A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Friday, September 30, 2005

What's wrong with this picture?

The growing season is winding down but I still have some neat things going on in my gardens. Nothing that belongs in the "Weirdness Chronicles" because there is a logical explanation for each of them. It's just stuff that I have never seen before and wanted to record. Ready? Here's the first one. Can you guess what's going on here?

It's kind of hard without the flowers. That's part of the problem. All foliage, no flowers. These are Bright Lights Cosmos. They are normally 2' to 3' (61 cm to 91 cm) tall. They are dwarfing a 4' (122 cm) fence. Since this picture was taken 2 days ago, the tallest ones are now more than 6' (183 cm) tall. Would you agree that my neighbor on the other side of the fence has put down his fall lawn fertilizer application? The first frost for my zone (6A) is September 30 to October 30, so these could go any time now but it sure is fun watching to see how tall they ultimately will get.

Here's the next one:

Remember when Ophelia blew through a few weeks ago and knocked a lot of things down? The goldenrod and zinnias righted themselves, but the Aztec sunflowers' stems appeared to be broken. I was going to pull them up, throw the seedheads in the bed and compost the rest but decided to wait until the flowers died because there were still a few monarchs in the yard. Well, they keep blooming and blooming and blooming. I guess I will have to wait for the frost to kill these too.

Okay, here's the last one. It's a toughie:

Yes, it's a zinnia, but what kind? Here's a hint. It's growing in the Green Garden. It was supposed to be an Envy Zinnia, you know, as in "green with envy". I suppose I should dig out the seed packet and send it and the picture to the company that sold it to me, maybe get a credit towards next year's order. It just seems like such a lot of effort. The Green Garden was basically a disaster this year so I am chuckling rather than fuming.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A is for Aster

Boy, getting old is no fun at all. Last week I did some lifting. 24 hours later, I was flat on my back in bed in excruciating pain. I know, lift with your legs, not your back but it was only computer monitors. They weren't that heavy when I was younger. For two days, I only got out of bed to feed the cat and, um, use the litterbox. Mine, not his. I was thrilled when I felt well enough on Friday morning to attend my first Master Gardener class. The County Extension Agent gave an excellent lecture on basic plant science. Unfortunately, said lecture was held outside in the vegetable garden. My back was not happy about standing for over two hours. Back to bed I went.

So I am very late posting pictures of my asters. They are actually past their prime now. When they were at their peak, inspired by my photography class, I decided to conduct an experiment. Asters are purple, a cool color, and according to what I learned in class, they are ideally photographed in morning light. I photographed them both in the morning and in the afternoon. Darn, the teacher was right. Judge for yourself:

Here they are in the morning, all luscious and cool. Don't you just want to sweep them up and bring them inside to arrange in a pretty vase?

And here they are in the afternoon, actually the previous afternoon, looking all tired and worn out. Pretty amazing, isn't it?

While we're on the subject of asters, I have a mystery plant that is very similar to an aster. It's a perennial, about 18" to 24" (45 cm to 61 cm) tall with tiny white flowers that look like asters. The foliage is also aster-like although much smaller and it blooms at the same time as my asters. I refer to them as "wild asters" even though all of the pictures of wild asters that I have seen have purple flowers. Maybe someone knows what this is?

Here's a close-up of the flowers:

I love this flower because it is so airy and delicate. It reminds me of baby's breath. It's also terribly invasive so I have to rip out a lot of it every spring. I leave it along the back of the house where nothing else is blooming now.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Home Gardeners' School - Fall Edition

I enjoyed the Spring Edition of the Home Gardeners' School at Cook College at Rutgers University so much that when the brochure for the Fall Edition showed up in my mailbox, I registered immediately. I believe it was July at the time! The gardens I've been reading about and enjoying pictures of all summer have inspired me to change my gardening style from growing anything and everything that interests me just for fun to a more designed approach. I was glad to see that I could take some landscaping courses.

Landscape Design Basics was a great way to start out the day. It was just that, the basics of designing a garden. The instructor, who is a Certified Landscape Architect, pointed out things I had never considered before like taking into account the view out of windows and designing for those views as well. He covered scale, balance, sequence (rhythm) and focalization. He even showed us how to draw a site plan taking into consideration the mature size of trees and plants and where the sun is during various times of the year.

This class was followed by a new one called Arranging Plants in the Landscape taught by the same instructor and was the logical next step in designing a garden. He gave us a great list of plant books and books about arranging, combining and using plants. There was an excellent slideshow on trees, bushes and groundcovers and what they look like in the landscape in different combinations and at different times of the year.

Then we broke for lunch. I had the same complaint as in the spring. There were more men this time than last time but women still made up the majority of participants and the luncheon speaker was again male. This time I not only complained on the evaluation form we were asked to fill out for the program but I also spoke to the director. He directs the programs at Rutgers Gardens as well as the Home Gardeners' School and taught the digital part of the photography course I took last week so I have gotten to know him. He agreed with me and pointed out that there were more female instructors this time than last. In fact, they had replaced one male instructor with a female one.

