Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I've been threatening to grow rhubarb for a couple of years but I never seem to run across it at plant stores and plus, I'm a little weirded out that it looks like red celery but acts fruity.  Friday I came in to work to find a bag of it on my desk, left there by my manager.  So, I cooked it.  With strawberries.  Because I've always heard rhubarb is lovely with strawberries.  And it was!  The sweetness of the strawberries contrasted nicely with the tartness of the rhubarb.  I was very pleasantly surprised.

There are a lot of great recipes for rhubarb pie out there but since I'm intimidated by homemade pie crust, I decided to make a strawberry rhubarb crumble using a recipe I found at Eating Well.  You can check out the full recipe here, but basically you cut the rhubarb and strawberries up, toss them with a little sugar and flower, spread them in a baking dish, then sprinkle the crumble mixture over the top.  The crumble topping has rolled oats, a little flour and brown sugar and a tablespoon of butter.  Super quick and easy recipe.  And less fattening compared to a lot of deserts.  This is not a real rich, sugary desert but it was perfect for a light treat after dinner.  I recommend serving it warm with frozen vanilla yogurt over it.

In the garden, rhubarb and strawberries ripen early in the season around the same time, so they are a perfect pair to combine for early-season deserts.  Rhubarb is a perennial that looks a lot like swiss chard to me.  Eat the stems, but not the leaves.  They contain oxalic acid which is poisonous.

Now that I've cooked rhubarb in my own kitchen, I'm more motivated than ever to grow it in my garden.  If you are a rhubarb expert, I'd love a recommendation on a good variety of rhubarb for home gardeners, that's really sweet.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fern's California Balcony Garden

Name: Fern Richardson
Location: Orange County, CA
Size: 40 sq ft.
Age: 6 months

Bio: I have been gardening since elementary school. After a family trip to Yosemite, I came back with a book about creating backyard habitats and busily set to work "transforming" my parents' backyard (they're non-gardeners). I moved out when I was 18 to go to college and I have been gardening on apartment balconies ever since. In 2008 I started Life on the Balcony, a blog about container gardening after I had an "aha moment." I realized I was waiting to "really" garden until I had a home. How silly is that?! After that, it really transformed how I viewed container gardening. I didn't just have a few plants in pots anymore, I wanted to combine them artfully to make something beautiful. The rest is history.

Garden Survey:

Type: Balcony container garden

Style: "Modern eclectic." I have no idea what that means, but it sounds about right.

Inspiration: I devour books and magazines. I also read a lot of blogs, subscribe to tons of gardening newsletters, scour Flickr for photos...You could say I'm a little obsessed.

Favorite plant: My favorite plant changes so often. Right now I am really loving a black-foliaged dahlia, a yellow 'Bishop's Children.'

Biggest challenge: Watering. During the summer my pots need water once a day, that means lugging a 2 gallon watering can back and forth at least 4 times.

What your friends say: Only one friend has seen my current garden (Adriana of Anarchy In The Garden). She seemed excited about the apple tree. And laughed that I have some daylily divisions growing in a large Taco Bell cup.

Biggest embarrassment: Other than the daylilies in a Taco Bell cup? It's kind of hard to top that!

Proudest DIY: I grew all of my seedlings this year in recycled containers. I'm pretty excited to keep some of the plastic products I used out of the landfill.

Biggest indulgence: Premium potting soil. It costs more than twice as much as the cheap stuff, but the results are so worth it!

Best advice: Don't give up when you kill a plant. All green thumbs started with black thumbs.

Resources: aHa! Modern Living (I have the soil scoop from this shop and I use it ALL the time!), Botanical Interests, Ikea (great prices on pots), Armstrong Garden Centers, Roger's Gardens. 

Garden Tour:

Thank for participating, Fern.  You've inspired me to take more chances with my container gardens.  

If you would like to participate in Virtual Garden Tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lycopersicon lycopersicum: My Gateway Plant

I think it was Monica I first heard refer to the tomato as a "gateway plant."  "Gateway" is normally used to describe a drug, like alcohol or marijuana, which causes the user to be at an increased risk to abuse other, stronger substances.  But there are a lot of us gardening geeks who bought and grew one particular plant so successfully that it led us into a fanatical gardening hobby.  We peruse gardening magazines, other people's gardens and we shop at garden centers on this adrenalin high that we don't really talk about. But we gardeners all understand it.  We have vastly different gardens both in scale and plant selection, but we all share in this plant addiction.   And the tomato is at the center of this addiction for a lot of folks, including me.

