Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keeping Up With The Jones'

If you watch television, read magazines or otherwise get exposed to pop culture you are exposed to advertisements encouraging you to Keep Up With The Jones'.  They tell you, (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) that you need to have the newest car with the highest horsepower (acceleration or payload or pulling capacity) and most gadgets (bluetooth).  Never mind that you live in a suburb and seldom get up to highway speeds due to traffic you really NEED to be able to drive fast.

Gratuitous Flower Image.  This is a Lewisia cotyledon.  I love the color.

In Gardening you see this with actors hanging their heads in shame because they have *GASP* dandelions in their yard.  All of their neighbors mock them for not having a "perfect" monoculture.  Once they get rid of the dandelions (by buying this product or hiring that company) they are the most popular people on the block.  Really?  Do you decide whether you like your neighbors based on the presence or absence of weeds in their lawn?  If so, this is not the blog for you.  You won't like me!  (hey, you say, you're shunning people based on their opinion of your lawn care!  Yeah, so what?  I can have double standards.)
This is a gratuitous shot of the whole plant of Lewisia cotyledon.  It's a rock garden plant so I'm hoping it does well in my Hell Strip.  It's new and I'm excited about it so I just had to put up some pictures even though they have nothing to do with today's topic.

This type of mentality is good for people who are trying to sell you something but generally it's bad for you, your wallet and the environment (ha!  It's Earth Day.  I snuck this in on you, didn't I?).  Buying things seldom makes anyone happy and trying to keep up with what the advertisers tell you that you should buy isn't going to work - they're just going to keep changing that bar, making you need to spend more money to catch up to the Jones', meanwhile the Jones' have declared bankruptcy...  Do you really want to keep up with them?

Gratuitous Tulip Golden Parade

So on this Earth Day think about WHY you're spending money, WHY you're putting pesticides and herbicides on your law, WHY you're trying to keep up with the Jones'.

Gratuitous Tulipa sp. Tinka

P. S. Don't try to keep up with me, either.  Here on the Edge I push boundaries a lot.  I have already (are you sitting down? brace for it) planted tomatoes.  But, but, but, you're in New England you say?   The locals say not to plant tomatoes before Memorial Day.  Yeah and there is a chance of a frost in the next month, our average date of last frost is in early May, still a couple of weeks away.  But the 10 day forecast is warm, the tomatoes were on sale and I decided to, once again, push the boundaries.  Worst case scenario it frosts (or even snows!) and the tomato plants die and I'm out $5.  Hmm...  That doesn't really sound all that bad does it?  Best case scenario the spring continues warm and I get fresh tomatoes early in the season.  Small risk, high reward.  Worth the gamble.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Make Up Monday

Last week on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and Foliage Follow Up day I was working hard to get plants in the ground before the rains came.  I managed and the rain arrived on schedule so everything got well watered in.  So today I'm going to post a few more pictures to add to the photographic celebrations of all things garden.  See if you can guess which pictures go with which day.

Tulip humilis Odalisque, actually a bit more of a purple-red than it appears on my monitor

This one is a Darwin Type Tulip (either Hollandia or Cum Laude) that I included for a specific reason.  Look closely at the bud(s).   Do you see how the two stems are conjoined?  I have a Siamese Twin Tulip!

Tanacetum coccineum James Kelway.  This is why I label my plants.  How else should I identify this one from just the freshly uncurling foliage.  Pretty cool looking, though, huh?

Tradescantia Sweet Kate.  What's that?  I'm cheating?  I've already posted this plant this spring?  No I haven't.  No, you're mistaken.  Wait, don't check!  Oh, all right I'm busted.  But I really like the spring foliage of this one and I couldn't resist.  Do I get credit for posting a NEW photo of a plant I've already posted?

If I'm going to get busted for reposting I'm going to repost some more.  Here is my Brunnera Jack Frost.  I think I might have even posted images last week but it has really burst into bloom over the weekend.