After lunch, I took my dream trip in the Gardens of England & Ireland class. After explaining to us that our gardens would NEVER look like the ones we were about to see due to dramatic climatic differences between New Jersey and England and Ireland, we went on a virtual tour of some of the most famous gardens in the world such as Sissinghurst and some private gardens. One interesting thing that I learned was that the glaciers scoured the UK so there are very few native plants. Consequently, most of their garden plants are imports. She showed us gorgeous beds of American natives like Joe Pye Weed, asters and Monarda. What we consider "weeds" here are considered "exotics" there and carefully arranged and tended!

My last class of the day was Proper Planting Techniques For Container, Bare-root and Balled & Burlapped Plants. It's probably the scariest gardening class I have ever taken. I now wonder how anything I have planted has survived because I have done everything wrong. There is a right way and a wrong way to dig a hole to plant in (guess which way I dig them!), there is a right way to backfill, a right way to mulch, a right way to stake and a right way to water. I learned that nurseries put too much soil in their containers so you have to dig out the bottom part of the stem of the plant before you plant it and then plant it to that new depth, rather than the depth of the container it came in. I am still apologizing to my plants for planting them all wrong all these years!

At the end of the day, I grabbed some brochures on upcoming gardening classes at Cook College during January and February. I want to take all of them! But I should pace myself, bearing in mind that I will be in the Master Gardener Certification program at the same time so I should probably just take one or two.

Friday, September 16, 2005


I went to the orientation for the Master Gardener certification program this morning. I wish I had brought my camera. The extension office for my county is in a wonderful park. They are building gardens for and by the Master Gardeners. So far they have a spectacular herb garden and a vegetable plot that is larger than my entire yard. 100' x 100' vs my own lot of 50' x 100'.

They spent several hours explaining the training program (rigorous and extensive) and the time commitment of mandatory service then an additional 60 hours of volunteer service to complete the certification. Just my luck, Middlesex county has the longest and most in depth training program of all the counties that offer Master Gardener programs in New Jersey.

They also gave a pre-test to find out where our skill levels are. It went just as I thought it would. When I went to computer school a few years ago, I entered the program confident that I already knew a lot about computers. I found out very quickly that I knew next to nothing. I was so lost that I considered dropping out of the program. But I am very stubborn. I looked around the classroom and said to myself "Self, you are a smart person. If everyone else here can learn this stuff, so can you". So I buckled down, studied harder than I ever had and not only made it, but was the first person in my class to earn a professional certification and the first person to land a job in the IT field. I was also the oldest person in the class, older even than the teachers and 1 of only 2 women (we had started out with 4 women) who made it through. The other woman was the youngest person in the class and the second person to land a job. We were quite a team!

So when they handed out the pre-test today, I knew exactly how it would go before I even looked at it. I've been gardening all of my life but I know NOTHING.

Compare and contrast winged carpenter ants and winged termites. That's what I hire an exterminator for.

Dahlias - bulbs, corms, tuberous roots, rhizomes or something else I can't remember. I don't know, I don't grow them.

Ditto gladioli.

When is the best time to fertilize pine trees. You're supposed to fertilize them?

Define IPM. If I knew what the letters stood for, I would.

Name the three R's in solid waste management. Any idiot can see that there are no letter R's the words solid waste management.

I think my favorite question was the "name and describe the parts of a flower". The accompanying diagram looked NOTHING like a flower. The only part I could "name and describe" was the stem!

I couldn't answer about half the questions. It was a great preview of some of the things we will be learning. So starting next week, every Friday morning from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM, I will either be sitting in a classroom, working in a greenhouse or working outside. And on the weekends, instead of attending events and wandering aimlessly around, I will be working at them.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thank You Ophelia

I awoke to pounding rain this afternoon. The first bands of showers from Hurricane Ophelia had arrived. You could almost hear the plants saying "Aaaaaahhhhh. . . finally". The thunder rumbled, the lightening flashed, the rain flattened everything in its path. It was too much at once and flash flood warnings were posted throughout the area. As the storm slowly moved out, I took my camera outside and surveyed the damage.



Even the zinnias gave in.

Is this what they mean by "localized flooding"?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Photographing Your Garden

I went to Rutgers Gardens today for a course on garden photography entitled appropriately enough, "Photographing Your Garden". It was supposed to have been team-taught by two photographers, one for SLR and one for digital, but the lecture was mainly by the SLR guy. I'm afraid all his talk about F-Stops and light meters did absolutely nothing for me. I have a digital camera. He also spent most of the lecture time on artsy photography as opposed to what he disdainfully referred to as "educational pictures", i.e. the kind of pictures I take in which you can actually SEE the flowers rather than an artistic impression of them.

