Friday, September 30, 2005

At Least It's a Dry Cold....

We, and many surrounding regions, have been having a mini-drought. I say mini, because we had a nice wet start to summmer. However, with a disappointing cold front yesterday, we've gone on record as the DRIEST SEPTEMBER on Record. By about 3/100 of an inch, 2005 (.11") beat out 1884 (.14") as the record holder. That is one long record. I wish it had stood. I know a lot of farmers must have been praying that the record had been safe.

The culprit? From my view point, hurricanes. Yes, hurricanes. We usually get at least one hugging the coast or sailing up the mountains and showering rain on us in September. Or smacking us, like Isabel. But that's where our September rain comes from. Ophelia stayed out to sea and barely tickled us with feeder bands and Rita passed to our North to visit New York. Beautiful weather but dry.

And on top of this dry weather, the heat has been turned on. Well, just enough to take the chill off of getting up this morning. 46 degrees by the kitchen window thermometer. When I went out to put out the bird seed this morning, my breath curled around me in a white cloud. No frost, at least not when I drove to work.

Warned of this event by the trusty weathermen of WTOP, I brought my lantana in last night, after dead heading it. I also removed a few leaves that weren't looking to good. It will get trimmed back, when it is brought in for good. I'll probably start some cuttings from it too, for next Spring. I'll need to get some rooting compound.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Do Not Trim on the Left Side

Just after I moved in, the woman at the management company called. She had gotten a confusing email from the owner instructing me, that when I mow the lawn, I was not to trim too close to the property line on the left side. This confused both myself and the woman at the management company. It seemed odd, and we chalked it up to fussy neighbors. So, I was careful when I cut the front yard to stay to my side of the property line. It was easy, since they cut their lawn a couple days earlier and that side of the front lawn wasn't completely dead.

Tuesday night when I was doing all that trimming, I attacked a couple of the dandelions that were edging the fence in the backyard with the trimmers. That's when I discovered it. A cable. Now, realistically, I knew there was a satellite dish on my shed. I mean you can see the annoying thing.

Along with it's twin off of the porch.

They are annoying. But I never imagined that there would be a cable running along the ground. Ugh. (I'm not sure why, the wiring in the house is slap dash, too.) So, that means that I can't use a weed wacker to get the long grass and dandelions along that fence. I had wondered at those old growth dandelions. Humongous! I didn't check the other side, but there isn't a satellite dish on that side.

So, what to do, what to do? Well, put in edging plants. Ones that presumably won't spread to the neighbor's yard. Which means no ground covers. Well, my dad's real keen on what he calls lily tufts. And he has to divide his. His intention was to give me a bunch. They didn't really fit my theme, but they'll do great there to create a little bed. And I won't have to raise dandelions. ;)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Lady Protector

I went out to remove most of what I'm calling yellow coneflowers last night. While I was cutting the stalks into pieces and putting them into my yard waste bin, I was shocked when I discovered a large bug moving on a stalk. Then I realized what bug it was. It was a praying mantis.

I had first sighted her (I'm assuming it's a her at this point in the season) at the end of August when I first moved in. I was putting stuff in the shed and noticed a paper wasp nest on the door. So, I got out the trusty bug spray and doused the nest. Immediately, she sprung out of the weed she was sitting in. At that point, I resolved to find a less toxic way to discourage wasps. I want praying mantises. Well, except the ones that eat humming birds, I want to encourage humming birds. ;)

I am very excited to find that she is still in my garden, despite that brush with bug spray. I put her on one of the weeds that I decided to let until it died back. Then I went inside for the camera and took pictures. She wasn't fond of the flash. I can't say I blame her.

I finished chopping down the flower stalks. And did some other trimming. And went inside. Only to be struck by the concern about her eggs. What if I had cut down those flower stalks and her egg case was in them. Horrors, I might have destroyed next year's praying mantis!

Fortunately, Google came to my aid. I found several pictures like the one in this ad and on this information site and towards the bottom of this one. Thankfully, I hadn't seen anything like this when I was cutting down those flower stalks. Praying mantises do lay their eggs in cases usually on flower stalks or branches or even on the sides of buildings. But they are brown, course looking nugget. I might mistake it for some of that wood chip mulch that's in the beds, but I didn't see anything like that on those flower stalks. Whew.

Oh, and that garden looks a lot better now that those flower stalks are down. Something was eating the leaves and it looked a fright. And there is some kind of ground cover so the garden isn't bare.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Holly and the Hydrangea

I promised after pictures of pruning my hydrangea.

