Some April 2021 Garden Sights

Photo of coleus starts for the garden

This year’s Coleus cuttings, taking on good mature shape and color. One of the secrets of coleus is that as the plants grow larger, their leaves develop new variations in pattern, so you may get dramatic veining, or something like the third from left, top row, which without the camera flash has an almost purple border with spiky red and magenta centers, surrounding a pale yellow. I also have two pretty freckled plants, one that mixes an almost true red with burgundy, and one lime-yellow and magenta. When you clone off the tops, you get bigger and better specimens, though they won’t produce the same plant from seed.

 

Photo closeup of Dordogne tulips

An inside view of the Dordogne tulip, one of the prettiest. It combines well with Apricot Beauty, which is shorter and smaller, but not as exaggeratedly as the camera implies.

 

Photo of Apricot Beauty tulip

Apricot Beauty’s hue and luminescence (and also a few speckles of deer repellent).

 

Photo of seedling hellebores under parent plant

These little waxy-leaved plants are baby hellebores that have seeded themselves below the parent plant. I harvested out three last year and it looks like I’ll have to find room for some others.

 

Photo closeup of a dandelion flower

What there is to see in a dandelion flower enlarged.

 

Photo of plastic repurposed as picnic dishes

 

I’m always looking for ways to repurpose all the free plastic stuff we get from packaging. It seems a little silly to buy picnic or party dishes, and then dump dishes we could harvest from our groceries, into the recycle bin. A lot of recycled plastic won’t be reused, due to lack of facilities, lack of demand, lack of profits. And recycling centers vary in the types of plastic they can pass on to companies willing to take them.

The potato chips are in a dome top from a store-bought cake. The other goodies are in trays that chicken comes packaged in. No problem, because these can go in the dishwasher; soap and hot water make them fine for general use.

The chicken trays are actually studier, a little nicer for size and balance, than picnic plates, and the sides are higher. You could easily help yourself to twice as many hot wings as shown above. And if you need drink cups, you can hang onto ones from fast food lunches—soon you’ll collect a complete service for any number of BBQ guests.

Plastic silverware doesn’t seem necessary…the point of picnic dishes is that they’re safe to jog around in the trunk of a car, unbreakable. So your own silverware from home should do.

 

A Weird Discovery

I’ve put up pictures of my Callery Pear (also Bradford Pear) before, that blooms so prettily in the spring. From reading up on the species, I was aware it isn’t well-regarded, but the articles I’d seen talk about its brittleness. The Morton Arboretum says the Callery Pear is being considered for the invasive species list.  Well, a week or so ago we had a windstorm, and a lot of little budding twigs from my tree were blown off onto the lawn. Thinking of perfumy relatives of the pear, apple and cherry blossoms, I decided to bring a sprig indoors to open its flowers in a glass of water. 

I went upstairs, where the sprig was unfolding, and noticed a rotting smell, but at first I thought it was due to hawks or owls taking apart their prey on the roof. I came up a while later and the smell was ten times worse. That’s when I realized the Callery Pear is one of those plants that wants to be pollinated by flies. Of all I’ve read about this species, I’ve never seen that mentioned. I do think we’re having an unusually ripe year for the Stink Pear, because it truly is corpse-scenting my whole backyard, a thing I’ve never noticed before. And it does, you will note when you pay attention, attract flies.

It makes me think of a sitcom gag, a disastrous dinner party, or wedding reception scenario, the naïve hostess bringing out vases of pear blossoms to decorate the room…

Meanwhile, I think if these trees weren’t problematic in other ways, rebranding them as the Corpse Pear would probably appeal to the younger generation of gardeners.

 

Here is the strange frond of a Christmas fern. Very delicate and pretty (and scent-free), with the translucent stuff it’s wrapped in. 

Garden Prep Work

Photo of azalea roots from layered branches

A chore worth doing, is to cut low-hanging branches off your shrubs. When branches are scraping ground, you have a hard time raking out debris; and when you rake under your shrubs, your garden’s appearance is improved—but also, pests and funguses are reduced. You may find some branches that are under piles of leaves have produced roots. This is the principle behind layering, the name for propagating shrubs by deliberately burying their branches. Above are two azalea starts. The parent plant gets assaulted by mites every year, although it comes back in the spring and blooms.

Planting in shade will sometimes ward off pests that thrive in bright sun, so I’ll find out if these do better in my back yard under trees. I noticed this phenomenon with a green beetle that used to devour my sunny phlox, but never bothered the shady ones.