Last year I dug some wild violets from a neighbors yard.  Amazingly I didn't have ANY (I had a nice chemical stew toxic lawn instead.  This one looks like it can't make up its mind which color flowers to produce.

A mated pair of Red Lily Beetles on (guess what) a lily.  Uh-oh.  These beetles are supposed to be voracious destroyers of lily plants.  I guess I won't be growing lilies.  Too bad.  I planted several varieties last fall.  But I won't grow a plant if I HAVE to use pesticides.  I was using them as a fill in anyway, in a spot that will be filled in by a pair of shrubs in a few years.

Still.  Darn it.  I like lilies.

This is one of my Physocarpus opulifolius (ninebark) Coppertina shrubs.  Below is the other.

See a difference?  There is a HUGE difference between these two.  The lower one kept some leaves all winter (dried up but still attached) and is more open in habit and has some yellowish greenish color in the inner portion of the leaves.  The upper one is much darker leafed, lost all its leaves in the winter and has stems and leaves closer together.  I bought them at different times so there is a chance they are different varieties.  Or what I'm seeing could be individual differences (they are planted next to each other so the conditions are similar).  It'll be interesting to watch over the next few years and see what happens.

Lastly one of my favorite new discoveries.  This is Cornus hesyii Garden Glow.  The foliage will stay nearly this color all summer and the stems were red all winter.  It does have some buds so I'll get to see the blooms (and hopefully fruit) this year.  Honestly I don't care about the blooms on this plant.  This bright chartreuse foliage looks like this in a shady spot next to the back of the house.  What a wonderful punch of color. 

Now it's time for a quiz.  Which pictures are for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and which are for Foliage Follow Up?  One of them is a trick question.

(I bet my students would like a quiz like that!  Instead it's Cellular Respiration week.  They thought photosynthesis was bad, I know a lot more about this topic.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Foliage Follow Up

I blew it.  Well, kind of.  I was so busy getting my plants from Bluestone Perennials in the ground yesterday that I failed to take pictures for Foliage Follow Up day.  But I did get everything in the ground before the rains came so that is a big success. 

Some of these pictures are from earlier this month.  I hope you will excuse that and any re-runs that happen to be posted.
Veronica austriaca Trehane  What a perfect Spring Green.

Spirea X Magic Carpet.  Want to fly away?  Not me.  Not during Spring anyway.  Check back with me next winter and I'll be glad to go as long as we're going somewhere warm.

Sprirea X Golden Princess. What a nice contrast to Magic Carpet.  The great thing about these Spireas at this time of the year is the color they provide to an as yet not quite awake perennial border.

I hope you'll forgive me for this one.  I like the image.  This is a Bleeding Heart (Dicentra sp.).  I took this about two weeks ago.  This plant is now in bloom and the leaves are green. 

Tulip forgot-which-one-I-planted-here.  Still interesting foliage.  I'm still waiting for it to bloom so I can identify which Tulip it is.  I only ordered a few last year (cough, cough).

Thanks to Pam at Digging for this meme.  I hope she's not offended that I spent yesterday actually working in the garden rather than thinking about blogging.

Hi, my name is Diana and I am an addict.  My drug of choice?  My garden.  (I just don't have any desire to 'cure' myself of this addiction)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

April 15 that most look forward to day of the month.  No, not tax day (that would be the most dreaded day for those of you who procrastinate too much), it's GARDEN BLOGGERS BLOOM DAY.

Up first is an interesting Daffodil I got from Brent and Becky's called Trepolo.

Lots of Pansies.  These are some of this years plantings.

Pansies and viola.  These pansies I planted last fall and the viola were from last spring.

I have several types of Columbine.  This is Aqueligia canadensis Little Lantern that is planted in a warm spot.  My other A. canadensis have buds but no blooms today.  Maybe in a few more days.