There's a reason the tomato is so many people's gateway plant.  The superior flavor of the homegrown tomato to a store bought one is widely known, even by folks who've never gardened.  The tomato is a versatile food, so people buy, cook and eat lots of them.  Plus, tomato plants are easy to get and easy to grow no matter where you live.  They're relatively disease resistant.  It's no wonder that new gardeners plant tomatoes then go on to expand their vegetable garden year after year, planting fancier and fancier stuff.  The next thing you know you're growing asparagus and artichokes!  Starting garden blogs!  All manner of things!

That's what happened to me.  My gardening hobby started with the desire to grow a few tomatoes.  But once I saw that first little yellow tomato blossom, I was hooked.  Growing those first tomatoes catapulted me into hardcore vegetable and flower gardening. I've basically landscaped our entire front and backyard, thanks to the tomato.  As far as I'm concerned, there's no better food.  And there's no better plant.

What was your gateway plant?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: MrBrownThumb's Urban Chicago Garden

Name: MrBrownThumb
Website: MrBrownThumb
Location:  Chicago
Size: 33 x 13 feet
Age: 6 years

Bio: MrBrownThumb is the most famous, unknown American garden blogger you haven't heard of. He authors a handful of blogs that are related to gardening. His two main blogs are; the eponymous MrBrownThumb and Chicago Garden, both read by tens of people. He believes in the free exchange of information and that gardening isn't hard.


Type of garden:  Front yard, some container gardening and indoor gardening.

Style: Ghetto.

Inspiration:  Public plantings. I used to get inspiration from magazines and such, but then I realized that was like people who read a lot of fashion mags. Eventually, they begin to hate themselves because they don't look like the people on the covers. That's what was happening with my garden--it didn't look anything like the mags. Still doesn't, actually. I've been thinking a lot about this recently and If a garden follows some kind of plan or scheme, I don't think I have a "garden." What I do have is a bit of an ecosystem where plants, haphazardly placed, attract bugs and birds. Sometimes I make bugs fight, like in this YouTube video where I placed a lady bug on some poppy seed heads that were being attacked by aphids.


Favorite plant:  That's hard question because the favorite designation changes all the time. This week I'm really LOVING my cranesbill geraniums. They were something like 5 bucks at Home Depot a few years ago and I always "hated" them because they were boring and cheap. They've filled out a lot and are blooming like crazy. I saw someone decorate a trade booth recently with nothing but cranesbill geranium blooms and foliage and it looked spectacular. It made me see them in a different light. Generally, I'd have to say that my favorite blooms come from bulbs.

Biggest challenge:  Overcoming my laziness.

What your friends say:  I don't let friends visit my garden. See above about the shame of not looking like a the cover of a mag.

Biggest embarrassment:  My soil. It is really dry clay. When it dries there are these fissures that develop on the surface of the soil that are inches deep. I really only amend in places that I plant something. I figure if I plant in every square inch, eventually everything will be amended. Also, I don't mulch-- which makes the poor soil very noticeable. Ever have a gangbanger point out to you that your garden looks "dry?" I have. They can't tell you why it looks dry, but they can definitely tell that something is off.

Proudest DIY:  Just starting a garden outdoors. It aint much to look at but I'm pretty proud of the fact that I took over what was a sad-looking lawn and made it into a sad-looking garden.

Biggest indulgence:  Plants. No, really. Buying plants is pretty indulgent if you ask me. Think about what you could be doing instead with that money. Or, think about how easy it is to propagate plants from seeds and cuttings and buying plants seems like such a crazy notion.

Best advice:  Start from seeds and cuttings. If you're just starting out make friends with a gardener and get some free plants. The origins of my garden are a long and convoluted mess. But one day I came home and found that someone had given my mom two nearly wild rose bushes and some annuals. Guess who had to plant them? Then I made this online gardening friend who passed on a bunch of daylilies and bulbs and things just kept growing from there.

Dream Source: My dream source would have to be seed companies.  I like Renee's Garden, Seed Savers Exchange, Landreth Seeds, Baker Creek and Kitazawa.

Resources:  Public plantings. They're great places to "shop" for cuttings and seeds. If you can only afford to shop at big box garden centers, then do it. Nothing wrong with gardening within your means. Lately farmers markets and flea markets seem to be places I'm hitting up a lot in search of plants. 

