Monday, August 31, 2009

Hoe vs. Hoe

Carol at May Dreams Gardens recently held a contest to win a new CobraHead hand hoe. The CobraHead company very generously awarded CobraHead Weeder and Cultivators (hand hoes) to all entrants. I received by CobraHead over the weekend. Today I had the chance to compare the CobraHead hoe head to head with two of my old favorite hoes.

This is the CobraHead hoe.

This is my Old Hoe, type and brand unknown, bought cheaply at a big box retailer years ago.

This is my other favorite hoe, the Hand Hoe. Pictured is the left handed version. I usually use a right handed version but this was the one available for photographing today.

First the Beauty Contest.

The CobraHead is nice and new, with an epoxy coating on the blade and a handle of recycled plastic strengthened with flax.

My Old Hoe has a dirty head that has lasted for years and years and stayed sharp with little (or more likely no) sharpening.

I don't have a clue what the handle is made from but it has lasted well.

My Hand Hoe has also lasted for years and is starting to show wear. It frequently has dirty nails (I cleaned it up for the shoot).

The winner here is undoubtably the CobraHead. It's sleek, it's sexy, it's clean!

The Googly Eye Contest (if you haven't seen the googly eye Christopher Walken SNL plant skit watch it here!).

The CobraHead just cried out for googly eyes on the head.

My Old Hoe also looks interesting with googly eyes, both in profile

and face on.

My Hand Hoe does not look good with googly eyes.

The winner of the Googly Eyes portion of the competition? The CobraHead comes in First, with the Old Hoe a close Second and the Hand Hoe a distant third.

Testing for Function.

Fortunately I had a few weeds available for testing. First up, the CobraHead.

My soil is very loose and I found that when following directions I pushed the head deeper into the soil than needed. This may be self correcting with practice.

Next up, the Old Hoe.

Notice how small the hole it leaves is.

Last up, the Hand Hoe.

Notice how little it disturbs the soil despite removing the roots.

Hands down the Hand Hoe worked quickly and efficiently in my loose garden soil, second place goes to the Old Hoe with the CobraHead leaving a lot of disturb soil in its wake.

Next test - grass removal.

OK, so only the Old Hoe works here.

The Old Hoe also works for digging small planting holes and can be used to cut small to moderate sized tree roots.

Final results? I'll probably go on using my hands to pull small weeds, the Old Hoe for removing grass under shrubs and around perennials where I didn't pull enough out before planting and I'll try the CobraHead a few more times before hanging it up in the garage. Maybe I'll figure out how to use it effectively. Maybe not. I suspect this hoe would work much better in heavy clay type soils.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


It's easy to look at a garden and see what needs to be done but much harder to look and see what you've accomplished. Here is the current state of my garden. When I moved into this house in February it was all grass lawn and foundation plantings (well, it was covered with snow but under the snow...).

My goal for the front yard is to have no grass, just a bed near the sidewalk with shorter plants and a bed in front out the house, separated by a path. I'm making good progress on the bed by the sidewalk, although the fennel is larger than I'd like and I'll have to move it, and there's an aster that is overcrowded and...

What I'm not sure about are the foundation plants. Most of them have to move. Many get too big for the space and most are actually touching the house. I've already removed the boxwoods and replaced them with gold threadleaf cypress by the front door (this is a plant my husband particularly likes). I hope to keep the hollies at the corners of the house, we'll see how big they get without regular pruning.

I'm planning to try and move the Pieris to the back yard and the pale pink azaleas that bloomed for less than a week are going to that big compost heap in the sky (well, it's in the backyard...). The question is what do I replace them with?

I don't want anything I have to prune to keep it below the windowsills. That rules an awful lot out. I don't like boxwoods on principle (too overplanted, too boring). I don't have a lot of garden space so every plant has to count. Boxwoods would just make a nice green background. That's not enough to earn a space in this garden.

