Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Like Ants On Peonies


Years ago before I started gardening and before I'd ever heard of Peonies, I was working in the lab one day when one of the girls from the second shift came in with the biggest, gaudiest, most beautiful bouquet of flowers I'd ever seen.

When I asked her what kind of flowers they were she said "they are peee knees!" in her very thick accent. "They are growing all along the side of my house" she bragged. She put the flowers in a vase with water and left them on the lab counter.

After she walked away I was admiring them up close (fondling them, really) and as I grabbed one of the flower heads, several ants crawled on my hand freaking me out, causing me to scream like a girl and swing my hands around violently trying to shake the ants off me.

I ran to tell my coworker that the blooms were covered in ants (I was sure she wanted to know right away!) but she was not alarmed or surprised in the least. "Oh yes, ants love Peonies" she dismissed. "So you brought a bunch of flowers into the lab knowing they were infested with ants" I asked? "They are just ants! They won't hurt you!" Man, was she annoyed with me.

I've never grown Peonies but when I bought these a couple of years ago at the Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show, all I could think about was ants. So, I did what any scaredy-cat gardener would do. I planted them way back by the garage as far away from the house as possible, where ants are welcomed to hang out. These are my first Peony buds, ever.

I did a little research and it turns out that the Peony buds release a sweet tasting nectar that ants love to eat. Supposedly, the ants leave once they bloom and the nectar is gone. But, speaking from experience, that's a bunch of crap! So, in anticipation of my wanting to cut some of these flowers to bring in my house, what is your favorite technique for getting rid of the ants on Peony blooms?

pictured above: Paeonia Festiva Maxima and Paeonia Sarah Bernhardt

Click here for more interesting information about ants on Peonies

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Coveting "The Good Life"

I was reading one of my favorite garden blogs (In the Garden Online) this morning where Colleen was lamenting about how she's so ahead of the game that she's able to just sit back and wait to start gathering food from her garden. While I read her list I realized that it mirrors the same list of things I've been agonizing over.
  1. This Spirea (pictured right) has the most beautiful little white blooms with a tiny yellow center. I'm likely getting rid of it in a couple of weeks and every day I've stared at it it from my kitchen window thinking I should cut some of the flowers to bring inside. Haven't done it!
  2. I've had these lettuce and mustard green plants (pictured below ) in these little cups where they were grown from seed for several weeks waiting to be planted.
  3. Mint tea - I'm scared to grow mint on the count of I planted one little ole mint plant years ago at a house I was renting from my grandmother and it took over. To this day when you walk in the back door of that old house, the smell of mint is intoxicating. No-thank-you to invasives!
  4. When I step outside I see no thriving eco-system. I just see all the un-done work. The "eco-system" is hanging out in my neighbor's yard (she's a teacher and off for the summer and way ahead of me on gardening) waiting for me to get my act together.
  5. My plots are not planted. In fact, my plots are not even built yet! I've got one table full of veggies waiting and a million empty pots that need to be planted. (The sky is falling - the sky is falling!)
This year's garden has really taken a backseat to the other stuff in my personal life. Between the weddings and swine flu's and budget's and community garden fundraising... I either need a time machine, or a bunch of spare gardeners or I may not get to see my kitchen window lined with tomatoes this summer.

Are you on schedule? God knows I hope I'm not the only one...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Birds Build Nests In Inappropriate Places

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know crap about birds. And when it comes right down to it, I don't really care for them. I mean I truly appreciate the work they do and their place in a good eco-system, I just don't like the damage the can do to the food in the garden, or when they fly anywhere by my head. I know they mean me no harm and I blame that old movie The Birds along with my irrational fear of other random things like clowns and people touching my ears.

DSCF4137 A few weeks ago I noticed a few strands of something hanging off the corner of my pergola which I can see from my kitchen window. At first I thought the wind had just blown something up there that had gotten stuck. But later we were leaving to head off to a Bulls playoff game and I glanced up there when I walked out the back door to find the beginnings of a bird nest. Right up in the corner of my nice new pergola! My husband and I do not do well with any sort of animal removal so we were both instantly overcome with dread about this bird's nest and what it might lead to. I was planning to try to get rid of the nest before it was finished being built so that no eggs would end up there but by the time we returned home from the game that afternoon, the nest was fully built! (I wish I could get that kind of productivity out of the contractors who build stuff in my house!)

DSCF4148 The same day that I discovered the bird's nest on my pergola, I also discovered one in the side of my neighbors garage where the siding had become detached in some areas after a fire from the garage immediately behind it melted off some of the siding. I mean I have no idea what it's like being a bird, but building a nest in the side of sharp metal objects does not seem cozy! Or safe!

What's with the birds building nests in these untraditional places? In my neighborhood, there is some rule that requires trees be planted all along the parkway on both sides. There are so many trees that it is virtually impossible to have any sun-loving plants growing in your front yard because of all the shade from the trees (lucky for me, my tree fell on my house last year so my front garden is now in full sun). So, it's not like there's a shortage of trees! I'm just wondering if there is some cool interesting reason for this bird behavior (please God I hope I can somehow blame climate change) or if birds always build nests in weird places and I've just never noticed it because I don't pay attention to them.

What's the strangest place you've discovered a birds nest? If you have a picture of it on your blog, please let us know where we can find it. And if you don't have a blog and you want to email me a picture of your inconvenient birds nest, I'll be glad to post it on my blog so we can all enjoy it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Planning the Kitchen Garden Expansion, Again

I spent several hours this morning doing this.

I'm not an organized planner by any means. In fact, I wish I could say that this one piece of paper contains all the grand plans for the new kitchen garden area, but alas there are 2 spreadsheets and several other pieces of grid paper that contain lists and prices and lots and lots of scribbling.

Anyway, this plan is pretty firm at this point. Since there's no way you can figure all this out from the picture, I'll tell you what I decided on.


  • All beds will be 8 inches high. I would really prefer 12 but it's just not in the budget.
  • There will be a compost area on the south-facing fence with a 2 x 8 bed on either side where I'll plant tomatoes so that I can use the fence to help support them.
  • There will be four 4 x 8 foot beds and a narrow 1 x 10 foot bed on either side of the garden that I'm planning to fill with strawberries.
I finally outlined the pie shaped area where the plants will be moved to make room for the new kitchen garden. I'm waiting for an estimate on how much it would cost to have the grass removed and the soil amended there but I think I've already changed my mind about paying somebody to do that. I'm a pro at grass removal!

So, in the next two weeks I need to dig a new flower bed, move a crap-load of plants and build 8 new raised beds. Otherwise, I'm liable to miss the entire planting season. I'm real real far behind on gardening activities this year and it's freaking me out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Saying Goodbyes

Van Houtte Spirea is blooming for the last time in its life. News at 11:00.