Photo of grow lights setup for starting garden seeds

Here is my seed-starting arrangement. Gardeners who grow their own plants tend to hang onto their lights forever, but we’re living in a good era for upgrading. LEDs are better than fluorescent tubes, and don’t create the same disposal issues because they last so long—these I’ve bought this year, at the photo’s right, are linkable, so I can use fewer plugs in my surge protectors. They draw 45 watts, times six (plus the old ones) still well below a household outlet’s capacity. I use daylight, though I’ve seen advice to mix daylight with warm bulbs for the full spectrum. I don’t, and my seedlings all do fine. The coleus and impatiens, seen on the left, are cuttings from plants I brought indoors last fall. These two species root so easily that even stripping the leaves from the stem isn’t necessary. They will sit wilted for a week and then their leaves will plump up again.

I use peat pellets to start my plants, because the peat is resistant to fungus, so the seedlings do better achieving their second set of leaves without damping off (a fungal disease). But the following year, I have to dig up the remains from my annuals. (Perennials just grow through the netting and carry on.) This year, since I’ve been improving my front border with a double-height edge of blocks, it’s occurred to me these old pellets would work well stuck in gaps and spaces, where the netting will prevent water from carrying away garden soil, a good use for last year’s leavings.

Photo of cobblestones placed on furnace filter

An idea I have about what to do with an old furnace filter. The wire mesh holds the cobblestones in place, and the cardboard should decompose into the soil. The problematic item is the fiberglass filter. Landscape fabric is a polypropylene, so its decomposition into the environment has some impact, although it’s considered outdoor-safe. Fiberglass is substantially a plastic product, too, and is used for pool and pond filters.

The alternative to finding a use for old furnace filters is to add them to landfills. This arrangement could be covered with sand, pebbles, or mulch, and the filter would block weeds, while its decomposition ought to be well contained. Let me know if you have more information.

 

A last idea for reusing plastic. The above is a large cat treat cannister. I buy lettuce for sandwiches, not salads, so I need it to last a few weeks. Transferring lettuce from the store packaging to this upright configuration, then adding paper towels top and bottom, really helps my greens last a long time. 

First Flowers

Photo of Winter Aconite
Photo of hellebore flower
Photo of hellebore flower
Photo of dwarf spruce
Photo of daffodils
Photo of crocus under netting

 

First in the lineup, cute Winter Aconites, little bulbs that I’ve never tried before, but last fall I added them to my order. Then, two interior views of hellebore flowers. You can see that they have a ring inside of what look like tiny pitcher plants. My variety is a beaut, but tends to nod, so the only way to really see the flowers is to turn them faceup. It has also grown three feet in diameter, and being evergreen, is effectively a shrub. Third, evidence that something has sprayed on my dwarf spruce. If those twigs are really dead, I’ll trim them off, but I hold out the possibility they’ll grow new needles. Fourth, daffodils, another variety that wants to nod. And finally, a little species crocus under the deer netting. Crocuses have been popping up randomly in my lawn, so maybe they are seeding themselves.

 

Snowdrops

Photo of snowdrop bloom
Photo of ice on tree
Photo of raked-off flower bed

 

Our weather was icy and snowy for a week or two; then, this Wednesday (2/24), the temperature got close to 70F. The forecast, going ahead, calls for 40s and 50s well into March. If nothing changes, that means we’re still having a warm winter, with only a handful of nights in the single digits, and no daytimes with the high in the teens.

For gardeners, the holiday (or celebratory) season is approaching: Time to Start the Seeds. But it needs holding off until the end of March, since the bigger the seedlings get, the more room we run out of indoors. Plus, the tenderest annuals aren’t safe planted out until late May. Last May, we had a nasty mid-month cold snap. I subsist meanwhile on YouTube gardening videos, and plant catalogs, of which there are fewer than there used to be.

This year, I’m trying a bunch of things that I’ve never found seeds for in the past. Pelargoniums, Hens and Chicks, Begonia, Sarracenia (pitcher plant) and Ginseng. Then, all my usual favorites. I’ll blog later on about the success or failure of the odd ones. As seen above, I tried snowdrops this year for the first time, and they’ve come up to bloom in February, as advertised. The second picture shows some of the magical sparkle of the ice storm in bright sunshine, but the camera couldn’t showcase the effect altogether.

The third picture shows a chore that needs doing as soon as the bulbs nose up, and perennials put up their first leaves; if, like me, you let nature shelter your beds with tons of free mulch. Even though we might have more winter weather, frigid temps at night, and snowstorms (looking less likely, though), it’s important to get the leaves raked down to a nice thin layer. Once they begin to decompose, they will stick tight to each other and make a mat that keeps off light, water, and air, so most leaves need collecting and composting in late February/early March. But your perennials and hardy bulbs are adapted to cold, so they will get on with the business of growing, once you’ve exposed them to the open air. 

