Friday, February 28, 2014

What are Your Favorite Garden Gloves?

I don't know what I'll do without a good pair of waterproof gardening gloves this spring. My favorite brand, West County, is in the process of re-designing their waterproof model, but it won't be ready until mid-summer. 

Apparently, long-time users like me wrote to the company asking what happened to their wonderfully long-lasting waterproof gloves. My original pair lasted me three seasons, a major feat for gloves in my gardening arsenal!

I bought a new pair last spring, and after using them a few times, carefully washed them. I even put them in one of those mesh bags and set the machine on delicate. When I took them out of the wash, most of inner finger fabric had disintegrated! The backs of the gloves look brand-new.



West County work glove after washing.
I spoke via email to representatives of West County, and they told me they will be selling out of the old waterproof model until the improved model is ready to be released, hopefully this summer.

West County makes lovely gloves otherwise. For example, their all-purpose Work Glove is comfortable, fits well and is durable, even after several washings.

West County also has redesigned its work glove, adding some extra features and improving its fit. They have sent me a pair of the redesigned Work Glove, which I have hanging in my closet awaiting the great snow melt.

From left: Work, Classic and Rose gloves sent to me by West County
to try this summer.
Also hanging around waiting for spring is the Rose Glove, purportedly made with better fabric than its predecessor, which also had durability issues in their first wash in my machine. Gloves like these give me that wonderful unstoppable feeling--at least above the waist--required to blast through seriously thorny roses.

West County also sent me a pair of the Classic model, designed with a cuff that looks like the perfect foil for dirt and other debris. I can't wait to try them, as debris can't wait to launch itself down into my gloves while I'm gardening.

While I'm on the subject of gloves, I have also been using Woman's Work and Mud Gloves for the past couple of years, and I can recommend them for light gardening work.


Woman's Work High-Performance Glove
To me, calling the Woman's Work glove that I use the most a High Performance glove is fine if it means that it is long-lasting and durable. But when I'm about to do some serious digging, this is not the glove I reach for. The glove is great if you don't plan on shoving your hands into the dirt, but in my experience, planning isn't a priority when you're about to dig a hole for a new plant in an already over-filled garden. Don't get me wrong, as you can see from the photo, the Woman's Work High Performance glove has been well-used. It's just that one of the features that makes it comfortable for warm-weather use also makes it vulnerable to encroaching dirt.

Mud Gloves drying out for their next soil skirmish
If I am about to get into a serious soil skirmish on a hot day, I am more likely to grab the Mud Glove, which is probably one of the best values in the glove world. For under $10 a pair, and often under $8, you can afford to have a few so that there will always be a pair at the ready.

I'll have to research waterproof glove alternatives for spring. I need a pair that is flexible, durable, warm and at least water resistant. I hope that isn't too much to ask. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations, I would really appreciate a comment.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Siberian Iris Make Great Flower Combinations

 
Siberian Iris 'So Van Gogh'
Peony 'Yellow Doodle Dandy'
Timing is everything when creating plant combinations. Like finding that perfect scarf or tie containing colors included in your existing wardrobe, choosing a new plant should be done with a garden's current lodgers in mind.

When those current closet denizens are classics—the little black dress or grey pinstripe, for instance—their quality must remain in evidence, while accessories should not overstep their accentual bounds.
Siberian iris can cross over from accent to classic and back again if it’s made up of one dominant color. But once it enters the bi-color arena, it becomes boisterous bling.
I fell in love with a Siberian called 'So Van Gogh', which I saw in full, beautiful bloom at Sebright Gardens in Oregon.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'
‘So Van Gogh’ has the presence to capture everyone’s first glance. Its two predominant colors—yellow gold and sky blue—fall into opposite sides of the color wheel, making them complementary as well as hard to ignore.
Nature isn’t nearly as strict a taskmaster as we are where color-matching is concerned. Picture ‘So Van Gogh’ with a yellow peony and a solid blue Baptisia. All are very long-lived in the garden, requiring division every five years or never in the case of the peony, and never on part of the Baptisia.

