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Clematis in Bloom

clematis

clematis in bloom

This has been a very rainy May, which is great for young plants. Everything in the garden is growing quickly – literally overnight plants double in size. Green is still the dominant color but there are buds and every day a new flower joins the show. Clematis opened up yesterday with one flower – now there are three.

What do shoes and lettuce have in common?

They both fit nicely in this container:

Growing Lettuce Vertically

Growing Lettuce Vertically

I used potting soil. Since the lettuce is separated into various sections it will be easy to replant as it is used. Right now the weather is cool. It will be interesting to see how this method holds up as it gets hotter.

Out in the front of my house I’m developing a rain garden. A rain garden is a collection of plants with roots that are deeper than lawn grass. When it rains heavily these plants keep the soil firmly in place. It is an opportunity to learn about some native grasses. I’ve added a few different kinds of plants to vary texture and color.

Rain Garden

Rain Garden

As the season progresses some of these plants will bloom. This will be a fun garden to watch. And what is a gardening blog without the occasional superstar – the rose! This beautiful specimen is the latest addition to my garden:

Peach Rose

Peach Rose

Who wouldn’t fall in love with this flower.

Finally, here is a bird’s eye view of the backyard garden plan:

Overview of Backyard Garden

Overview of Backyard Garden

There are many wonderful plants that are out of sight but in this image you can see the overall effect that I’m trying to achieve. My goal is to maximize food production but keep everything beautiful. The crops that are growing include: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, hyssop, tarragon, dill, chocolate mint, chamomile, sunflowers, eggplant, carrots, cucumbers, cantaloupe, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, lemon grass, cilantro/coriander, tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, chives, celery, peas, beans, cabbage, beets, lettuce, chicory, potatoes, raspberries and fennel. The biggest challenge so far is to keep the aggressive plants contained and help the less aggressive plants thrive. I haven’t used any fertilizer yet – only worm compost and coffee grounds. To be accurate I have started many of the seedlings in miracle grow potting mix.

It’s been a long time since I posted anything…

I’m working hard on my garden this Spring. The pond is gone. Why? Many reasons but they can be summed up in a word – my dog likes to eat Koi fish. Without fish the pond is really too much work. But no worries. Soon the space will be home to lots and lots of grapes. Last summer I painted the garage with a mural. It really changed the entire atmosphere of the yard. The colors were dark – and the green plants show up nicely.

back yard patio

The begining of an illusion...

Notice the mural isn’t quite finished. I’m still trying to decide if I want a window into the garage. I’ll finish it this summer. So in the foreground you are looking at parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. They really do fit well together in one container. Only the sage survived the winter and this container was in the greenhouse. The very cold winters are making it hard to save more herbs. The raised beds to the right will soon have cucumber vines, egg plant, beets, and carrots.

spring flowers

another view

The Spring flowers really are spectacular. We’ve had lots of rain lately. The container on the right will grow one very large cabbage plant. Growing food crops in raised beds and containers really discourages the rabbits. The delicate fern in the center just past the logs is asparagus. Every year a few more stalks come up. I suspect it will be ready for harvest next year.

Gardening: Composting

Links:

 

http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/intro.cfm

http://earth911.com/news/2009/08/31/cheat-sheet-composting/

http://home.howstuffworks.com/composting.htm

Gardening: Rain, rain and the garden goes wild!

There has been a lot of rain and the plants are loving it. In just one short month the raspberries have exploded:

raspberries

A few weeks resulted in tremendous growth for the raspberries.

And here is the latest photo from today:

june raspberries

June Raspberries

The pond continues to present challenges. The bleeding heart plant was moved to better show off the dwarf maple tree. The gooseberry bush was moved to stop it from taking over all the space. A new ground cover is being attempted to fill in the area that tends to erode.

Pond Changes

Pond Changes

 

Sometimes you just have to try different approaches until you have the right plants in the right places. Right now there are no fish in this pond. They are easily eaten by wandering creatures during the night. Once these plants have stabilized the next step will be to try lilies again.

My son Paolo has set up hydroponics in the greenhouse. All the fish are safe inside closed doors.

Strawberries Grown Hydroponically

Strawberries Grown Hydroponically

And to finish this posting I would like to share some photos from today of blooming flowers of various types:

Roses and Wild Flowers

Roses and Wild Flowers

Asiatic Lilies and Delphinium

Asiatic Lilies and Delphinium

Gardening: Early Spring Activities

This has been a cold April and it is still too early to plant most types of seeds – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do in the garden. This is a great time to work with your soil – acidify it around the roses, blueberries, rhododendrons and other acid-loving plants, turn it over and aerate it. Add compost to it – build it up in places where it has eroded.