 

Family Support for Writers

This is a small blog, and I don’t get a lot of commentary, but in this post I’m going to invite readers to answer some questions. You can take them rhetorically, if you like, and answer them to yourself.

You have started a business. We’ll say a bakery, that, COVID times in mind, has a web-based storefront and does home deliveries. A relative tells you she needs a birthday cake for a party: “And you can just send it to my house on Saturday. Get it there before two o’clock.”

She thinks you would do this for her, for free.

Or you’re an accountant, the tax season begun, and people in your circle keep calling you with “just one quick question”. They don’t think your answering counts as a billable service.

In either case, you, the business owner, probably feel that freebies take time and resources, and it’s not reasonable to expect that being someone’s sister or best friend entitles you to them.

Writing a book, of course, takes hundreds of hours. You may self-publish, and be forced to bear that onus of “not a real writer”. If people will buy your books, they give you two gifts: a dollar or two in royalties, and an uptick in stats. Better stats mean more eyes to see that your book is out there, among the millions on Amazon.

So, writers, do you find that people you know think it’s your job to give books away? Do you find members of your family to be very supportive, or to act as though your career isn’t one, legitimately? If you have family or friends who own businesses, do any of them expect your patronage, without patronizing you in return? If you sell on Amazon, do you know of anyone who boycotts Amazon, and won’t buy your stuff even to be helpful to you? Would this person accept your book if you bought it yourself, then, and made a gift of it? And being honest, would people you know treat you differently if you were “somebody”? Would you treat people differently, if their work were acclaimed, or had the attention of a famous person?

In the world of consumer choices, dogmatic quid pro quos are not realistic. People are going through rough times and doing their best, these days, but you can’t buy all the makeup and vitamins they’re selling, donate to all the causes, get rooked for family loyalty’s sake by what might even be a Ponzi scheme, just to be helpful. If you have ten books for sale at ten dollars each, it’s fair for others to balk at the expense of collecting the set. But what are your thoughts on double standards (you owe me, I don’t owe you) or just a general level of enthusiasm lower towards yours, than you would (at least like to think) yours would be towards their attempt to make a living?

Nature Keeps On

Photo of violet stems
Photo of two types of moss
Photo of unusual large sleet

 

The time that plants and animals spend in winter dormancy is much shorter than the season. Here in Southeastern Ohio we have a mid-Atlantic climate, more so than it used to be. Most years we get few, if any, snows having more than a few inches of accumulation. The trees drop their leaves, perennials die to the ground, the grass turns browner. But after a month between December and January, a lot of things began their cycle of return. The birds have been singing territorial call notes, and the daffodils are sending up leaves.

In the first photo above, you can see the strange appearance of violets in an actual phase of their growth, when the rooty aboveground stems start to bud up, and turn progressively greener. In the second photo, some new moss, carpeting up like it might in a northern rain forest. The third photo shows an odd fall of sleet mixed with hail that came down heavily for a time, before the weather turned to snow. Finally, below, a short video of summer things, to help dispel the cloudy, rainy stuff of winter. 

 

Grey Day Things to Read

 

I subscribe to those newsletters—from the New York and Los Angeles Times—that give a round-up of the daily headlines. And ones on cooking, book reviews; ones from the Smithsonian, Atlas Obscura, Snopes…quite a few. So I don’t try to keep up with reading them each day; I put them in a folder, and read ten of the oldest. By this method, I’ve gotten to January of 2019. Which, by serendipity, gives me a daily reminder of what was going on this time last year. The political news ages badly. Headlines about Trump’s lies, or his plans for the border wall, are boring same-old, same-old, taken in retrospect. But the emergence of COVID—which hasn’t happened yet—is pretty suspenseful. 

Above is a little collection of books I harvested out of my basement. Some of them I’ve carried from place to place since childhood. Some I’ve had for a long time and never read. I used to own Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay collection on fantasy writing, The Language of the Night. She more or less recommended The King of Elfland’s Daughter (Lord Dunsany), but when I tried it years ago, I found it a little slow-paced. So I’ll give it another shot; reread some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, the Nicholas Blake mysteries—good, and actually by the poet Cecil Day-Lewis (father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis). 

Then, there are the Joan Aiken (daughter of poet Conrad Aiken) stories, and the Lloyd Alexander series The Chronicles of Prydain, both books I read over and over growing up, so I’m going to try them again, for nostalgic fun.