Garden Tour

Don't forget to leave a comment to let MrBrownThumb know what you liked (or didn't. I was a little creeped out by that bug video!)  And if you would like to participate in virtual garden tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.  Thanks for participating, MBT!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

3 Worst Weeds for Organic Gardeners in the Midwest

No matter where you live, chances are you've got a couple of weeds you battle in your garden constantly. I don't mean weeds like the annoying yet manageable dandelion. I mean weeds that make an organic gardener want to reach for the roundup. I've got three. And I've listed them here in order of my hatred for them.

1.Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis from the latin word convolere,"to entwine".  This is a highly invasive perennial vine with very deep roots that wraps itself around the plant like an anaconda around its victim, eventually choking it out.  In my garden, this weed grows in mulched flowerbeds, in the grass, between my patio pavers and sometimes even in containers.  The only way to get rid of it is to continuously pull it out, never let the flowers go to seed, and try to deprive it of sunlight either by covering it with weed cloth, or shading it with plants.  It's in the same family as morning glory.  In fact, before I was warned by some blog readers, I once posted a picture of this stuff lamenting how beautiful it was out there bedazzling my boring backyard. If I could have seen all your faces when you read that post. I read somewhere that one plant can produce up to 500 seeds which can remain viable for 50 years.  50 Years!  That basically means I will not get rid of this weed in my lifetime.  Depressing.  I've also seen a couple of sources which claim one of the nicknames of bindweed is creeping charlie.  That is incorrect.  Which brings me to my second most hated weed.

2.Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea is a low growing perennial weed brought to America by European settlers who used it medicinally.  Sometimes called "ground ivy" or "creeping jenny", it prefers shade but will invade sunny areas where the lawn is thin.  In my garden, areas of grass that I kept covered with dirt or tarps too long now contain nearly 100% creeping charlie because the grass died and it took over.  In the spring, creeping charlie has little blue flowers that are quite pretty.  But alas, once the blooms are finished, you're left with a weed that moves in mass creating a carpet of creeping charlie as it goes.  The picture I've posted is the edge of my pie garden which I just installed last year.  I am constantly cutting back the creeping charlie to prevent it from taking over this garden.  Most of the sources I've reviewed say the best way to control creeping charlie is to maintain a healthy, weed free lawn.  That may work for you, but it'll probably never happen in my garden.  I have a feeling I'll be battling this one for a long time, too.

3.Purslane, Portulaca oleracea is an annual succulent also referred to as "pigweed" or "little hogweed". It has smooth red stems which are quite pretty against the green leaves.  To me, purslane is sort of like the terminator of weeds in that it can grow from a tiny piece that fell onto the ground during weeding.  In that respect, it really does act like a succulent.  In my garden, purslane only grows around the month of June.  Don't get me wrong, it is very hardy, growing anywhere it can make contact with dirt (it doesn't grow in my grass like bindweed and creeping charlie) but as long as I keep yanking it out, I usually don't see it much past July.  But right now my raised vegetable beds are being taken over by it and it's driving me crazy.  It seems to really love the cotton burr compost I added this year because it's more aggressive now than any other year and that's the only thing I've done differently.  The best way to get rid of purslane is to continue pulling it out, just like the bindweed.  Purslane can be eaten just like a leaf vegetable in salads or stir frys and it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable.  The nutritional value and culinary uses of purslane reach far outside the self imposed limit of this blog post, but I encourage you to read up on it, eat it, then report back to us on how it tasted.    
Sitting here three years after I built my first garden and started this blog, I had to laugh at the naivety of discovering those three weeds.  I was excited.  I thought all three were pretty.  Now, bindweed gives me nightmares and fits of angst the entire summer.  Like one of those horror movies where my house is completely covered with a spider web and I'm trapped, only it's bindweed I'm trapped under.  Discovering those three weeds really changed the way I garden, too.  I no longer get excited when I see a new seedling has volunteered.  It's more like a couple of steps away from cautious optimism.  Now I wait and watch, always fighting myself on how long to give it before declaring it a flower or a weed and thereby deciding its fate in my garden.