This is also a great time to take some photographs – the before pictures you will use to compare with those taken at the end of the growing season.

The Pond in April

The Pond in April

This scene looks pretty baren. The hostas are just beginning to show some leaves. The gooseberry bus is budding. The pond water has recently melted. The wisteria looks hopelessly tangled. It will be amazing to see how this small space is transformed over the next three months.

Tulips and Daffodils

Tulips and Daffodils

Some of the earliest plants to greet us are the bulbs – tulips, daffodils and other types of bulbs that are planted in the Fall. Having some of these provides some early excitement.

A barren corner

A barren corner

This area is completely brown and lifeless in appearance. Who would guess that honeysuckle is going to take over the fence, forsythia is just about to burst out with yellow flowers and zoysia grass will come to life.

Raised Beds

Raised Beds

This is the time to haul bags of soil and fill in areas that need work. A few bags every year pays off after a few years. A garden is not developed in one season – it takes time to determine what grows best and in what locations. This will be for corn this year. Last year this same space was for beans. Beans are nitrogen producers and corn is a heavy feeder so I practice this simple crop rotation – corn and beans swap spaces each year. Of course Thor believes this is to be his space for rolling in the dirt. Part of the preparation is the fences that must go around the young plants to protect them.

A retaining wall

A retaining wall

Walls like this one are easy to build – no mortar needed. The bricks are notched and hold together well. This area lost a lot of soil last year so I decided a wall would help retain the soil better. All those canes will be rasberries. The rasberries began as only two plants – that was two years ago. Look how they have multiplied.

So the early garden is dominated with the colors of the earth – browns of all shades. Spend some time looking at your space while everything is dorment – this is a time to dream…

 

Gardening and Physical Science 107: Wow – This is such an interesting concept!

Please watch this video about “The Plant” – a sustainable idea!

http://www.plantchicago.com/how-does-the-plant-work/

Gardening: Fall Orange

The mums are in full bloom just as Fall begins. This bunch began as a small plant in the Spring and has trippled in size.

Mums

Mums

In the background you can see ripe tomatoes on the vine. The bushy plant in the back on the left is celery – just in time for celery soup.

And sadly the coy have all been eaten but for some reason the goldfish have escaped this fate. Their orange bodies can easily be seen in this photograph.

Goldfish

Goldfish

The pale lavendar of the hosta in bloom is a nice contrast to the orange fish.

Gardening: August Bounty

I took these photographs a few weeks ago but then the Fall semester started with a very busy faculty development week and I wasn’t able to post the until now. In the Spring when I did the planting it seemed like everything was small. It is hard to imagine what will happen in August – the plants become gigantic – more than one ever expects. Ask yourself this question – where does that mass come from??

Hidden Cucumber

Hidden Cucumber

It is such a delight to forage for what the garden has to offer. Vegetables hide from view to stay protected. Sometimes if you don’t find cucumbers early enough they grow to gigantic sizes – filling up with water. The harvest of cucumbers was excellent. I was able to share the bounty with friends. I learned a new recipe – simply slice them, add some fresh lemon juice, a dash of salt and pepper and enjoy!

Pond: August 2012

Pond: August 2012

The pond continues to be a challenge. Some wild animal has discovered the fish and comes to eat one from time to time. This creature, and I’ve never seen it, seems to leave the goldfish alone but gobbles up the coy. Today I have one coy left.

Herbs, Corn and Broccoli

Herbs, Corn and Broccoli

So far this summer we’ve enjoyed fresh beans, cumcumbers, corn, broccoli, herbs, strawberries, rasberries, tomatos, chili peppers, green peppers, celery, lettuce and potatoes. I would say that is a lot from an urban backyard!

Gardening: Hawks, Raccoons, Sunflowers and a Bonsai

Well disaster struck last week at the pond. Some animal, probably a raccoon, busted up the pond plants and ate two koi. I can’t blame him – but it was disappointing. I think it was a raccoon because there was one-half of a green tomato by the pond. Something brought it all the way from the greenhouse. I’ve replaced the plants and the koi – and I’ve provided a tunnel for the fish to hide out when the beast returns. I’m sure he’ll be back. In the meantime the family of hawks are dining well. I believe they are eating small birds and rabbits.