I did learn a few valuable things. Cloudy days are best. Sunny days are the worst conditions in which to take pictures. Early mornings and late afternoons are better than glaring mid-day. And you should photograph cool colors in morning light and hot colors in afternoon light.

Both speakers were big advocates of tripods. I move around too much to comfortably use a tripod although they both assured me that once I got used to using a tripod, I wouldn't mind lugging it around.

Then we went out into the gardens to try some of things we had learned. I tried out different angles and framing but I'm not happy with any of the photos I took. One fun thing for me was revisiting the gardens I had helped replant in the spring when I took a course on dividing perennials . I didn't take any "before" pictures in April while we were working, but I took some "after" photos today.

This is one of those "artsy" angles I was trying, shooting along the bed rather than from in front of it. It's a perennial border that we worked on with a rosebush on the end which you really can't see. The following are a few shots of the ornamental grasses plot that we replanted after dividing the grasses. I can't believe how huge everything got.

This is the hosta that mine came from. I thought mine was large but it is a midget compared to this monster. I should have asked one of my classmates to stand next to it to give it some scale. Suffice it to say, it is the largest hosta I have ever seen.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Thrilling Discovery

I have had a mystery plant growing in front of my house. I've been convinced since spring that it is only a weed but have allowed it to grow anyways. It got taller and taller and taller. I was sorely tempted to pull it out. I just couldn't bring myself to do it until I knew for sure what it was. It has finally bloomed. The myster is solved.

It is goldenrod. According to the book on attracting butterflies and hummingbirds that I just finished reading, it is a magnet for Monarch butterflies. In fact, it is on the author's Top Ten List of flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. It is a nectar plant for butterflies, hummingbirds visit it to eat small insects and according to one of the gardening classes I took in the spring, it attracts beneficial insects. I am thrilled with my new plant!

It is a perennial that spreads easily by runners. I'm going to move it to the Orange/Yellow Garden in the backyard next month when I take time off from work to plant all of the bulbs and plants I ordered.

In the picture you can just see on the left one of my Nikko Blue hydrangeas. Immediately below it are asters. To the right and below the goldenrod is Garden Balsam which is on its last legs at this time of year and not terribly attractive. Believe it or not, underneath all of that are two rosebushes, the Fairy and the General Jacqueminot. They grew well this year just not very big. Next year, they should be much more assertive.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What's Blooming Now

Labor Day weekend is when I usually stop deadheading and let everything go to seed. And right on time, the asters are budded. A few of the buds are just beginning to open. Almost everything else is winding down with the exception of the morning glories and four o'clocks which are still going strong.

The big news right now is that I have lupines blooming for the first time. I can't locate the seed packet right now, but they are from a batch of seeds that I bought two years ago for a wildflower garden that didn't get planted until this year. They are some kind of wild lupine:

The ugly plants in the background are violets. Their foliage is dying back now, but it will be very pretty next spring.

Also blooming is the Great Lobelia that appeared I think two years ago. It has gone from a single plant to a nice clump:

Not a very good picture, but it is almost hidden in a clump of cosmos. I had to hold them out of the way with one hand while manipulating the camera with my other hand.

When I was planting the Heavenly Blue morning glories this spring, I deliberately planted some at the base of the shepard's crook from which a birdfeeder hangs. This is the effect I was going for:

I think that worked out quite nicely. It's amazing that they do so well. You can see how shady that garden is.

Also in this picture you can just see a corner of the house across the street from me. It was owned by a landscaper who installed elaborate gardens in the front and back yards. The house changed hands this week. The young couple who bought it have been spent the weekend ripping out all of the plantings. At first I was horrified, but then I realized that I did the same thing when I moved into my house. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they replace them with.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Wooden Spoon

The long, very hot summer is rapidly drawing to a close. I no longer have to dine on salads, sandwiches or food that can be microwaved. It is finally cool enough to turn the stove on. I literally haven't cooked since June. And I love to cook. I especially love trying new recipes. Most of them are pretty bad, but occasionally I find a real gem. Being a blogger, I feel obliged to share my culinary adventures. Therefore I have created a new blog, The Wooden Spoon . The title stems from my motto that you can never have too many wooden spoons.

I am inviting everyone to drop by, whether you are looking for a new recipe or just enjoy cooking disasters. I usually try one or two new recipes a week so I won't be posting every day. I will comment on each recipe, what worked, what didn't work, etc. I will even post pictures no matter how ugly the result. And, of course, I will post each recipe as it was given so you can try it for yourself. If you dare.

The kitchen is now open . . .

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I love Calendulas (Pot Marigolds). They are the daisy shape that I love and so easy to grow. I always order the same seeds from the same company (Seeds of Change) but this year the there was more variation in the flowers. Or maybe I just never noticed it before.

This year I am saving seed from my calendulas. I hope the resulting plants will have the same wonderful variations in color.