Like I said, I wouldn't have cut it down this far, if it hadn't been neglected and the neighbor was complaining about it crossing the property line. It will need more shaping next year, but that's next year.

On the other side of the front door is an unidentified holly bush. It's probably some southern variety, since we're at the edge of the South. The leaves don't have pronounced toothing, and the berries aren't quite what I think of when I think of holly.

I've also started keeping track of rain fall and in the winter snow fall. I'll list the results the day after. I check my rain guage at o'dark thirty in the mornings. I'd just rather match it up with the main date, but the day after date is good enough.

Yesterday's Precipitation: scattered light showers -- 1/8"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Seeds and Monsters

I used to think starting seeds in the house was a little silly. Primarily, I viewed it as a way to start gardening a couple weeks early. There was also the idea of spacing plants more easily and being better able to figure out which plant you planted, and which was the weed. But I never figured I'd do it.

When I moved into the Little Blue House, I stood looking out back a lot. I noticed a sizable flock of little brown birds. So, I got a cheap ceramic plate from the grocery store and some bird seed and started to encourage them by feeding them. Heels from loaves of bread also find their way out there. They're cute, they're adorable. They're seed eating monsters.

Now, I have a very definite reason to start my seeds in the house. Especially my sunflower seeds. I'm having horrifying visions of those voracious seed eaters raiding my freshly planted gardens and eating all the seeds. Horrors!

So, I'm saving egg cartons and the like to give my poor little seedlings a head start. So maybe I can have some flowers.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mulch Accomplished

The sky is dreary and the air is damp. No water in the bottom of my improvised rain gauge, consisting of a pale green bathroom waste can. The radio says the next best chance of rain is Monday. It isn't fair. I don't like mini-droughts. Neither do my plants.

But the relative dryness did help in one way. I didn't have an excuse to delay going to the yard any more, so I trundled off to the transfer station with my half barrels of grass clippings and yard waste. The one I went to is too heavily used to find any goodies. Besides, there is a lot of other recycling and trash dumping at this one, so the yard staff stay busy keeping up with everything, including the chipping of yardwaste. Not to mention, Fridays are yard waste pick up, so they would have done a lot of that yesterday and earlier this morning.

So, I dropped my stuff and went over to the giant pile of mulch. The mulch was corse and primarily from tree trimmings. Lots of two and three inch long branches about an inch in diameter. I threw a bunch of those out of my containers, as well as some trash that got into the pile. I also found parts of glass bottles which I threw to the side. Some people. It was still pretty good mulch, and this would be great bedding mulch once it was sifted. I could sift it, then take the big stuff back on my way to pick up another load. Catch at the moment being that I don't have a sifter. I guess that's something else for the Christmas list.

After returning with my two containers of mulch, I proceded to mulch my poor hydrangea, who is looking better for the trim. I'd just like to shape it next summer. And I started filling in around the holly and the other plants. Didn't get too far on the other front garden, but I can do more next weekend.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Morning Glories

From my want list:

I've decided to get some morning glories for next year. I'll put some Heavenly Blue out front in the green/blue/white themed front garden. I'll let it wind all through the rhodendrons and the holly and the yew. If it makes a break for the shutters, I'll consider retraining it. I was really impressed by the idea of having a vine creeping through those bushes, to flower when everything else is past or not ready. And it might perk up the olive drab of my rhodendron. Which needs shaped next year.

I'm also going to get a cheap trellis at some point and place it against my back fence. I'll leave that to some morning glories. I'm thinking about one of the more red/purple colored ones. The theme in the back yard is butterflies and hummingbirds, and they enjoy pink/red/orange/yellow flowers. This will also be in the birdbath garden, so it will give the little brown birds someplace to perch and hide while waiting for the birdbath.

I've always liked morning glories. The bell shape and the brilliant blues. I knew a weedy looking moonflower when I was in elementary school. I used to take the dog for a walk past this one spot that had one coming up through a crack in the curb. It always got mowed. But it was very pretty. My dad was always more into clemitis. But I think they have too much potential for my space.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Weeds and Lasagna

So, last night I took to cutting out some sod to enlarge the lily & iris garden. I stopped after awhile, disgusted with doing it with a trowel. After vowing to find a better method, I left off cutting sod, and started pulling weeds in an attempt to at least see how many bulbs there were, rather than actually clear the grass, dandelions, mock strawberries and ground cover.

I discovered that there are a lot of little bulblets coming up. The bulbs definitely need spread. I'll definitely need to cut down those hostas. There are lilies back inside of them. But first a trip to the yard to empty my bins. Although, that will be after I buy another one tonight, along with a decent sized shovel. The one I have now is too short for heavy soilwork.