Hawk on the roof

Hawk on the roof

Next door this red tail hawk has become comfortable. I think he is rather vain. He stayed in front of this mirror for a very long time. There are very few finches in the yard now. I guess they are savvy enough to stay away. Too bad because I have lots of sunflower seeds for the birds to eat.

This hawk is enjoying my neighbor's mirror.

This hawk is enjoying my neighbor's mirror.

The next photograph is a close up of the bonsai juniper. It’s doing well. Apparently nothing wants to eat it (yet).

Juniper

Juniper

Right now is a wonderful time to wander around in the garden. There has been just enough rain to encourage the plants to grow. Most of the plants I have love the heat and the humidity. I still need to water them when we have extra hot days. My sunflowers are taller than the garage now.

Tall Sunflowers

Tall Sunflowers

That’s broccholi growing in the wooden container. Having a backyard garden would not be a good idea for anyone who hates bugs. I have lots of spiders and buzzing insects busy in the garden now. I don’t mind. I love all of it: the plants, the fish, the bugs, the hawks, even the resourceful raccoon. It is amazing to me that this is possible in the city.

 

Gardening: The Gift of Rain

After many weeks of hot, dry weather the rain was very, very welcome! Garden plants soaked up the water and rewarded me with beautiful, green plants that perked up and (if plants could do this) smiled. Thor surveys the garden as he takes his evening walk:

Thor's Walk

Thor's Walk

And because I wasn’t frantically trying to water everything I had some time to look closely as some beautiful flowers. Notice the perfect star shape of the borage flower:

Borage

Borage

Normally these flowers are on stalks that hang downward but this one looked right at me. I also photographed a couple of wild flowers but I’m sorry to say that I do not know the names of these lovely blooms.

White Flower

White Flower

I will point out that water beads up on the surface of the petals – suggesting that the surface is “hydrophobic” which, in spite of the word’s origin, doesn’t mean the surface is afraid of water but only that the polar attractions between water molecules are so much stronger drawing the water up into a shape that maximized water molecule interactions.

Pale Purple Flower

Pale Purple Flower

Wild flowers support so many insects – the entire wild flower garden is buzzing and humming with the activity of many little creatures so don’t begrude this flower its torn petals – it has been feeding minions.

The last photo I have to share is a picture perfect cherry tomato – and the photo is all that is left because I ate it. It was delicious.

Cherry Tomato

Cherry Tomato

It is sitting on the leaf of a sunflower. I feel very grateful for the rain we have had recently. Without water there can be no life!

Gardening: Wildflowers, Pond Plants and Hawks

The drought has been very challenging. Plants need water and without adequate water they die – amazingly quickly. Some plants do better than others. Wildflowers are very drought tolerant compared to cultivated vegetable plants. I’ve been watering my garden every day and hoping rain will fall soon.

Wildflowers in July

Wildflowers in July

Today I released over 1000 ladybugs into the garden. I found out they eat garden pests like aphids and spider mites. I think they will find plenty to eat. I was very pleased when the temperature dropped. A drought is enough of a challenge without 100+ temperature too!

The fish keep cool in the pond. It takes a lot of energy to increase the temperature of water – and that means it takes time for the water temperature to catch up to the air temperature. The pond plants are growing quickly.

Pond in July

Pond in July

I’ve been able to harvest some tomatos and serrano chilies from the greenhouse, lots of rasberries, and chamomile that I am drying to have for tea in the winter. The vegetable plants are growing very slowly. I have a visitor – our neighborhood hawk family. Today one of the hawks was sitting and watching the yard. There used to be a lot of rabbits in our neighborhood. I see fewer of them these days.

Hawk

Hawk

The sunflowers are very tall this year. I found out that sunflowers attract aphids and can help keep them away from other plants. They also feed the birds – and the hawk eats the birds, the ladybugs eat the aphids, so it all works out – everybody eats!

Sunflowers in bloom

Sunflowers in bloom

 

Chemistry and Gardening: Cyanogenic Plants

The mysterious case of the dying cows

Sunny Otake, a chemistry student at Truman, sent this link to me:

http://m.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/cyanide-and-poisoned-cows/

This is a fascinating article on so many levels – and a good illustration of the complexities of problem solving. I hope you will read it and follow some of the links to learn more about cyanide.

