Monday, February 8, 2016

Six Winter Gardening Activities

When describing me, my friends use the phrase, "Obsessed with gardening." They ask, "How do you cope in the winter months?" knowing that I need dirt under my nails to survive. I usually answer that I relish the downtime to recuperate. That's far from the truth, however, as I am busier than ever with gardening tasks at this time of year:

1. Planning my 2016 gardens

Every year I promise H.H. that I will not add any more gardens, but will focus on improving the ones I have. The herbaceous border along the kitchen garden fence has a very wet corner caused by water from the basement sump pump when we have rain: The perfect spot for a rain garden. Oops, is that a new garden? Of course not; just an improvement. Oh, and the area where I put a fake rock to hide the septic tank outlet looks like a pet's grave. If I expand the bed to make a rock garden it would create a better disguise, plus I've always wanted a rock garden. (Just another improvement, dear H.H.) I'm making sketches as I research rain-garden plants and how to create a rock-garden.

I did not bury a deceased pet here!

Yesterday, I ordered vegetable and annual flower seeds. First I made plans/diagrams for the 2016 kitchen garden, the herb-garden trug and some of my planters. I ordered from Annie's again as I love her heirloom seeds. I wrote about them, Why Choose Heirloom Seeds. I added to this year's list some vegetables I haven't grown before: leeks and Brussel sprouts. I'm also going to try growing garlic for the first time. I ordered all my favorite annual flowers: sunflowers, pansies, snapdragons, marigolds, zinnias. I direct sow most of the vegetables into the garden, but start the annuals indoors. I'll be setting up a seed-starting station later this month when it's time to sow pansy and Johnny-jump-ups. I have some exciting new perennial and annual seeds to sample: three types of allium, eutrochium dubium, impatiens balfourii, mina lobata, and three different poppies. I received them from Nan at Hayfield and can't wait to try them. Thanks, Nan. I am thrilled.

Spent hours perusing the catalogs

Ordered tried-and-true favorite vegetable seeds and a few new varieties.

I'm planning to add some color to the herb-garden trug with a climbing nasturtium for its trellis. I was disappointed with the growth rate of the plants last year, the trug's first year. I'm wondering about the hours of sunlight in that position on the patio -- maybe not enough? I don't know where to put it ... need a discussion with H.H.

Where to relocate the herb garden?

Planning for the new gardening season is probably my favorite winter activity, but there are others ...

 2. Preparing for the Great Backyard Bird Count

This year's count is February 12 - 15. I love this wonderful activity. To participate take three easy steps: 1. Click on the link in my sidebar and register. 2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. 3. Enter your results on the GBBC website or use their free eBird app to enter on your mobile device. If you don't know the names of the birds in your backyard use the Online Bird Guide. There may be some interesting results this year with El Nino.

House finch

Bluebird braving the recent blizzard.

3. Tidying the potting shed and taking a tool inventory

I spent a couple of hours working in the potting shed recently. As I looked for a lost seed box, I tidied and checked the tools. They all need cleaning (I know, I shouldn't have put them away dirty) a job for warmer weather. Only the hand pruners need replacing. I'm very hard on hand pruners and, although extravagant, I like to begin the gardening season with new. I ordered Corona pruners (from Amazon) because Corona Tools gave a gift of snippers to each attendee at the 2015 Garden Writers' Conference in Pasadena and I absolutely love mine. Good marketing strategy, right?

Nearly time to set up the grow lights along the bench for seed starting.

4. Forcing shrubs to flower

I took my trusty snippers and gathered forsythia branches for forcing. I described the method I used in a previous posting:

I added floral preservative to a bucket of warm water and set it on one side. I filled a sink with hot water (but not hot enough to scald my hands) then, holding the stems underwater, I recut each branch at a sever angle a couple of inches above the original cut. Hot water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen which can block water from being taken up, preventing hydration. After recutting the branches, I placed them in the prepared bucket of water and put them in a cool place. I will change the water and add new preservative each week. As the buds start to swell and burst into bloom, I will arrange the branches in vases.