What are the worst weeds you battle in your garden?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Volunteer Bells of Ireland Seedlings

Two years ago I planted Bells of Ireland, Molucessa laevis in a big container along with Purple Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum and Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia.  Since then, the Bells of Ireland has volunteered in the same pot every year.  And I love it.    
Bells of Ireland seedlings are easily recognizable by their wide, ribbed leaves.  This is one of my favorite plants to let go to seed hoping they'll volunteer all over my garden.  The mature plants only grow a couple of feet tall and the narrow apple green bell covered stems look really beautiful against almost any other plant.  Plus, the foliage is just as interesting as the flowers and I'm always looking for plants with interesting foliage.  I'm excited that this year the Bells of Ireland has volunteered in another garden nearly 20 feet away from the pot they originally grew in.  It just happens to be right next to the dark red foliage of my Red Husker Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis.  I think that'll be a really beautiful combination.
Do you have a plant that you love to see volunteer year after year?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: Kylee's Rural Ohio Garden

Name: Kylee Baumle
Location: Ohio
Size: 1 acre
Age: 5 years
Bio: Prior to 2005, my experience with gardening was to plant some sweet corn and green beans. Maybe a petunia or two. The interest just wasn’t there, even though my mom was an avid gardener her entire life. Then my work schedule slowed down considerably. I went to the Cleveland Flower Show in May 2005, and it was like someone turned on a light switch. I couldn’t learn enough about gardening nor plant fast enough. I’ve been going full bore ever since!
My first blog, Our Little Acre, began in January 2007, at the urging of our older daughter, Kara.  From there, sprang a second one, Gardening by the Book, where I review gardening books.  Just recently, The Soil Sisters launched, which is a joint venture with my fellow online gardening friends, Lisa and Jan.  That’s a whole ‘nother level of gardening fun! 
I’ve been a contributor to Shirley Bovshow’s Garden World Report a couple of times and am slated to do more videos for her. 
I’m also a feature writer for a regional gardening magazine, Indiana Gardener, which is published seven times a year in print and can also be viewed online. Though I live in Ohio, I’m only about 10 miles from the Indiana-Ohio state line.  I work as a dental hygienist in a dental research facility in Ft. Wayne, so I spend a lot of time in Indiana. 
For the last two months, I’ve been a writer with the Cool Springs Press GREEN Program, supplying blog content to Independent Garden Centers throughout the United States.
Though I’ve been a dental hygienist all of my working life, I also love to read and from that sprang a desire to write.  I’m certainly getting a chance to do that and loving every minute (and word) of it. I keep getting asked when I’m going to write a book. Nothing in the works, but it’s something I’d definitely like to do.
This summer, my husband and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. We have two grown daughters, Kara and Jenna, who are both married.  Eleven cats call Our Little Acre home, but only nine belong to us and only two of the nine live in the house. All of them are rescues and the outside ones are good company in the garden.
My mom is my favorite gardener and she’s helped me in countless ways.  I love that we can share our passion for gardening and is my partner in crime whenever I need a gardening adventure. 
Type: We live out in the country, so our gardens are backyard mostly, with some front yard and side yard beds, too.  I have several things in containers outside as well. I’ve got many houseplants, so my gardening continues during the winter when the indoor plant population reaches somewhere around 175, due to several of them overwintering until the following spring. 
Style: The best way to describe it would probably be cottage. I go to the nursery, see plants I like, and I buy them.  I bring them home and find a place to plant them.  Sometimes it works out very well, sometimes not the best. I’m known to move plants after a season or two, when a moment of inspiration shows up, and I try them somewhere else.  I’m definitely a plant collector.
Inspiration: Magazines, books, public gardens, flower shows, garden centers, friends’ gardens, television, garden blogs and websites – wherever I can, because I’m design-challenged and not very creative.  
Favorite plant: Some of my favorites are my Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis sp.), Oriental Lilies, Echinaceas, Ferns, Heucheras, Hostas.
Biggest challenge: Our ucky, mucky, sticky, icky clay. Hands down. I use compost, bring in topsoil, and we have seven outside cats that do their part to “amend” the soil and it’s like that clay just eats it all up.  We’ve got LOTS and LOTS of earthworms in our soil though, so it must not be all bad.

What your friends say:  After they tell me how beautiful it is, the first thing they say is, “This is a lot of work!”  Well, yes it is, but only during the spring and fall – mostly spring.  I try to space the chores out, but other obligations and the weather dictate that. And most of the time, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s play.
Visitors always ask me what this or that plant is, too, because I have quite a few that are out of the ordinary and they’ve never seen them before. 

