A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Did I Plant That?

We had a lovely snowstorm on Thursday evening. Unlike the last storm, this was light fluffy snow like confectioner's sugar. I loved walking in it when I took my evening walk. But lovely as it was, I'm tired of snow. I want it to be spring. I want to be able to play in the gardens.

This year, I am being much more organized about my planting. Normally, I order my seeds with a clear picture in my head of where I'm going to plant everything. By the time the seeds arrive and then the time to plant them arrives, I have completely forgotten all my plans. I always end up hurriedly making decisions and just planting like mad.

One problem with that. Since I try to grow new stuff each year along with old favorites, when the seeds start germinating, I can't tell if they are weeds or one of the new flowers I am trying that year. I let things grow until it becomes clear whether it is friend or foe. In an effort to avoid that, I started making "planting diagrams". In my annual planting frenzy, I would take a few minutes and at least list what I planted in each garden in the approximate area of the bed. That has been helpful, but is still not a solution.

This year, I have the solution. When I ordered my seeds, I recorded in which garden I wanted to plant each variety of seeds. Using that list, from time to time, I make actual drawings of exactly where in each bed each type of flower will go. Based on my careful records, there should be minimal "Did I plant that?" this year and many fewer weeds.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

New Birdfeeder Update

I was right. The peanuts are too large to fit through the mesh of the new birdfeeder. Despite the best efforts of the big, brown birds, there was no appreciable diminution on the amount of peanuts in the feeder. So I dumped them in the food processor and crushed them up some. I made an absolute mess in the kitchen trying to get crushed peanuts back into a feeder made of mesh while I was dead tired from working all night.

Of course, not a single bird has visited the new birdfeeder since.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Big Brown Birds

We had another snow storm last night. It was heavy, wet snow. I was working and keeping an eagle eye on the people plowing the parking lot hoping they wouldn't plow in my car. They didn't so I had no trouble getting out this morning.

When I got home, the new birdfeeder was literally under siege from a lot of big, brown birds. They were all over it, some of them literally hanging upside down from it. What's more, the branches of the trees surrounding my yard were filled with birds. I've never seen anything like it.

I spread more seed under the old birdfeeder because the snow had covered what was there already. Almost as soon as I went back into the house, the juncos appeared and more mourning doves than I have ever seen at once. Usually they appear two or three at a time. There were about ten of them this morning.

I checked my chart of common feeder birds and didn't see anything remotely resembling the big, brown birds that were besieging the new birdfeeder. I tried the internet. Didn't see anything there either, not even on the lists of the 25 most common feeder birds in New Jersey.

So now I have unidentified big, brown birds and unidentified little, brown birds. But still no woodpeckers.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Garden Show

I went to the Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of NJ today. Only I could go to a garden show and come home with a birdfeeder and a membership in the Audubon Society. It was the only booth I found remotely interesting. Apparently I have become too specialized to find anything attractive at a general garden show. So much stuff! No wonder people need to rent space at storage places to put their stuff. Me, I just get rid of anything I don't have room for. Give it away, recycle it, don't buy it in the first place!

They had a lot of landscaping exhibits. They were too artificial for my tastes. Too regimented. Lots of stone, furniture, plants too far apart. And the exhibit by the Garden Club of New Jersey. . . I know that it was terribly artisitic, but the things they did with flowers were just too unnatural.

I fell in love with the birdfeeders at the Audubon Society booth. I bought one designed for woodpeckers. It has a metal "cage" on it to keep out the squirrels. I also purchased a membership. $30. It entitled me to 20% off the feeder and a free copy of "Birds of New Jersey" (a $65 value!). Sorry, the whole transaction kept playing like an infomercial in my head. On my way home, I stopped at Petsmart to buy food for the cat and for my new birdfeeder. Woodpeckers like peanuts. So do squirrels. It should be a riot watching them try to get at the peanuts. Then off to bed. It's become unnatural for me to be awake during the day. Good thing I got to the show early. When I left, the parking lot was full and they were directing people to park in a lot far enough away to necessitate a shuttle bus.

They also sell squirrel food at Petsmart. I wonder if I put out food specifically for them then will they will leave the birdfeeders alone. . .

Thursday, February 17, 2005


I am so excited. I was outside dumping kitchen waste in the composter and filling the birdfeeder this morning when I heard a woodpecker. Remember, my last house had a woodpecker that I heard but never saw, but I haven't heard one since moving here 10 years ago. I am hoping I will actually be able to see this one. Perhaps it will visit my birdfeeder. I didn't have a birdfeeder at my last house because the squirrels chewed it up.

According to my chart of Common Feeder Birds of Eastern North America, it could be one of three types: a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy Woodpecker or a Red-bellied Woodpecker. I will be keeping a close eye on the visitors to my birdfeeder.