The Siberian iris can go longer than the bearded types, which cover the ground with chubby rhizomes. Siberians have fibrous roots that grow out from the center, forming new plants from the newest roots, leaving the center starved for moisture, light and nutrients. Siberians can go four years or more before they clamor for division, depending on how large the plant is originally.
Siberian iris 'Silver Edge' in its fourth year.

Siberian iris 'Sky Wings'
I purchased a good-sized pot of Iris s. ‘Sky Wings’ in the spring of 2009. It bloomed beautifully for the next three years, but in 2013 its center was completely bare, requiring me to cut it half and divide the half I dug up. This maneuver is best done in fall.

Siberian iris 'Roaring Jelly' in its fourth year.
That same year I received five more varieties of Siberians from Roots and Rhizomes. Each plant was tiny, so it took about four seasons before they began to make a show.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Plants and Planting Indoors for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

The only flicker of hope that we'll ever see spring is the dripping of the icicles. Dave shoveled a few tons of snow off just the back half of the roof today. "See, if we really needed a new roof, it would have caved in under the weight," he reported.

We've been going back and forth about the need for a roof, a need we've had for the past 12 years at least. But that's a story for another day.

I called my sister just to catch up and she told me all about the insurance she has for short term illness, long term illness, and nursing care. I'm happy for my younger sibling, but it didn't do much for my under insured self's mood.

AeroGarden Extra seeded with basil on Jan. 31.

No worries. I have an Aero Garden. Billed as the fool-proof, dirt-free garden, the unit couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

The company, called AeroGrow, sent me the AeroGarden Extra, which retails for just under $200. It came with lights that can be raised as the plants grow, a large water reservoir, seeded pods, fertilizer, and automated timer for the pump and light functions.

Two weeks after setting it up, I'm seeing true leaves and roots.


Two weeks after seeding, most of the pods had several sprouts.
It calls for a top-off of water and fertilizer at two weeks. I also cut the sprouts back to one per pod. I don't need that many basil plants, and I'm looking forward to starting other seeds.

The AeroGarden calls for a different light and pump time schedule for germination than it does for active growing, so I'll have to see if I can, say, germinate kale and lettuce while the basil is growing to harvestable size.

Little Fiskars snips are perfect for removing extra seedlings.
Today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when garden bloggers all over the world talk about what is going on in their own gardens. It's a great way to compare notes, especially on a wintery day in February.

Every time I look out the window and into the white abyss, I can look back at my happy, shiny AeroGarden. Today as I snipped out the extra seedlings from each pod, I could smell the basil. And with that smell of something growing comes the assurance that, some day, our cold, white world will once again be green.
After just two weeks, the root growth is impressive.


Please visit May Dreams Gardens, where blogger Carol Michel, who also lives in Indiana and laments the white of winter. Carol is the host of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. I'm grateful she came up with it because it's really easy to get a little down when you fear your roof will be coming down on you any minute.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Life and Times of a Bored Terrier

We have been feeding birds year-round for at least a decade. The activity has its ups and downs, but I discovered a new downside this year. When we discovered how deer can suck down the contents of any feeder within reach in a matter of seconds, I came up with what I thought was an ingenious idea.

About one third of our backyard is surrounded by a fence. Inside the fence is the "girls' yard," the girls being Olive, Abbie and Poppy, our three dogs. Outside the fence is "my garden." It seemed a no-brainer to put the feeders in the girls' yard, as it is a sector in which we've yet to see a deer venture, and squirrels are at least harassed if not vanquished. It also cleared our consciences to know our part-time cat Maurice didn't often visit the girls' yard.
Feeder activity in the girls' yard.

bird stick
What I didn't predict was Abbie's predilection for bird seed. This year it turned into  an eating disorder combined with an obsession. She would spend a big part of her day grazing beneath the feeders, snarfing up sunflower, hemp, nyjer, and anything else in the mix. I started seeing "leavings" that looked just like those bird sticks made with a bird seed coating around a sticky middle.

When you have more than one dog, it's often difficult to track down the perpetrator of any dysfunctional activity. All three of them snacked on feeder debris, but not all of the leavings were seed-coated.
Dog with eating disorder.