Should I strive to find a very low growing evergreen (there's only 3 feet below my windows)? Should I look for a blooming deciduous shrub? Should I do the same plant all the way across or mix it up? I don't want it to be one-of-each but maybe two types of shrub? Or I could get really wacky and not put shrubs in at all! Put a nice strong perennial like Baptisia (false indigo, one of many plants called false indigo, hence the latin name) that looks shrub-like during the summers and plant other perennials around. I'm thinking of moving the fennel back against the house and maybe planting that zebra Miscanthus. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Meanwhile the shrubs that are touching the house gotta go soon. We need to get the outside painted and I'd like to see that done before winter sets in.

Maybe I'll leave the beds empty all winter and decide in the spring.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tomato Trouble

When I went out into the garden today I discovered quite a surprise in my tomato patch. One of my plants was missing nearly half its leaves! What could have done this?

I looked closer.

This didn't look like deer damage (and I don't think deer like tomatoes), definitely not a rabbit (which would have eaten near the ground) or a squirrel (which would have taken bites out of the tomatoes but left the plants. I had a small mystery on my hands. I like mysteries. Well, I like reading mysteries.

So I looked closer and found...

A tomato hornworm. I'd never seen one before. It's quite large!

Tomato hornworms are the caterpillar stage of the Sphinx moth and can cause a lot of damage to a small vegetable patch. So I did what I always do in situations like this, grab the camera and look it up on the Internet. There is a lot of hatred toward tomato hormworms out there, lots of talk about how to kill them and how to avoid getting them in the first place (when I looked further I found that marigolds don't work and the theory behind planting in a different spot next year doesn't seem sound since this is just one stage of a life cycle and the same animals probably won't be back next season, unless in the form of the moth).

Now this got me thinking about vegetable gardens and gardening philosophy. I don't grow a lot of vegetables. I don't need to, there are good quality organic vegetables available near-by (even tomatoes that were picked today). My husband has a good job and I'm highly employable and will probably get a job next year (after some important stuff is done to our house) so we have enough money for high-quality, relatively expensive food.

I do like a fresh tomato while I'm in the garden but I have plants in several spots and LOTS of tomatoes right now so this one guy isn't going to decimate my crop.

I believe that humans (myself included) leave a large footprint upon the Earth. I like to take long, hot showers, turn the heat up in winter and leave the computer on when I'm not using it but I'm home and I might get back to it soon.

I believe that nature, the environment and wild things are important.

So I welcome all manner of living things into my garden. I don't use pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers that could wash into local waterways. I try to choose plants that will thrive with little supplemental watering. I try to plant at least some plants that benefit the local pollinators or birds. I avoid plants that I know will escape cultivation and crowd out native plants that local wildlife depends upon. And I left the hornworm where it was.

I can't make a tomato hornworm so how can I justify destroying one just for the sake of a few tomatoes that I want but don't need?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Three reasons to grow Parsley

1). It makes an attractive addition to the garden, especially at the edge where it stays nice and low the first year (the second year it will produce taller blooms and it will not come back for a third year, although it will reseed in the garden).

2). Added to garlic-heavy dishes flat leaf (Italian) parsley is said to reduce garlic breath.

3). Swallowtail Butterflies are attracted to it. Parsley makes a great food for swallowtail caterpillars like the one below. I haven't seen many swallowtails in the garden and only a few caterpillars so I was very happy to find this one this morning, munching away.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flower Power

Sedum x 'Autumn Fire' is getting ready to bloom in my garden

This isn't exactly a typical Flower Power post. Most of the images I have posted today are of foliage (a few flowers, gotta have them). There is a link from the Garden Rant Blog to a list of hard truths about gardening (two lists, actually). These lists are worth checking out, try here and here for the lists. One of the comments was about how foliage is important in your plant choices so here's some foliage for you enjoyment.

Bronze Fennel. I can't resist photographing this plant. It just makes such interesting images in the lens.

Miscanthus sinensis, or Zebra Grass. This is one plant I hesitate about planting. Miscanthus is invasive in many parts of the country and can be a fire hazard. I'm growing it in a pot and removing the blooms in an attempt to control it. Not sure if I'll put it in the ground eventually or not. I'll still researching whether this might be a problem here in New England.