Biggest embarrassment: A couple of springs ago, I noticed a plant starting to green up in a container that had been left outside over the winter.  I’d had Gazanias in it the summer before and those are an annual here.  I knew it wasn’t possible that one had overwintered, but stranger things have happened, so I started watering it and watched it grow larger and larger until one day I realized I was pampering a Taraxacum officinale – a dandelion.

Proudest DIY: My favorite garden related project is the pergola my dad and husband constructed over our brick patio.  I just love it.  I posted a photo of it on my blog in 2007 and in 2008, I was contacted by Old House Journal, asking if they could use my photo in their magazine.  Of course, I agreed.  I really love our patio area.
Biggest indulgence: My Japanese Maples.  I’ve got six of them, and I bought them all, with the exception of a rather large one, which my grandma bought for us, because she thought we “needed” it.  For the last three years, I’ve bought different ones from the same vendor at the Cincinnati Flower Show and they’ve all performed very well.  The first one I ever bought was really small, but a bargain at only $16 and I got it at Walmart in 2005.  It’s absolutely lovely, after five years of growth. 

Best advice: I’m going to misquote Churchill here: “Never, never, never, never, never give up.”  I’ve learned far more from my failures than I have from my successes in the garden.  I learn what doesn’t work and eventually I’ll figure things out.  Plants don’t read books or labels, and the people that write them don’t know your garden the way you do.  If you really want to grow something in your garden and you’re certain it should grow reasonably well in your garden, yet it doesn’t, keep trying.  
For me, Oriental Poppies have been a huge challenge, yet just last week, the ones I planted last year (after asking a multitude of people for advice) BLOOMED!  If I had given up after the first, second, or third times, I would never have seen those awesome papery blooms that put such a big smile on my face when I saw them in my very own garden.

Dream Source: I’d like for someone to give me about a thousand dollars and turn me loose in Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery.
Resources: Petitti’s in Avon, OH, is a favorite garden center and I stop there every time I’m in the area.  It’s three hours away though. We don’t have large garden centers like that where I live, so I generally pick up a few things here and there. If I’m going to be visiting a city, I try to ask a gardener who lives there where I should go to find great plants.
There are a few “local” family-owned nurseries, but they’re more than half an hour away – Colorscapes Gardens and Landscaping, Beining Nursery, and Indian Trail Garden Center have nice things.
I buy quite a bit from Lowe’s, because they’re on my way home from work, depending on what they might have and the condition it’s in when I happen to be there. I also love to get online plants from Bluestone Perennials and I’ve had great plants from Big Dipper Farm and High Country Gardens, too. I can recommend all three of those.
I have to mention Garden Crossings, too. Mom and I visited their garden center last year during a trip to Michigan, and we were totally impressed with the size and quality of their plants.  They have a large online business as well.

Garden Tour

Please be sure to leave a comment for Kylee to tell her what you like about her garden and visit her blog to learn how to connect with her on twitter and facebook.  I love Kylee's best advice and her biggest embarrassment is hilarious.  Thanks for participating, Kylee!

If you would like to participate in the Virtual Garden Tour, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Black Lace Elderberry: The Poor Man's Japanese Maple

This is the Black Lace Elderberry Sambucus nigra 
planted in front of my house.  I bought it in the summer of 2008 because, to me, it looked like a Japanese Maple.  And at the time, I couldn't really afford an actual Japanese Maple.  I've said it before but I'm a sucker for dark leafed plants.  And if they also have lacy Japanese Maple like leaves?  Who could pass that up?

The Black Lace Elderberry was named "Best New Plant" in 2006.  If left unpruned, it can reach 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide.  But, it can also be trained more like a tree or pruned hard immediately after it blooms to keep it compact for smaller spaces or containers.  I've really let mine go and it's sprawling up the front of my house and drooping at the sides.  I'm planning to cut it way back in the next couple of weeks.  It blooms late spring to early summer with delicate pink flower heads reaching up to 10 inches wide and towards the fall it produces clusters of edible berries the birds love.

Nearly every visitor to my garden asks me what this plant is.  And most of the time they think it's a Japanese Maple.  Sometimes I stare at it, feeling sorry for it.  A shrub whose only claim to fame is that it looks like a nicer, fancier tree.  Sad. My mom who lives in Tennessee bought this exact plant last year because she thought it looked like a Japanese Maple, too.  So, it's not just me.  I'm not saying it can really substitute for a J. Maple, but if you like the dark foliage found on the lacy varieties, you might want to try this hardy shrub in your garden.  Plant it in full sun and the leaves will turn a dark, almost eggplant color.  