This is a Labrador violet (Viola labradorica).  Lot of plants in the viola genus are in bloom right now.

This is Epimedium grandiflorum Orion.  We started buying Epimedium when The Husband heard a local name for the plant- Horny Goat Weed.  How can you resist growing something with a name like that?  Ok so technically it's still in bud in this pictures but I enjoy writing Horny Goat Weed.

Here's my Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost.'  This is a blogalong plant.  I read about it on a blog site and just had to try it.  For me the jury is still out. 

Not shown:  Quite a lot actually.  I received my Bluestone Perennials order on Tuesday so I was busy, busy, busy planting yesterday (and will be again today) and forgot to take pictures.  Several of my plants won't open till afternoon so I'd like to say I'll post them later but we all know that I will get my hands in the dirt and forget all about grabbing the camera.  Not shown are Tulip humilis 'Odalisque', Pieris japonica previousgardenerii, Epimedium grandifolium sulphereum, Grape hyacinths, snowdrops and my Blue Something Hollies.

Since I'm starting to have outdoor blooms I'm not picturing indoor blooms but in case you were wondering here's the list:  Phalenopsis orchids, Begonia, Primrose, African Violet (more violets!), Cylcamen, and Streptocarpus.

Whew.  How exciting. 

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for this meme.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Looking at your Garden

I've been reading up on Garden Design, trying to go from a person obsessed with plants to a person obsessed with plants but with an aesthetically pleasing garden space.  There is a lot of great information out there.  The problem I'm having seems to be one of scale.  I look at these sweeping vistas of garden then I walk across the street and try to imagine a sweeping vista in my front yard and I just can't do it.

This is my front yard from across the street.  It's difficult to get far enough away to see a whole vista and even if I could get further away the size of the garden is definitely petite.  From the sidewalk to the house is only 15 feet, from the driveway to the corner of the lot is 60 (plus I have a 2 foot deep Hell Strip).  That's roughly 1000 square feet.  Not much room for a sweeping vista.

Ok. Well, how do I (and my neighbors) view the front?  Most of my neighbors view my front garden on foot from the sidewalk or the street.  I view my garden from foot or knee or flat out sitting on the ground (or, occasionally, from my new bench at one end of the front yard).

Oregano (Origanum vulgare).  This is how I view my garden, up close and personal, so I can smell the oregano.  I posted this in Scratch and Snif mode.  Lean close to your monitor and scratch the image.  Smell that?  Ahh.  What?  You don't have a Scratch and Snif monitor?  In that case go to your kitchen, grab a jar of oregano and inhale.  That what I was smelling when I took this photo.

How do I use this space?  How do I want to use it?  I use the garden to spend time outdoors, attracting and benefiting the local wildlife at small scales (bees and birds and earthworms and snakes), and interacting with the neighbors.  It seems like every nice day I'm out weeding someone comes along and I'm slowly getting to know the neighbors as they stop to comment on my garden.

 Thyme (Thymus vulgarus Archer's Gold(?)).  This one is planted in the hell strip and spreading onto the sidewalk.  Can you feel the slightly course texture of those leaves and the firmness of the stems that support them?  What?  Your monitor doesn't have Touch capabilities, either?  For this one you'll need to run out to a garden center with thyme plants and feel for yourself.  Don't worry, I'll be here when you come back.  I'll even wait for you to plant the new plants you couldn't resist buying while you were touching the Thyme.

This is beginning to sound like I need to think on a smaller scale.  If I'm on my knees (or butt or, honestly, sometimes stomach) my grand vistas should be smaller scale.  Like this mass of perennial Bachelor's Button (Centaurea montana Amethyst in Snow).  Do I really need to follow the rule of plant three of everything when this one plant nearly covers the width of my planting area?

Or this forest of newly emerging, finely textured Coreopsis verticalata Zagreb, also forming a spreading mass.  I could repeat this one elsewhere in the garden to get that magical number of three of each.  I don't think it's too aggressive.