Soon I will add branches of mock orange, crabapple and weeping cherry.

5. Continuing care of houseplants and cuttings.

The cuttings I made last fall are not doing too well. As often happens, I allowed them to dry out too much when I traveled to Arizona. When I set up my grow lights, I will put them under to see if that helps. My houseplants, however, continue to thrive!

 6. Searching for the subtle signs of spring.

I found a sweet snowdrop on February 4 this year. Looking back on my blog postings of previous years: March 15, 2014 "there were no snowdrops" and last year I posted on March 22 that I was "thrilled to find the first snowdrop." My little 2016 snowdrop was six weeks ahead of time! Spring is going to be early; the groundhog was right.

February 4, 2016

A few daffodils are starting to push up shoots and hellebores are full of fat buds. A sign of the milder winter, the roof garden on the bluebird house looks very healthy with no brown succulents.

Bluebirds shelter here from the cold winter wind.

These six activities keep me busy, but I have more. Every day I write: my monthly newspaper article, a blog posting, and/or my book. I prepare for speaking engagements in which I conduct gardening workshops (I have 5 scheduled for March -- whew!) I volunteer at the Extension office, currently reorganizing the Master Gardener Library. When I need to take a break, I relax by the den fireplace and read gardening books and magazines.

Yes, I'm obsessed with everything 'gardening' and I love it!

Pamela x

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dude and Billy: My Gardening Buddies

I'm never lonely when I'm gardening because I have my buddies nearby: Dude, a miniature horse, and Billy, a pigmy goat. The cottage garden is next to the large paddock and the kitchen garden shares a fence with their pasture. They stand by the fence that is closest to where I am working hoping I'll toss a tasty weed their way.

Please don't offend Dude by calling him a pony because, although pony-like in appearance, miniature horses are nevertheless small horses. Dude is 28 inches high. My mother bought him as my retirement gift when he was seven years old, more than 10 years ago. Dude is a triple registered miniature stallion with the registered name Amaretto's Top Dude. A very calm, friendly animal, you can do just about anything with him. His features aren't as refined as some miniature horses, but Dude is all about 'cute.'

Dude was seven years old when we first saw him.

As long as H.H. can remember there were horses at Astolat Farm -- he and his sister rode palominos when they were growing up here. Dude arrived when there were no other animals, therefore we were afraid that as an only child he would be lonely, especially as there were other minis at his previous home. H.H. found a pigmy goat to keep Dude company. Unfortunately, no one told Billy that pigmy goats are supposed to stay tiny like Dude. Billy just 'growed like Topsy.' It's hard to believe, looking at him now, what a cute little kid he was.

Billy came to Astolat a couple of months after Dude

Dude didn't take kindly to Billy at first, fearing he would take his food. When we put Billy in the stall, the horse pushed him (gently with  his nose) out of the stable and into the snow. This was repeated each time we returned the goat to the stall. We put a wooden crate in there as a place where Billy could go for safety. Eventually, Dude accepted him.

With the crate lid closed, Billy feels safe inside. He still squeezes into it today.

Billy began to follow Dude everywhere; now they are inseparable. We're sure Billy thinks Dude is his mother.

We always say we keep animals for the grandchildren but, unfortunately, because of allergies they don't spend too much time with them. We've had fun though, like the horse-themed birthday party I gave when Dude was ten years old. We invited all Dude's best friends including our grandchildren, our nephew and the children who come with their mother to deliver hay. They arrived with gifts of horse treats and carrots. The children played games like 'pin the tail on the mini horse' -- actually a picture of a donkey, but they used their imaginations. H.H. put a saddle over a hay bale and they took turns pretending to ride horse. They whacked a horse pinata hanging from the catalpa tree and scrambled for the candy that fell out. H.H. set up the old gramophone and a vinyl record of Western songs for musical chairs on the lawn. I served a birthday cake with a picture of horses and (Pocono) mountains. The writing on the cake said, "Happy 10th Birthday, Dude" and when H.H. picked it up from the bakery they asked, "Who is Dude?" When he told them Dude was his wife's miniature horse I'm sure they thought we were mad.