Coincidentally, the National Audobon catalog arrived in the mail yesterday. There is feeder specifically for woodpeckers in it. I was tempted, but it is made of wood and the ravenous Middlesex squirrels would chew it up very quickly. I would probably be better off investing in a pair of binoculars.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More Signs of Spring

More crocuses are coming up, both in the front garden and the semi-shady garden. Also in the semi-shady garden are a few snowdrops. The biggest news by far is that the daffodils in the front garden are making an appearance. Spring is definitely on the way!

It's past Valentine's Day, but most of my neighbors still have not taken down their outdoor Christmas decorations. Some of them even still illuminate them at night. This is not a record. The all-time record is Easter. In April. The only reason for this that I have been able to come up with is that when they put up their numerous, elaborate decorations in November, it is usually still fairly warm, in the 40's and 50's. They used to wait until the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I have noticed the past couple of years that they are decorating for Christmas earlier and earlier in November. I can't do that. I like my holidays one at a time. I have to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before I can even start thinking about Christmas.

In January when it is time to take down all the decorations, the temperatures are normally much, much colder. Even bitter at times. Even I am hesitant to spend time outside removing my few outdoor decorations. But I always do. To me, Christmas decorations always look so sad after Christmas has passed. Apparently my neighbors don't mind leaving their decorations up for months at a time. They even add other seasonal decorations for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and, of course, Easter. It is the oddest sight.

What got me started on this was my neighbor across the street who put a garland and red bows all the way around their yard on their new fence. They are also avid gardeners. I was looking at it today and wondering what it would look like with their spring bulbs in bloom or if they would remove the garland and bows before then.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why do I garden?

I was filling out an application for the Master Gardener certification program the other day and got stuck on the question asking why I wanted to do it. I garden like I breathe, automatically without thinking about it. I had never tried to analyze why it is that I must garden.

A home without a garden is not a home to me. We moved around a lot when I was growing up. My mother planted gardens at every single house we lived in. My first garden when I was in elementary school was a tiny corner of one of her flower beds. It probably measured less than 3' by 3'. I don't remember many details about that garden, just that all the flowers were planted in rows according to height. It has taken me many years to stop planting in rows. It was also the best weeded garden I ever had because it was so small. The next garden I remember was when I was in junior high school. That one was memorable because of the green zinnias. I was fascinated by flowers that were green. I still grow green zinnias and I remain fascinated by green flowers. Two years ago I started a flower bed composed completely of green flowers.

A couple of years ago while going through an old photo album, I found pictures of a garden I planted when I was in high school. Up until that day, I had only vague memories of it. All I remembered was that it was round and dug around a bird feeder. The picture took my breath away. There were the same sunflowers, hollyhocks, cosmos, bachelor buttons and pansies I grow today. I never realized my attachment to those flowers was lifelong.

As a single adult, I lived in various apartments with no yards to garden in. I forced bulbs indoors. I grew flowers in containers on fire escapes. At no time did it ever occur to me to not garden.

I moved into my first home in September of 1985. I didn't even finish unpacking before I was outside planting bulbs for the following spring. My then husband was horrified. He felt it was not an appropriate activity for a woman who was 8 months pregnant. After the divorce, I moved into my second home in August of 1995. I was so ill with Lyme disease, friends had to unpack for me. There was no bulb planting. I could only muster enough energy to buy a few mums from a local nursery. One of those plants still survives. I was thrilled the following spring to discover daffodils that had naturalized in the front of the house.

Raising a troubled child has consumed my life, virtually destroying it but through all the difficult years, my gardens have been my refuge. I have experimented with different plants and planting techniques. I have settled on growing heirlooms. I have started a small collection of heirloom rosebushes. Last year I started my collection of heirloom bulbs. I have experimented with color gardens, theme gardens, herb gardens, vegetable gardens and compost. I have planted to attract beneficial insects, butterflies and birds. I was thrilled to find a garter snake in my shed last year. I haven't seen a snake since I moved to New Jersey over 20 years ago. I hold out hope for a toad, something else I haven't seen in this overpopulated and polluted state.

So why do I want obtain a Master Gardener certification and then lend that expertise to the community as a volunteer? Because gardening is what I do. It's who I am.

This is the garden I planted when I was in high school. Until I stumbled on this photo a few years ago, I had forgotten about it. I am still growing almost all of the same flowers thirty years later.

My first garden at my first house. You will note that I was still planting in rows.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Later that same day . . .