With lot sizes continuing to get smaller the landscaping books that refer to a two acre property as a "small lot" just aren't working for me.  For example I'm not going to block any of my scarce and precious sunny garden area by planting trees (a small dogwood can have a spread of 15 feet, the entire width of my front yard!  I would have to plant it smack in the middle of that width in order to not scrape against the house or it would have to be pruned up to allow pedestrians on the sidewalk passage) no matter that the books all talk about how they are the backbone of the garden.   I have one tree in the front yard and it is plenty (and it's going to get way too big for the spot, it's already damaged the road and the sidewalk.  I mentioned to The Husband that if it wouldn't cost $1000 to remove I'd want to replace it with something a little more appropriate to the spot.  He said it wouldn't cost that much.  All he needed was a chainsaw and a case of beer.  I think the tree is staying for now).

So it looks like I'm going to continue to Garden in an Edgy manner - not following the landscaping rules and just doing my own thing.  If it doesn't look good I can always move plants around and try again.  That gives me another excuse to spend time in my garden, looking at everything up close and personal.
Buds on a white bleeding heart Dicentra alba

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vernal Encephalopathy

I am currently suffering a bout of a chronic condition called Vernal Encephalopathy.  I wanted to bring this to attention on this blog since gardeners are particularly susceptible to this surprisingly common malady.  This condition  is one that seems to go into remission but re-emerges when outdoor temperatures warm up.  It can also be brought on by winter vacations to warmer climates.  The cause is unknown and there is no cure but treatments do exist.

Symptoms of Vernal Encephalopathy include a brownish or blackish discoloration under fingernails and around nail beds, a reddish flush on the skin, a tenancy to wear clothes that are lighter weight that appropriate for the given time of year, aching muscles and an inability to concentrate.

Wearing gloves will minimize the brownish discoloration around the nails but even so nails seem to be more prone to breaking and chipping than when the sufferer is in remission.
 Nail beds of Patient D.  Notice particularly the discoloration around the ring finger nail bed.  Patient D suffers from severe restlessness when in an indoor setting and had to be evaluated out of doors.

The reddish flush to the skin does not occur in all patients.  Caucasians and Asians are more likely to display this symptom than other races.   There is some evidence to suggest that the use of certain  types of lotions reduces this symptom but the data are still incomplete.  Some patients experience this red flush to a great degree and others seem to have a milder version that often fades to an overall tan tint to the skin.  The flush is usually localized to the face and extremities of patients, with the core of the body retaining its normal coloration.
Discoloration of the skin in Patient D.  Notice that this patient has a more tan colored discoloration on the top of the foot rather than the reddish flush.  Based on oral history Patient D does not tend to get the reddish flush but goes straight to a tan color on the extremities.  Patient D self reports that the unusual pattern of discoloration is typical and seems to persist through much of the year.

Patients often come in to the physicians office wearing short sleeves, shorts and even sandals despite the calendar indicating the month is April (a common month for an outbreak of Vernal Encephalopathy).  Patient temperatures remain at or near normal levels.  Some Doctors speculate that sufferers are prone to periodic fevers that cause them to dress inappropriately but there is no evidence to support this hypothesis.

The symptom of aching muscles can be minimized by a regular routine of exercise and regular stretching.  Individuals who exercise more during the winter months are less likely to experience this symptom and when they do experience this symptom it is less severe than for individuals who have not been exercising.

The inability of the patient to concentrate fully is a great detriment to workplace productivity.   Even worse, one individual experiencing an outbreak of Vernal Encephalopathy can often cause other workers to come out of remission and suffer their own outbreak.  Severe outbreaks can also result in increased sick leave as patients must stay home to treat their symptoms.  In severe cases the patient also reports a feeling of restlessness, as if the walls of the workplace are closing in.  Taking sick leave is the only treatment for this symptom.
While there is no cure for Vernal Encephalopathy most patients do experience remission of symptoms during cooler weather and after acclimating to warmer weather. Treatment with higher than normal dosages of Vitamin D seems to help with the condition.  Oddly oral doses of Vitamin D do not seem to have an effect.  The patient must get sun exposure so that their body can naturally produce Vitamin D.