Gardening: A Day in June

Today I spent a lot of time outside in the garden. There was a nice breeze and yet no rain. It takes time to water a big garden with a hose. Here’s a problem for you – how many gallons of water are delivered to a home with a lot size of approximately 4000 square feet for a rainfall of one inch?

There are some new blooms in the wildflower garden, including the sunflowers:

Wild flowers in June

Wild flowers in June

Can you identify morning glories, chamomile, monarda, sunflowers and a trumpet vine in the neighbor’s yard?

The corn is starting to look like real corn plants and not just big blades of grass:

Corn in June

Corn in June

The rasberries are turning red. The cherry tomatoes are still green. I saw a serrano pepper today. The peas, beans, broccoli, cumcumbers, carrots and radishes are making progress. The spinach died from too much heat. It was in a black container in direct sunlight. We ate a crop of potatoes so I planted more. All the herbs are doing well – many of these plants are flowering.

Paolo continues to alter the pond. For some reason the algae all died and the water is clear. It happened suddenly. We have no explanation.

Pond in June

Pond in June

We have some theories. Maybe the wisteria finally produced enough shade. Maybe the aquatic plants take up the extra nitrogen. Maybe the strawberry plants grew large enough to take up some nitrogen, maybe the filter was moved and stared to work better. If you look very, very closely you can see one of the goldfish under the lily.

Meanwhile Ritch has been growing flowers in front of the house. They are all in bloom now.

June Flowers

June Flowers

I do hope it rains soon! The answer to the question posed above is 2232 gallons.

 

 

Gardening: Happenings

I am very pleased to share a photo of the very first strawberry grown hydroponically in a system designed by my son, Paolo. I ate it today! It reminded me of the strawberries I had as a child so many years ago – when strawberries had real flavor.

First Strawberry

First Strawberry

There’s more strawberries on the way. Also at the risk of too much alliteration I caught this picture of a very busy bumblebee on the borage.

Busy Bumblebee on the Borage

Busy Bumblebee on the Borage

Borage produces an edible flower. Yes, humans can eat the flowers. You can pick them and use them as garnish on a salad or candy them and use them as cake decorations. They are beautiful star shaped flowers – hard to see here with Mr. Bee enjoying the nectar.

The tomatoes are doing well in the greenhouse. Do they call it a greenhouse because of these green tomatoes? No, of course not! Greenhouses trap heat by being transparent to light but opaque to the lower frequency infrared radiation.

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

Finally it was a real pleasure to take this photograph. An old friend has appeared (or maybe his descendent). A new giant sunflower is emerging. It is rising up out of a garden of wild flowers.

Wild Flowers

Wild Flowers

Notice the many colors, red is for roses, blue is for a variety of different blue flowers. Do you see the white and yellow chamomile? And peeking out from behind the sunflower is red monarda. June is bursting out all over!

Gardening: Yucca in Bloom

Today was a big day in the gardern! Our yucca plant is in full bloom. It took its time but it is very beautiful and worth the wait.

blooming yucca

blooming yucca

Also this was a big day for changes. The tree was seriously trimmed to bring more sunshine into the yard and Paolo is working on a new structure for the pond – a waterfall. This is a project in progress:

Waterfall Under Construction

Waterfall Under Construction

He has also built a bamboo bridge that is lovely and added some aquatic plants.

Gardening: Interlude

During my break between the Spring and Summer terms I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden. It is different every day. There are challenges – like when you plant broccoli and slugs eat the young plants or when spider mites destory the jasmine follage (both of these are being battled with soapy water) but there are also so many rewards.

Hydroponics Planter

Hydroponics Planter

Paolo built a hydroponics system to grow strawberries. It is amazing. It uses a bell siphon to drain the water and fill the trough over and over. The strawberries are planted in a low density clay medium and fed from the goldfish pond. The flowers that are visible in this photo are: roses, clematis, columbine. begonias, and coral bells.

Over the last three weeks some flowers have already come and gone. The tulips are gone and I miss them. They were spectacular. But today I saw my first primerose of the season and a few poppies have greated me every morning.

Wisteria

Wisteria

I can hardly wait for the rasberries. They should begin to appear in June. All of that green, green folliage on the right is rasberry canes. A cane takes two years to bear fruit then it dies. The secret to heathy rasberry plants is to prune the old canes each year. The wisteria forms the purple cannopy over the pond. Can you spot the fennel? It is the light green fern plant on the left of the columbine.