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monica's Ann Arbor Suburban Cottage Garden

Name: Monica Milla
Website: Garden Faerie's Musings
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan (zone 6a)
Size: 1/2 acre
Age: 8 years

Bio: I'm a master gardener and master composter who enjoys getting people excited about gardening. I'm the author of Fun with Winter Seed Sowing and often speak to community and gardening groups. I teach adult enrichment classes at Washtenaw Community College, and will soon be garden blogging for AnnArbor.com. I'm currently volunteering at Kempf House to restore a historic home's garden to the 1890s-1920s period.  I've previously created a garden for cats living in a cat retirement community at For The Love of Cats in Lodi Township, and an 1860s fountain garden at Cobblestone Farm. I also stewarded a native plant demonstration garden for Ann Arbor Parks.


Type: Backyard (organic veggies, ornamentals, and shrubs)

Style: Cottage garden or suburban wilderness. I like a riotous mixture of colors, textures, sizes, and types of plants. Anything goes, and I can find a place for anything, even if it involves some garden chess (a series of moving plants around).

 Nature and art, and a need to play in the soil.

Favorite Plant:
 I could narrow down to 10: chokeberry, 'Olga's Round Yellow Chicken' tomato, rattlesnake master, coral bells, black cohosh, Jupiter's beard, gaillardia, ninebark, viburnum, love-in-a-mist, and hollyhock.

Biggest Challenge:
 Buckthorn, groundhogs, raccoons, poison ivy, heavy clay, morning shade/intense afternoon sun, and a tangle of huge tree roots.

What Friends Say: "{Insert expletive here}, your garden is huge!" (Maybe this is in contrast to my tiny house.)

Biggest Embarrassment: Knee-high dandelions and other weeds that could strangle small pets and children.

Proudest DIY: My two rain barrels and my compost bin. As Red Green says, "If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!" Or something like that.

Biggest Indulgence: A winding brick pathway is by orders of magnitude my biggest splurge! I'm notoriously cheap but I've enjoyed this path every single day for 7 years.

Best Advice: Know yourself and plant what you like. Colors you like, veggies you like, forms you like. Don't go by the latest craze, but aim to please yourself. It's your garden. For new gardeners, start small--you don't want to get overwhelmed and there's always plenty of time to become crazy-addicted later! You also don't need a lot of gadgets or tools; a few things do 90% of all the work. Don't be afraid to get started, just do it.

Dream Source: Let me loose with a shovel at Monticello!

Coleman's Farm Market, Lowe's, Home Depot, Bordine's, Telly's  (also garage sales, plant and seed swaps, thrift stores, and my friend's gardens!) 

Garden Tour

If you would like to participate in the Virtual Garden Tour, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Colors That Command Attention

I'm always looking for flowers I can plant in my garden that will provide a punch of color.  Ones you can't walk by without noticing.  These Nasturtium Spitfire that I'm growing for the Seed Grow project are exactly the kind of color I'm talking about.

Bright orange flowers look really fantastic against a backdrop of dark foliage.  So do light green ones like Zinnia Green Envy and Bells of Ireland.  Right now these are planted against my wood fence because I was planning to trellis them (they're climbers) but now that I've seen the color of this first bloom, I'm thinking of moving them to another location where they can ramble around my Weigela Wine and Roses or my Red Husker Penstemon. I think these bright flowers and pale green leaves would really compliment either of them nicely.

What are your favorite plants to pair for their spectacular contrast?

I'm growing Nasturtium Spitfire for the Grow project.  Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds.  

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Staking Tomatoes: Florida Weave Method

This year I'm trying something new to support my tomatoes.  The florida weave method.  I learned about this from a friend and although I was hesitant at first, when I saw that Johnny's Selected Seeds uses this method to grow rows and rows of tomatoes, I was sold.

The basic principle of the florida weave method is to place tall stakes every couple of tomato plants, then tie twine to one of the end stakes and weave it in and out of each tomato plant.  When you get to the stake at the other end, wrap the twine around it, then weave it in and out of the opposite side of the tomato plants.  When you're done, every tomato plant should have twine on both sides of it, pulling it tight and straight.  Then, every 10 days or so, add another level of twine.  Before you know it, you'll have a wall of tomatoes, easy to harvest fruit from.