Some individuals report that too much sun exposure increases Vitamin D to a near toxic level, resulting in a sense of euphoria.  This can be addictive so sun exposure should be carefully limited.

A naturalistic treatment outside of mainstream medicine that is rumored to help sufferers deal with their outbreaks involves exposure to common garden dirt.  It is unclear what, if anything, in the soil is helping the patients.  Mainstream medicine scoffs at this treatment but many patients have reported a great relief, particularly of their mental and psychological symptoms.

Research is ongoing but it turns out that many of the researchers have contracted Vernal Encephalopathy themselves.  This is making progress slow and difficult since not only do they experience flare-ups of symptoms at the same time as other patients but exposure to individuals suffering an outbreak will induce an outbreak in the researcher, leading to a decreased ability to concentrate and a high rate of absences as the researchers self-medicate.

Donations to the cause can be made to Bluestone Perennials.  Be sure to mention Garden on the Edge on your donation form so I can use the donations to buy plants get a non-profit status for my advocacy work.

Thank you for caring.

Wednesday Morning Mystery

Last night I failed to bring my Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage) into the house for the night.  I successfully overwintered this plant and was putting it out on warm days to get it acclimated to being outdoors.  This morning I discovered a tragedy.  Something has eaten most of the leaves off my Salvia!

Oh the Horror!

I'm not sure what caused this damage.  Surely it's too early for caterpillars.  If the pot was down in the yard I would suspect rabbits but it's right up on the deck by the back door that the dogs use to access the yard.

It's a mystery.   But for now I will remember to bring this plant in overnight (I WILL, unless of course I'm too tired and brain fried after lecturing on Photosynthesis for three hours so that when I get home around 10 tonight I forget again.  That's not likely to happen.  Well, maybe it is.  Perhaps I should try to bring it inside this afternoon before I go to campus.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Random Musings

This has been a FANTASTIC weekend.  Yesterday I posted pictures and just briefly mentioned what was going on in my garden.  Today I have more details.

Last year we didn't grow much in the way of vegetables, we didn't know where the sun fell best on the property.  This year we decided to put in a single raised bed in the back yard.  Expanding slowly.

I have some shrubs planted nearby that will potential grow to shade this area so we just used some 1 x 6 lumbar (NOT treated wood), connected at the corners to create a 6 foot by 3 foot bed.

I bought three types of soil and amendments to try and make some good soil.  I'm not sure yet whether I like this mix but I didn't like any of the single bags for texture and nutrients (photo deliberately out of focus to "hide" the brand names).

It should be safe from deer and rabbits but we had to put up a barrier to keep our dogs out.  So up went a simple chicken wire fence.  I need to come up with a better solution for a gate, though.  Right now it's a plastic fencing (so we don't cut our hands every time we want to get into the veggie bed) but we had to up tacks to fasten the bottom edge down after the dogs found a wonderful new place to dig.

The big shrub at the back of the area is a black raspberry bush.  It's inside the veggie fence so maybe the dogs won't get all the raspberries this year.


One of my plans for the front yard is to replace the grass between the front bed and the foundation bed with a narrow brick walkway.  Where the path will turn to go down the side yard I thought would be a good place for a focal point and that a bench might be a good option.  It will give me a place to sit and enjoy the garden.  We hauled this bench from out patio set around to test drive it.

Here's the bench.

Here's the view from the bench.  I think it'll work.  Now I need to start watching Craig's list for some free (or very cheap) bricks.

The big excitement this week has been the return of the Garter Snakes.