Dude enjoyed his tenth birthday party.
Grandson on one of his visits to the farm taking Dude for a walk

One summer, two young white tailed deer spent their days on our property. I sprayed and sprayed all my plants with repellent and they did very little damage. The fawns grazed the lawn with Dude.

They smelled the repellent and didn't eat the shrub ...
... instead they dined with Dude on grass.

Waiting at the paddock fence for me to throw some weeds to them.

Dude and Billy like to romp and play, although now they are older (Dude will be 18 this year and Billy will be 11) they don't cavort as often. When they do chase each other around the paddock they tire more easily and then need a nap.

I told them they looked ridiculous but they didn't care.

Each fall Dude begins to develop a thick winter coat to protect him from the cold to come. He likes to roll in the fall leaves -- especially when I have just groomed him.

Leaves in your mane, Dude?

Here they're eating second-cut orchard hay which is their preference when they are not in the pasture.

Billy loves corn cobs. Actually he eats most anything.

Billy is considered old for a goat now, but Dude should have several more years ahead of him. We talk about getting a baby goat soon so that Dude wont be alone when Billy dies. We are not sure how a third animal will fit in though -- Dude and Billy might gang up on the poor little thing. Our vet thinks we should give it a try. Maybe we will visit 'Last Chance Ranch' a farm animal rescue place near here and see if they have any goats.

 With Dude and Billy I'm never lonely when I'm gardening. Do you have a special gardening buddy?

Pamela x

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Thursday, January 14, 2016


Winter arrived at last. It wasn't much of a snowfall with hardly enough accumulation to measure.
Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Snowflakes poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The temperature dropped to single digits on the Fahrenheit scale. I welcomed the snowflakes but not the cold. Braving the frigid wind to take an early morning walk around the garden, I see that nothing is blooming and the frogs in the pond have decided to hibernate at last. It's at this time of year that I appreciate the evergreens in my landscape. I planted my favorite, the weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies Pendula, in May 2013. This little beauty looks lovely in every season with its dramatic form, dark green needles, and a pendulous growth habit. I am choosing this miniature evergreen tree for January's 'False Bay Dozen' hosted by Diana at Elephant's Eye on False Bay in South Africa.

Weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies Pendula, first winter.
Candles of New Growth in Early Spring

Weeping Norway spruce's first year.

The height of the tree is determined by the height of its stake. It grows more bushy each year, but provides little needed shade for the pond. We planted a zebra grass for shadiness. The grass and the tree provide contrast in texture, color and shape.

Late spring 2015
Summer 2015

The plumes of the zebra grass provide winter interest, but the plant is becoming messy now, so I asked H.H. to cut it down. We are procrastinators, so he will probably wait until the springtime, and that's OK, as long as he does it before its new growth reaches four inches or so.

Plumes of zebra grass against yesterday's blue sky.

Foliage comes into its own in the stark winter landscape, especially the verdure of evergreens. I am linking with Pam at Digging for her 'Foliage Follow Up' on the 16th of the month.

Silvery Russian sage outlined against a biota shrub.

Green vinca leaves under the snow at the base of the hitching post.

January sparkles.
January's bold.
January huffs and puffs.
January's cold.

Author unknown. 

The kitchen garden sleeps.
The fairies need to shovel snow from their front door.

No flowers in my garden, but indoors a lovely surprise: the amaryllis bloomed late, proving that Carol at May Dreams Gardens is right when she says you can have flowers every month of the year. I am linking with Carol for 'Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day' on the 15th.

Amaryllis 'Red Lion'

I was hoping for more blossoms, but I'll take these two beauties.

Please visit Diana's, Pam's and Carol's blogs. My thanks to these three gardening friends for hosting great monthly memes.

Snowflakes are flurrying and the temperature is below freezing, so I'm hunkering down in front of the fire for the rest of the day. It's seed catalog season -- one of my favorite seasons of the year!

Pamela x

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