Spirea 'Magic Carpet' - one of my absolute favorite plants. Not only does it have a long bloom period, not only is it attractive to pollinators (including butterflies) but it also has this great color in the new growth and it's easy to find and easy to grow.

Artemesia schmidtiana 'Nana' can be aggressive but I've got it in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, where I plant lots of aggressive plants because the conditions are quite challenging.

African Blue Basil. I love the dark veining and grow it as an ornamental.

This is a nice little Saxifraga arendsii (not sure of the variety, possibly called 'Magic Carpet') that seems to be surviving in the strip between the sidewalk and the street.

This Mexican Feather Grass, Nassella tenuissima, is not rated for my zone so I'm growing it as an annual. It is a warm weather plant that has the potential to become a problem in California. It is spectacular in large swaths. I'm using it in little planting pockets by the garage, surrounded by paving. Maybe the paving will keep that area warm all winter and it'll come back. If not I'll probably buy it again next spring. It's worth buying yearly.

It's peak bloom time in my garden and I couldn't resist including this image of Coreopsis 'Zagreb' and Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue'

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Copertina.' A striking plant with dark, dark foliage, a great background for some lighter colors.

Cornus hesseyii 'Garden Glow' Imagine a small dogwood bush with golden leaves and you've got this plant. I love the brightness chartreuse foliage brings to the garden.

I just love the architectural characteristics of Bronze Fennel.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bugging me in the garden

Today I thought I would write a post about what's bugging me in the garden (Sorry for the use of the pun). Surprising to many people one of the things that bugs me is that I don't have enough insects. I'm lacking in diversity and sheer numbers in most categories. Bees and wasps are showing up in good number, though. Hopefully as my garden ages and the pesticides the previous homeowner used are diluted away I'll start seeing more.

Is this bee bugging me? Heck, no. I like bees in the garden - they help pollinate my vegetables! Look how this one's leg sacs are full of pollen. Bees are in a lot of trouble, both the native and the introduced honey bee. Part of the problem is overuse of pesticides (are you detecting a theme by this blogger?), part is (like most wildlife) habitat destruction. The bees are welcome on my Pycnanthemum muticum (mountain mint).

How about this wasp? Is it bugging me? No, look at the brilliant sheen on the wings, it's a dark blue when the light hits it just right. With blue being one of my favorite colors how could I not like such a beautiful creature?

OK, how about THIS wasp? Don't be ridiculous. Look at the contrast between the orange and the black. This is a total Halloween wasp and I like high contrast and Halloween. This gorgeous girl is welcome on my Bronze Fennel.

Well, surely THIS wasp bugs you? Nope. Look closely and you'll see the tiny wasp waist. Looks unreal doesn't it? Wasps occur in a group called Hymenoptera (along with bees and ants). This order is known for it's interesting social structures and for being beneficial to the home gardener. I've already mentioned pollination but they also predate on many harmful insects and ants are great at loosening the soil.

So we've determined that Hymenoptera are welcome in my garden (except for yellow jackets, who are too aggressive and since my husband is allergic they have to go), what about other bugs. Oh, wait. Hymenoptera are not bugs, they're INSECTS. Bugs refers to a specific group of insects. I haven't yet found any bugs in my new garden.

One thing that is bugging me in the garden are the dragonflies. Not because they are there but because they are being so difficult to photograph! I caught this one resting on the host and was able to get one shot (a grab shot) before it flew off.

I have several species of dragonfly flitting around my yard all afternoon, blue, green, black and white, some HUGE ones that must be 6 inches and fly around the roof of my house at dusk, but these last two are the only ones who held still for a good photo session. I guess I'll have to keep trying.

Oh, yeah. What's bugging me is that I never took an entomology class in college and don't know much about insects. Maybe I'll have to go back and take one as continuing education. I wonder if Harvard has an entomology class...

I'll leave you with more dragonfly photos from my cooperative pair.