These beneficial little snakes will eat slugs (yipee!), mice (woo-hoo!), insects, birds, frogs and pretty much anything else small that they can fit into their mouths.  I believe that they hibernate under the siding in an area in the front out our house (shhh!  Don't tell the neighbors!).  Last fall I spotted a lot of them in one part of the foundation bed and even saw several crawl up under the siding.  This spring I've seen several in the same area of the foundation bed so I think they spent the winter there.  It's a really good place for snakes to hibernate, nice and climate controlled.  As long as the home belongs to a Biologist and not some snake phobic person who would freak out (several of the neighbors, hence the please don't tell them bit).

I just hope the renovation of the front beds and the painting of the outside of the house this summer don't discourage them from coming back next year.  How many of you can say you share your house with a garter snake hibernaculum?  (ok so I was cheating and a lot of your don't know what a hibernaculum is, much less how to pronounce it!  What can I say?  I like to stand out from the crowd.  A hibernaculum is a place where animals hibernate.  Snakes hibernate communally in groups of one or more species.)

A little Biology lesson. 

Eep!  I found out yesterday that the front wave of the Ruby Throated Hummingbird Spring Migration has already reached parts of Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  Wow.  I cleaned off and hung my feeder.  I seldom see them early in the season but I make sure my feeder is out so that if they are moving through the area it will be available for them.  Eventually I should get known as a good spot to fill up when they're passing by.  The 7-11 at The Edge.  Your choice of sugar water or, well, sugar water.

You want to know how the fish are doing?  How kind of you to ask!  The eggs have finished hatching.  It was fun to watch the little guys trying to wriggle out of their eggs.  I didn't remove the eggs from my main tank so the fry (baby fish) are on their own.  My lemon tetras sometimes manage to grow up without any outside help so we'll have to wait and see if any of these survive.  They are very, very tiny.  Fortunately I have a heavily planted, ecosystem tank so there are lots of hiding places and lots of microorganisms for them to find and munch on.  (We did a microscopy lab earlier this semester and I took a jar of tank water in to lab and found lots of little things swimming around.  Very cool.  Yes, I am a Science Geek and I am Proud of it!)

Pirate (mother) with hatching eggs.  I tried, really I did.  I pulled out my macro lens and everything but I just couldn't get a good picture of the little wigglies.  I can see them in this photo but only because I know what I'm looking for.  They are right near the eggs that are furthest to the right.  Those blurry little things above the leaf.  I swear there are Angelfish fry there.  Really there are.

Thanks for putting up with the random musings.  I'll try to get a single topic post up soon.  Something well thought out and thought provoking.  It'll make you laugh and cry and change your religion.  Now I have to go work on a lecture on photosynthesis. If I make a lot of head way tonight I can go back out in the garden again tomorrow!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Today was the first really great weekend day of SPRING and The Husband and I spent all day out in the garden.  We built a raised veggie bed (more soon), tidied some stuff up, brought out the patio furniture, dusted off the bikes and started to get them ready for riding...  Whew.  I'm tired just typing about it.  So instead of trying to think up my typical pithy, thought-provoking comments I thought I'd just present some photos taking in the garden today.

Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) - it survived!  It's not supposed to be hardy in this zone but I put it in a "warm" microclimate and it has come back nicely.  I need to get a few more.

 Curly Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) This is the second year for my parsley.  They are a biennial plant so this year they will get leggy and bloom and if I let them go to seed next year I might get some volunteer plants.

Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica)

 Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

 Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' and grass weed (that grass is no longer there)

 Denver Gold Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)

Garden Glow Dogwood (Cornus hesseyii)

Can you tell I was messing with my camera today?  I even pulled out the macro lens adapter and the tripod.  I'm sure the neighbors think I'm crazy for laying down on the sidewalk to get just the right angle in the photograph.  Then again I have turned half of my front yard into a garden rather then a lawn so I'm sure those sorts of thoughts are nothing new.  Gotta go now.  The outdoors beckons.