I went out into the yard as soon as I got home today once more searching for signs of spring bulbs. This time I found them. There are crocuses coming up by the shed door and daffodils in the abandoned garden. I did a little happy dance. But I also noted that I need to plant more snowdrops. They are normally the first bulbs to come up. I have never had much luck growing them. Perhaps I just need to find a spot they like. There are some lovely ones that have some green in the blossoms in a catalog. They would be perfect for the green garden. The hellebores are looking much happier but no signs of blossoms yet.

Searching for signs of spring

The lovely springlike weather has tempted me out into the yard. The snow is almost all gone. I have been looking for signs of bulbs coming up. It's still much too early in the year but sometimes they get fooled and start poking up prematurely. I planted some heirloom daffodils last fall, Thalia which are white and Rip Van Winkle which are . . . gee, I don't know how to describe them. They are my first heirloom bulbs so I am especially impatient this year. Surprisingly, the Sweet William looks as if it's about to start growing. The primroses look great. The sage seems to be doing alright but the hellebores look very unhappy. Most distressing are the rosebushes. I noticed leaf buds on one of the Blaze bushes. A quick check of the others as well as my other heirloom roses revealed they were all budded. It is much, much too early for this to be happening. I know that the weather will turn cold again and I am worried that the buds will freeze and die. They have never appeared this early. I would hate to lose them. They have been doing so well for so long and I am adding a new one for the first time in years. Zephrine Drouhin, a pink climber. It is supposed to be remontant and shade tolerant. I am going to put it in the semi-shady garden at the end of the driveway. Maybe I will even splurge and buy one of those fancy pillars for it to climb.

And I am going to have to rethink my poppy planting strategy. All of the flower beds are buried under leaves. If I remove the leaves from the bed where I want to plant the poppy seeds and then recover it, I may lose the seeds in the spring when I remove the leaves permanently in March. Alternatively, if I remove the leaves, plant the seeds and then don't put the leaves back, the squirrels will smell the fresh soil and go after the seeds. So now I am considering placing the seeds in my freezer and then planting them in March when I remove the leaves from all of the gardens. With that much "fresh" soil suddenly appearing, there is less of a chance of the squirrels finding and eating the seeds. Planting bulbs in the fall is so much easier. I can plant the bulbs and then cover the beds with leaves to hide the smell of the freshly turned soil and the squirrels are none the wiser.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Planting Poppies

It rained this morning. Briefly turned to snow, then back to rain. The warm weather the past few days has been melting the snow and the rain this morning washed even more away. I'm glad to see it. This is New Jersey. The snow was pretty when it fell and for about a day afterwards but after that it just got dirtier and uglier by the day.

I'm glad the snow is going for another reason. I have to plant poppy seeds. I've lost track of the nmber of times I have tried to grow poppies. The seeds never germinate for me. I researched the problem and discovered they need cold to germinate, so I tried keeping them in the fridge prior to planting. That didn't work. So this year I am trying a radical solution that I have read about and am going to plant them in February. There's just one problem with that. Snow. Can't plant seeds with a foot of snow on the ground. The suggested solution is to just sprinkle them on top of the snow. With all the birds and squirrels feeding in my yard, I don't think that would work. How do I make them differentiate between seed they can eat and seed I am trying to grow? Nope, I need the snow to melt so I can plant my seeds and then it can snow again all it wants.

If it doesn't work, it's no big deal. The seeds didn't cost me anything. I was at our local library one day last summer and saw the prettiest flower growing amongst the shrubbery. It had seedpods and I automatically picked a few. I was collecting seeds every day in my own gardens and it had literally become a habit. Just one tiny problem. I had nothing to put the pods in and they were leaking seeds all over. So I drove home with one hand full of seeds and the other hand on the steering wheel fervently grateful that I no longer drive a stick. Judging from the seeds and the pods, I was pretty sure it was a poppy and a little research confirmed this. I went back to the library a few more times and gathered some more seeds. Now I am just waiting for the snow to melt enough so that I can get the seeds into the ground.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Eating with the seasons

Fresh blueberries are on special this week at the grocery store. I have some recipes I want to try that call for fresh blueberries, but I am waiting. The same thing happened a few weeks ago when there was a big special on fresh strawberries. I have a strawberry cake recipe that I am just dying to try out but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I had to wait. What am I waiting for? I'm waiting for the local blueberries and strawberries to come into season.

I have nothing against fruits and vegetables grown in other areas of the country and the world. I just can't eat certain foods out of season. Like watermelon and cantelope. They are summer foods to me. I only bake apples pies and pumpkin pies in the fall. Now that it is winter, I am cooking soups and stews full of root vegetables, the last vegetables to be harvested and then stored away in the cellar for the long cold months ahead.

As a gardener, I live in tune with the seasons. Just as each flower has its season so too does each fruit and vegetable. I prefer to enjoy each one in its own time.