Dog-owners know that many dogs operate under the belief that they should eat everything that smells good (and here, "good" is relative.) and let their stomachs sort it out. And while some dogs fall into the category of stomachs with legs, many do not.

Long time dog-owners also know that some dogs like to "recycle." When Abbie yakked up a pile of sunflower seed hulls, I started to worry. And when we found a huge, incredibly gross and smelly puddle of puke on the dining room rug, I became really concerned. (The rug was washable, but think twice about going to any laundromat.)

I turned to Google, and found several references to dogs eating bird seed. While most were of the opinion that, in moderation, bird seed snacking was no big deal. The best bottom-line answer came from syndicated pet columnist Steve Dale , who addresses the fact that wild birds carry diseases. I learned that, beneath any bird feeder you'll find not only seeds and hulls, but disease vectors in the form of bird droppings. I doubted the girls were avoiding seeds so tainted.

I cut off the girls' food for a day and then started them with a cottage cheese-rice medley for a couple of days. We moved the feeders outside the girls' area, requiring that Dave bring them in at night and put them back out in the morning to avoid feeding the deer. But I'm no longer seeing those bird sticks on the ground, and have found no more disgusting former stomach contents on the floor.
Abbie loves exploring the outdoors.

Abbie is a Cairn terrier. She's an "earth dog" bred for digging things (usually rodents) up from the ground. She loves to hide under a big arborvitae in her yard and has come close to undermining its foundation with her covert excavations.

I think she misses the soil and bemoans the loss of access to the unparalleled feeling of mud between her toes as she digs for treasure in her yard. How do I know this? She has recently taken to scraping the soil from the base of any plants unfortunate to be in pots at her level. I really need to get her out more. I think her eating disorder has transitioned to a whole new level.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Easy Color on Indoor Plants

December is colorful enough on its own in my house. The Christmas tree does a respectable job brightening up a portion of the house. In square footage, the tree exceeds any blooming houseplant I've ever grown. So, I am charting the time in bloom for a few potted bloomers that now share my home. The Ornithogalum has bitten the dust. And by that I mean it no longer can be thought of, by any stretch of the imagination, as attractive. It stayed bright and perky for about three weeks, or from December 27 until around January 24. I paid $20 for it at my local supermarket.

Porphyrocoma pholiana Maracas on Dec. 20, 2013
For sheer bang for the buck, I have another candidate in mind. I purchased Porphyrocoma pholiana 'Maracas' (Brazilian fireworks) in early June at a garden center and added it to a hanging pot along with some Begonias. Its leaves had a nice silvery sheen, and I figured, even if it didn't bloom, it would offer a pretty accent. As overshadowed as it eventually became by September, it gave me a couple of blooms. Feeling the poor thing had been cheated out of a chance to shine, I popped it out of its hanging residence and put it in an indoor planter. It didn't disappoint me.

Porphyrocoma pholiana Maracas on January 4, 2014
Porphyrocoma pholiana Maracas on February 13.
What's really cool about this little plant is that, although its purple flowers last for just a day, its bracts, which are a bright magenta, are very long-lived. This plant likes heat, so I think it must be happy in its spot on my heating mat, where it's been since I potted it up in October. It's actually in too large a pot, so I might be adding something to the pot that I'll talk about later.

Brazilian fireworks makes a great houseplant, its flower stems expanding upward and outward as it ages. I have it a south window on a Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat. I have been feeding it a dilute solution of water soluble fertilizer each time I water. It requires more water than it would if it weren't on the heat mat, but still, I use the pencil method to see if its soil is dry.

Sharpen a pencil and stick it about 2-3 inches into the soil. Pull it out and look at the wood around the pencil tip. If it's dry, water the plant. If it's wet, wait.

