged but I may have time to add some more seed if I plan on adding some frost protection later.

The beans are well on their way to producing a healthy final crop. Hopefully we'll get to freeze the green beans to preserve them over the winter. We don't have a pressure canner which is necessary to can beans and other low acid foods.

Some of the last of the summer crops still producing are the peppers. The peppers have had no problems this year with bugs, animals, or disease. These peppers are the same as the purple peppers from my last vegetable garden update but have been left to develop a little longer to change their color to red. I like a little variety in pepper appearance from the same old green peppers.

Of course we can't forget the herbs! My wife's favorite has to be cilantro and it is coming up everywhere in one 3'x4' raised bed. I let our spring crop of cilantro go to seed then sprinkled the seed in this bed and just let it go. Once the cooler temperatures and consistent rains came the cilantro started to sprout. There are 4-5 small seedling that have emerged with quite a few more cotyledons appearing every day. We may have more cilantro than we can handle.

I have one more vegetable to show you, the pumpkin. We actually have about 4 on the vine but their growth is going to be severely limited due to the squash vine borer. If there was one bug I could eliminate from my garden for all time it would have to be the squash vine borer. Every summer squash and zucchini crop this year was destroyed by the borers and now they moved on to the pumpkins. At least we'll end up with a few nice decorative pumpkins this year even if they aren't large enough to make the Jack-O-Lantern for Halloween. That will give us a good excuse to visit a pumpkin farm with the kids.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Bites and the Garden

Last week I walked outside my front door on my way to get the morning newspaper the same as usual. Sometimes I'll go out the back door to walk around the garden to the front yard and other days I come out the front door. There is little rhyme or reason to it, just however I feel like going. But on particular this day something was lying in wait for person venturing to pick up the newspaper. I opened the door without any care in the world and quickly felt a sharp bite on my knee. I looked down but saw nothing on my knee, no bug, no spider, no grizzly bear hanging with its jaws around my knee. It was a very sharp pain with no obvious cause. Something got me. Maybe it was the ground wasp I tested the flying insect killer on the other day, just waiting for the moment to get his revenge. I could rule out spiders since the wound only had a single puncture mark and I could eliminate normal bees since there was no stinger remaining.

Whatever it was the pain dissipated about an hour later.  I resumed my normal day getting the kids their breakfast and getting life going around the house. I even mowed the yard in the evening. The day passed and the next day arrived along with pain and swelling. My knee was red and growing, kind of like a tomato, not the kind of thing you want to see on your knee. I figured I had better get to the doctor.

The doctor looked at my knee and prescribed me an antibiotic in case there was an infection as well as a steroid for any possible allergic reaction. While there at the doctor I decided (at the insistence of my wife) to add on a tetanus shot since it had been eons since my last one. It's a good thing for every active gardener to keep up their tetanus shots up to date. I went by the drug store, picked up my prescription, and headed home to take my first dose of medication and rest my knee.

I kept off the knee as much as I could the rest of the day. Needless to say the garden didn't get much attention. To make things a little more interesting we had a family vacation planned. The swelling went down in time for our trip to Chattanooga where the girls were thrilled by sharks and penguins at the aquarium, but something strange began to happen that I have never experienced in my life to this extreme. I ended up with a case of the hiccups from you know where...

They came unexpected and lasted the whole weekend. Every time I ate food...hiccup. Every time I drank...hiccup.  Every time I tried to sleep ...hiccup. Every where we went...hiccup, hiccup, hiccup. When I slept at night hiccups woke me up on average three times a night.  They were painful, hiccup. I would gladly have taken another bite from the beast that originally bit me if I could have just gotten rid of those hiccups.

The hiccups are finally gone but have left behind an acid reflux feeling in the base of my throat. The crazy thing is I can't remember the last time I was bitten by a bug before last week, at least not any that are of any account. I've had mosquito bites, chiggers, sweat bee bites, and the occasional small spider bite that they give you just to let you know they are there but not anything like this.  I wasn't even going out to work in the garden. All the time I spend around bees and wasps everyday in the garden and I get assaulted while going to get the paper. Next time I'll be more careful when going for the paper but if you ask me which I would rather have, a bug bite or the hiccups, I think I would choose the bug bite!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Growing Echincaea from Seed: Forget About it!