Roses and Lettuce

Roses and Lettuce

Today I cut some lettuce leaves for a fresh salad. I am growing lettuce in a window box. I keep moving it around the yard looking for the best spot. Lettuce does not like to be too hot but it needs lots of sun to grow. There is another giant sunflower in the making for this year!

Recently we visited the Botanical Garderns. What an inspiring place! I started a new bonsai plant (little container) when I came home. I used a maple tree that was trying to grow in the yard. The other bonsai plant is a juniper. It is about four years old.

Yard in Late May

Yard in Late May

This photograph gives you a bird’s eye view of the backyard. Borage is growing all around the rain barrel. Lemon grass is growing in the orange pot. The raised bed has the broccoli – but it also has slugs (yuck). We’ve been putting out containers of beer. It attracks the slugs and they hop in and drown. You can just see the tomato plants in the greenhouse. They’ve grow so fast. Compare what you see to the photo below that was taken in March. Notice the tulips and daffodils – they are all done now.

Yard in Late March

Yard in Late March

So I have to say it is pretty exciting to see so much change so fast. It is a lot of work to develop a garden but it is also incredibly satisfying.

Gardening: What’s blooming

It’s still April but the tulips and daffodils have faded. The columbine is in bloom. It’s come back even bigger and more spectacular this year.

Columbine

Thor is enjoying the pond. He is very pleased it seems to finally be finished. Tonight we released the big goldfish back into the water. I’m sure they are happy to be out of their crowded tank.

The other blooming bud is the allium. It is a relative of garlic, chives and onions.

This kind of flower grows from a bulb. There is more columbine in the background. This plant was recently moved here and is still recovering from shock. Even futher back thyme is filling in as ground cover.

 

Gardening: Annuals

The daffodils and tulips have faded and the most of the perenials have yet to bloom. This is a great time to give a home to some annuals – bursting with color and full of the promise of summer sun.

I have chosen mostly yellow blooms but I’ve created an orange area behind the strawberry planters. In the background of this photo you can barely see the columbine that just bloomed this weekend. Here is a closer look:

It’s the bunch of flowers in the back on the right. There will soon be columbine on the left but this area has less sun and this means the blooms open later. A few mums and a begonia add come orange color. If you look closely on the right in the back you will see celery growing in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is a great place to temporaily keep flowers until you find their special spot.

Paolo is still adding new elements to the pond. He rigged up a strawberry planter to form a gentler water stream. He’s adding rocks to give the pond a more natural appearence.

One of the rewards of spending a lot of time outside is having visitors stop by to let you know they approve of your work. This visitor has been happily grabbing worms as I move the dirt around.

Gardening: Landscaping

Most of the work I’ve done in the garden this year has been about dirt and rocks. Many of the plants I started last year are still there and that is the wonderful advantage of perennials. The main areas in the yard, the ‘rooms’, are the pond, the greenhouse, the herb garden, the bench garden, the roses and berries, the patio and the dog space. Dividing a yard into rooms is one way to organize design and to focus on one area at a time.

The pond has been discussed in this blog before. Here are some links to earlier images:

http://justonly.net/blog/2011/06/gardening-whats-blooming/

http://justonly.net/blog/2011/06/new-developments-in-the-garden/

http://justonly.net/blog/2011/04/gardening-the-pond-problem/

The stella d’oro flowers took over. Paolo wanted to take them all out. The pond kept having problems holding its shape. The dirt (mostly clay) contracts and expands with changes in moisture and temperature. Paolo came up with a novel solution. He fortified the walls of the pond with a wooden bridge.

The chinese maple has come back very nicely this year. The gooseberries are growing well too. The bleeding hearts is a new addition. So is the columbine. Paolo solved the problem of erosion by covering the entire side of the slope with rocks. Once this fills in and the wisteria blooms it will be very beautiful. He has water flowing from the top of the structure holding the wisteria. You can see it as a “dotted line” of water but when you viewed by human eyes it is a continuous stream.

What really needs to happen in this area is growth – bigger plants will stabilize the earth. There are four fish waiting patiently to get back into this pond.

This image is a nice overview of the current status of the yard today.

The wooden bin is planted with broccoli seeds. The irregular green trough will grow peas and beans. The hanging basket will be planted when the temperature stops dropping so low at night. With so many warm days it is hard to remember that it isn’t May yet. Right now it is raining. The ground was very, very dry so this is wonderful! April showers bring May flowers!


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