I paid under $10 for this plant, and it's given me quite a performance--eight weeks as a houseplant, and just as many in its hanging home in late summer.
Porphyrocoma might not be the newest kid on the block, but it adds a great tropical look to outdoor planters, and color on a winter's day indoors. I think perhaps I will curb my enthusiasm for mixed planters where this guy is concerned and let it occupy a pot by itself. It's not a fast grower, and it only reaches about 10 inches high. I can't wait to see how big I can get it by mid-May when it can take up its outdoor residence.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When Considering Views: Think FROM the house, not OF the house

One of the best compliments I've received about my garden was this: "Oh, yours is the house nestled in the trees." It came from a neighbor I then invited over for a visit to the back garden, which happened to be in full Peony form on a Memorial Day several years ago.

Our house was built in the '60s, so its surrounding trees are mature. Luckily for us, the former owners had valued trees, planting a Kousa dogwood in front of the house, yews and arborvitae on the eastern edge, and cranberry viburnum at the edge of the woods.

Since we moved in, three more houses were built on our block, two of them careful to save several mature pin oaks already occupying the lots. One house had a clean slate on which to build, the lot's former owner having cleared it and planted grass.

The two homes built amidst the oaks fit into the landscape beautifully, and look as if they'd grown up with the trees.

The house built on the empty lot seems to be saying, "Look at me! I'm new and big and the most important thing on the block."

The others say, "I'm in partnership with the trees." These residents keep the trees' roots cool and their trunks undamaged by lawnmowers. The trees offer shade on the hottest days, music from their resident bird population, tons of color, and mulch for lawn and gardens.

Sure, a few of my neighbors complain when it's time for the leaves to fall. Our neighborhood is well beyond the "mulch it with a lawnmower" stage. Huge vacuum trucks come by to suck up mile-high piles of leaves several times in October and November.

An aerial view of the area I can see from my front picture window.
Some houses in the community have been "professionally landscaped," with 'Stella d'Oro daylilies, miniature spruce and Spirea huddled up close to the foundation. Sometimes they'll end up with a river birch or purple-leaf plum plopped down in the center of the front lawn.

Ok, I'm guilty of harboring a row of boxwood beneath our living room picture window. I keep meaning to do something about them, but that would mean spending time near the window, which is in dire need of replacement. If I took out the boxwoods, unwelcome attention would be drawn to the hideous window. Plants can cover or at least camouflage a multitude of unfortunate events in household upkeep. Which is another good thing about having a house in the midst of the trees.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Curb the Insanity with houseplants!

Yellow shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus auratus)
Like Alice, I've fallen down the rabbit hole. Unlike Alice, I've landed inside a snow globe that has been set to constant shake mode. Or perhaps I was kidnapped by aliens and dropped off in Minnesota. There are nearly two feet of snow on the ground, which makes traipsing out to the bird feeders a little dicey. I know I'm not the only one more ready than ever for spring to arrive. And that's all I'll say about that.


Let's focus on what's happening indoors. The Ornithogalum I purchased about a month ago is fading, its stems stretching and then drooping. Soon the potted bulbs will be relegated to an obscure section of the house so I can hopefully knock them out of the pot and replant them in few months after the foliage has died down. Supermarkets in my area have been stepping up their offerings in the potted plant section. It's where I found the Ornithogalum for $20.

 
So just last week I found a gorgeous orchid with lots of buds for just $9.99. They had just arrived a day before, so I knew they hadn't been sitting around too long. I added a paper wrapper over the cellophane cover already on it and took it to my car on a day the wind was blowing 30 mph, creating a wind chill of well below zero. The unnamed Phalaenopsis made it home and is happily living in my office.





The Hippeastrum have been a mixed bag of success and disappointment. So far, the only one to sport flowers has been the variety called 'Pavlova'. The white double form increased from one large and several small bulbs to three large bulbs and several medium sized. I'd purchased it last year along with two others, with two blooming nicely around the end of January.

'Pavlova' sent two flower stems up from one bulb and one from the other. The other 'Pavlova' bulbs put out leaves only.

I'm looking forward to treating all of the Hippeastrum bulbs a bit differently this year. I've been putting them out on my patio for the summer in the pots they were in during winter bloom. They were watered when I thought of it, sometimes with water-soluble fertilizer but mostly without. The stem broke off the bulb on one of the 'Pavlova' blooms, and so I'm just letting it live out its life in a vase.