Today I'm going to tell you of a special technique for growing Echinacea or coneflowers from seed. You may have heard of this technique before and perhaps you've even tried it. Whether you have or haven't this technique is worth trying I call it: forgetting you planted the seeds.
Here's how forgetting you planted the seeds works step by step. 
  • The gardener plants the seeds in a container, in my case a long planter container. 
  • They water and watch the seedlings for a brief period of time. 
  • Nothing happens with the seeds, no growth, no sprouting and the gardener gives up or forgets about the seeds. 
  • Time passes. 
  • Then the gardener comes back one day 3-4 months later to find multiple seedlings emerging from the same soil!
Why does this technique work so well? Often seeds have a built in dormancy period.  Either they need animals to nibble out the outer coating or the elements to wear it away so that the seed may germinate. Sometimes seeds need a period of winter cold to stratify and break their dormancy which is why fall or winter sowing of perennials works so well. Not everything needs a period of dormancy but if you have trouble germinating seeds check to see if the plant does need a dormant period. Or better yet, check that before you start!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Review of EcoSMART Insect Products

As I mentioned in my previous post the folks at EcoSMART sent me four of their insect products to me for testing. Generally I am loathe to apply chemicals in any form on the garden but since EcoSMART products do not leave toxic residues and use natural chemicals and oils I figured it would be worth trying. Please keep in mind that whenever I review a product or book I am sharing my open and honest opinions and experiences. Now on to the review!
The first product I tried and the most effective was the Garden Insect Killer. The active ingredients include several different plant oils like rosemary, peppermint and thyme along with many others. Recently I noticed some fall webworms working their way through one of our birch trees and thought they would be a good test of the EcoSMART products. I adjusted the nozzle to the stream setting and doused the webworms with the Garden Insect Killer. A couple days later I came back with a bamboo garden stake and pulled the web out to examine. 
Only one caterpillar was left alive which of course received the traditional insect squishing treatment. Since the removal of the web there hasn't been a return of the webworms on the birch tree which may be attributed to the natural oil scent the product leaves behind. I would rate that experiment as a success but I haven't tested it other insects yet.
The next product was the Organic Insect Repellent. It was the only product labeled with "organic" and it doesn't contain DEET.  My brother and his family were in town a little over a week ago and I figured I could use them as guinea pigs. Everyone was treated with the repellent except for myself.  Generally I'm very resistant to mosquitoes and other insect bites but I received three mosquito bites that day so they were out and biting. My brother who applied the insect repellent received four and my daughters each received a couple bites. My daughters were swimming that day which may have washed the repellent off. We'll try this repellent again but I suspect its effectiveness varies. 
My experience with the Flying Insect Killer was mixed. I found a giant wasp was flying around our patio which I suspect was a cicada killer (which normally don't attack people but can cause a very nasty sting and since I have two small children I really don't want that thing flying near the sandbox).  I brought out the flying insect killer spray can and aimed it at the wasp then sprayed and prepared to run. I was as close to it as I was comfortable (which was about 5 feet away) and made pretty good contact with the spray. The wasp turned and flew off in obvious distress. Unfortunately I can't verify the wasp's fate but it hasn't been back. It's failure to return could signal its death or just that it doesn't like our patio anymore, I'm OK with it either way! The spray smelled somewhat minty which was a surprise since most sprays smell awful. 
The Home Pest Control product is the only one I haven't found a use for yet. According to the label it will kill and repel insects like ants, beetles, centipedes, cockroaches, crickets, earwigs, fleas, millipedes, pillbugs, spiders, ticks and several others. We've had a couple roach sightings lately and as the temperatures cool this fall quite a few bugs will be trying to enter the house so testing will continue. 
EcoSMART also manufactures weed and grass herbicides which I'm curious about but haven't tested.