Yearly Archives: 2009

[NATURAL LANDSCAPE, tomato “blight”]

I visited a most beautiful garden this week, one in which all the elements of garden design were deftly combined. At ground level grew groundcovers in pleasing and harmonious shades of green and of varying leaf textures. Leafy plants, lichens, and mosses were all utilized, the whole scene knit together by large slabs of underlying rock. In places, low-growing junipers and deciduous shrubs and trees brought the garden up from ground level, their exposed roots in some places visibly embracing bulging rocks.

Shakkei, or “borrowed scenery,” an important element in Japanese garden design, played an important role. Distant mountain peaks created a dramatic backdrop to some vignettes.

This garden also utilized what I like to call “luscious landscaping,” that is, the incorporation of dual purpose plants – for beauty and for eating – into the landscape. Lowbush blueberry, a plant …

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[rocket ligularia, COMPOST NO MANURE, blue poppy]

As of this writing, launch of the space shuttle Endeavour has been again delayed; here in the garden, though, the Rocket has been soaring for days. That’s Ligularia ‘The Rocket,’ a perennial with a whorl of dark green leaves at ground level from which shoot skyward 5-foot-high vertical spikes lined with small, yellow flowers. The flowers open from the base up so each spike is streamlined by being more slender and less colorful as you look up the spike. Sort of like a rocket.

In contrast to the Endeavour, Ligularia ‘The Rocket” doesn’t need bright, sunny days to launch. In fact, leaves typically wilt in full sunlight. Then again, growing in shade, the spikes would curve towards light, ruining their rocket-like appearance. So filtered sunlight is generally recommended for this plant.

My Rockets are in full sunlight, just outside the low …

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[jap beetles, rains and weeds, paper and chips]

Friends have made sightings and I’m braced for an onslaught. I even saw a couple of Japanese beetles myself a few days ago but now they seem to have gone underground. (Figuratively, that is. They won’t be laying eggs in the soil and living underground as grubs for at least a month.) I’m sure I’ll be seeing the metallic green beetles again soon.

I’m at a loss for what to do. Spraying pesticides is out of the question. I have too many plants, too many of which are edible. Poisons on edibles sort of takes the enjoyment out of eating them. I guess if I had one or two prized plants struggling along under attack from Japanese beetles, I might resort to sprays. Then again, I could just wrap them in some fine mesh material such as Remay.

I’m …

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[berries, strawberries, aps]

For me, berries are the essence of summer. So summer has officially begun: Just before the end of June I began eating blueberries and blackcurrants, and now there are plenty.

Blueberries are familiar, blackcurrants are not, but deserve to be better known. With a strong, distinctive flavor and not a whole lot of sweetness, blackcurrants are a fruit that only some of us enjoy fresh. Apply a little heat and some sweetener, perhaps a pastry shell (or not), or just squeeze the berries to make juice, sweetened or mixed with other juices, and you have a fruit that just about everyone enjoys. I’m much more adept at growing fruits than cooking fruits, but I’ll bet blackcurrants would be heavenly paired in various ways with dark chocolate.

Blackcurrants are very easy to grow. They fruit well even in shade and …

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[bean beetles, seed sowing for fall]

A reader wrote asking if I had any suggestions for thwarting Mexican bean beetle, a voracious pest of beans that resembles a ladybug except for being larger and yellow, rather than red, with black spots? The reader “tried ignoring them” (doesn’t work well) and then resorted to a spray made from pipe tobacco “tea” with a few drops of dish detergent added. She wrote that it “may have helped a little, but the bean plants eventually succumbed. It did smell good though.”

First off, nix on tobacco tea sprays. Tobacco tea sprays, like their commercially available pesticide counterpart, sold under the name Black Leaf 40, are highly toxic.

I deal with bean beetles by growing successive crops of bush beans. The beetles don’t cause much damage until after a couple of weeks of harvesting beans, at which point I …

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[mockorange, watering can, poppies]

Up until last week, every time I looked at my mockorange, I wondered why I would have planted such a bush so prominently right next to the greenhouse door. The bush looked like nothing more than a blob of greenery, a not especially graceful blob of greenery.

This week I did an about-face on my mockorange; I’m enthralled with it as it sits there draped in large, lily-white, semi-double flowers. And if those flowers weren’t enough just to look at, they fill the air with a most delicious, fresh scent that is vaguely reminiscent of orange blossoms.

Mine is not just any old mockorange. It’s a named variety, perhaps Flora Plena. Blossoms on run-of-the-mill mock oranges open earlier and are smaller and have single rows of petals.

It’s sad, but I know I won’t be looking fondly upon my mockorange again in another …

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[volunteers, broccoli, interplanting]

I have some of the nicest volunteers in my garden this year. A few of them are people, many of them are plants, and one of my favorites – among the plants, that is – is columbine. Years ago, I planted some native columbines, those dainty plants whose orange and yellow flowers hover on thin stalks above the ferny foliage. Since being planted, these wildings self-seed – volunteer, that is — every year in various nooks and crannies around my yard.

I once also planted cultivated columbines, probably the common McKana Giants, and their offspring have also been volunteering around the yard as well. Flowers and foliage of these more cultivated sorts are similar to the natives, just bigger in all respects, which is not necessarily better, just different.

Colors of these larger columbines are different from that of the natives. My original McKana Giants were mixed colors both between plants …

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May 21, 2009

For a day every week or so, my yard smells like salad dressing. No, I’m not getting the lettuce dressed while it’s still out in the garden. Yes, that smell is vinegar. For the past few years, regular strength vinegar, straight up, has provided nontoxic (except to sprayed weeds), sustainable, “green” weed control on the edges of beds, in paths, and on my brick terrace.

I specify “regular strength” vinegar because our USDA has also been looking into vinegar as weedkiller. On the theory that if a little of something is good, a lot must be better, USDA research focuses on using more concentrated solutions of vinegar – even 20%. Those more concentrated solutions are more effective but you have to be very careful using that stuff. It burns. I’ll stick with salad dressing strength 6% solution.

A couple of benign …

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