Because I have limited space in my vegetable garden, I planted 6 tomatoes on an 8 foot row.  Tomatoes really need more like 3 feet of space each, but if I keep them tightly supported and properly pruned, they should still produce plenty in 18 inches.

You can use plain tall wood stakes or metal t-posts for the florida weave method.  I decided to use the t-posts because they're very sturdy and they'll last forever.  Plus, they have a built in hook every 8-10 inches which helps keep the twine secure.  Each t-post cost around $5.00 at the local hardware store.  I used plain twine that I can toss right into the compost when the garden is finished.

What is your favorite way to support tomatoes?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spin Bin Compost Tumbler Contest Winner

The winner of the Spin Bin Compost Tumbler is Mike O'Keefe of Oak Park, IL.  Mike, please email me ASAP so that I can coordinate the delivery of your new composter.  Congrats, Mike!

Mike says...

"My wood frame compost has seen it's last days. Almost all of my lawn, front and back, has been dug up and replaced with veggies and perennials and they need great soil. My family of 5 have lots of good scraps and we have been digging holes throughout our garden and filling them since the loss of our compost bin. And I live in Oak Park!"

Thank you Clean Air Gardening for donating the compost tumbler for the contest.  I'm really enjoying mine so far and I'm sure Mike will love his.  

And thank you all for participating.  I've never had anywhere close to this many comments!  It's been fun.  

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Saving Dr. Huey

This is the rose bush I've jokingly called The Terminator because it seemed to have just appeared one day after the area it's planted in was destroyed by a backhoe ripping out an old chain-link fence.  I have never liked it.  Sure, the flowers are cute, deep red.  But I like those roses where the petals are packed in really densely.  Like english roses!  God! They're beautiful!  This one opens so wide it's bare in the center and I'm always feeling sorry for it that it doesn't have enough petals to go around.  Plus, the stems grow very crazily.  Impossible to control.  And it only flowers once.  Then it gets black spots on the leaves and sits around looking homely the rest of the season.  My mother had one just like it that she got rid of years ago for all the same reasons.

So the other day, even though it had more buds than ever before, I decided after it finished blooming this time, I was removing it.  But then I posted a picture and complained about it on twitter and Annie said "is that a Dr. Huey?"  And my love affair started.

The Dr. Huey rose was introduced in the United States around 1920 by a man named Captain George C. Thomas Jr. who named it after Dr. Robert Huey, his good friend, mentor and rosarian.  It's a a vigorous climbing rose with a very hearty rootstock.  So hearty that it is often used to graft hybrid tea roses.   These grafted tea roses, much fancier than Dr. Huey are bought and planted all over the country.  And once the hybrid rose dies (of old age, or freezing or neglect), Dr. Huey takes over again.  There are some funny stories online about folks with rose bushes growing half yellow and half red roses.  It's usually Dr. Huey regaining control.  So in a sense, I was right to call this rose The Terminator in the first place.

Because Dr. Huey lives on after its fancier grafted rose dies, it is often found in old gardens.  It blooms on old wood which explains why after last year's neglect, this year it's more beautiful than ever.  I've spent 3 years hacking at this thing thinking it was some wild mutant rose when in reality, it is a reliable old climbing rose determined to win the battle over me.  Boy, do I feel stupid.  Uncle!

Now that I know Dr. Huey's story, there's no way I can get rid of it.  In fact, I'm going to move it to a location where it can be the focal point, properly trained along my fence.

The next time you pass one of these really common roses, take the time to notice it.  Appreciate its strength and vigor.  Tell your friends about it.  And, if you've got one, be proud of it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Densely Plant Your Broccoli Raab

This is only my second year growing Broccoli Raab.  My first time, year before last, I only had a couple of plants.  Just enough for a meal for the two of us.  This year I dug two or three little troughs, (I can't recall which) sprinkled seeds in and covered them up.  My intention was to thin the plants when they sprouted, but I never got around to it.  As it turns out, that was a good thing.

Broccoli Raab acts more like lettuce than regular Broccoli.  So, plant it densely, just like you would salad greens. Harvest and cook the heads and the leaves.

The picture above was taken yesterday. You can see that it has already produced small heads.  It's perfect for picking.  By today it is already starting to flower.  Broccoli Raab flowers are edible, too, but when it starts to flower, it's on its way out.