So, after looking at the birdbath garden corner, I vowed to not go through this heartache and would lasagna garden it. I diligently collected my turtle from that corner and marched up to the computer. In my research, I discovered what a load of hooey the lasagna garden is. It is a great method, but it's a raised garden. Anyone could grow great plants after adding 2 feet of wonderful planting medium. Peat moss and compost and mulch are perfect potting soils. The grass clippings are so-so, but my dad's used that as mulch back when he didn't have access to free mulch. I don't have a compost pile yet, and the county sells theirs, so no free compost till I make some. I have access to free mulch, but I won't know what quality that will be. (I'll probably take extra and compost the rest. I plan on getting a free compost container from the county.)

So, the result of all that research? I'm going to buy a shovel, rip up that grass in the birdbath garden corner, turn it over, spread grass clippings and mulch heavily. Probably pile more grass clippings on top to keep late season weeds down. I'll compost it all and turn it over in spring. I have the time. I just need to do it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Since I'll Forget Otherwise

I was browsing WTOP's website and clicked on Mike McGrath's Garden Plots column. I found that there are now Garden Trials to preview new plants for next year. Especially in native soil for gardeners and garden centers. The article is here.

The article goes into some detail about the two open shows in the DC metro area this week, curiously neglecting the other shows in Virgina. He highlights the dates when they are open to the public. Seemingly this is the first year that they're doing this.

That's not what's important here. What is important is this link. It leads to a gallery of new plants that are on display at these trials. Clicking on each thumbnail leads to a display of what that provider is displaying at these shows and a small summary of each plant, as well as an identifier.

Especially, since there are new million bells coming out this year. And a way to track back to the company page. Very cool. I'm going to need to get a lot of these. And now I know "my" latin name: Calibrachoa.

Lawn Mowing Suburbinite

Well, I mowed my lawn for the very first time last night. Now despite living on my own for 5 years, this is the first time I've had a lawn to mow. There were the apartment years and the last two years there was a service that killed anything I dared plant in the ground outside. So, the front yard (21' x 21') was enjoyable. It was also mostly dead from the heat of August.

The backyard was a different story. The back yard, with it's fence and shed involve a bit more manuvering. Not to mention, for some odd reason, it is very lush back there. I think the grass in the high spots was 5 inches. The low spots were clover and hence it was reasonable height. That was a lot of grass to mow. Not to mention learning about the automatic cut off switch on an electric mower when the bag gets full. And the bag got full. At least 5 times. One bag went on top of my other yard waste in my yard waste bin, and the others went in a plastic container I had gotten for a baby turtle vivarium. I just barely made it. And there's still grass in the bag.

But, that was a lot of work. I've got to split the two yards up next time. Not to mention wear my work gloves. My nails are still green from all those grass clippings. And I need to never, ever let the grass get that long again.

Although, I am waiting for spring to buy an edger/weed wacker. I'll borrow a friend's/have a friend do it for me for this last month or so.

But yes, even after all of that, and plotting to kill lots of grass to make gardens, I'm still thrilled to have my own lawn to play with. *snoopy dance*

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Home Again

I went and visited my parents, getting gardening tips from my father. One being to mow grass at the highest level, to prevent sunlight from reaching the ground and allowing new weeds to sprout.

He also told me I don't need to cut back my hostas, but I'm probably going to do that anyway. I want to see what is under the leaves, especially in the under the stairs garden. I need to dig out the lilies and iris and replant them in the open. Besides, I noticed when I got back, the hostas leaves are starting to yellow.

I ended up procrastinating about the lawn. I was wiped out yesterday from all the travel. I'll buy the extension cord tonight.

I had wanted to take pictures of my father's gardens, but they were hit pretty hard by a mini-drought and heat wave in August, so everything had already either been cut back or pulled out because it was dead. So, no pictures. There were some zinnias and cosmos, but I didn't feel like the effort.

Friday, September 16, 2005

County Yard

So, I tried to dump some yard waste today, before beginning my trip. Thankfully, I tried before the trip, not during the trip. The yard has posted hours restricted to weekends. Which is odd, that wasn't on the website. I'll have to make a trip to the one in "the city" on Monday. I had been hoping the one out in the middle of nowhere would have been folksy, but restricted hours pretty much mean slim pickings.

I like county yards, as opposed to curbside pick up, because there are wonders to be found. My dad lives less that 5 miles from his township yard. And he's completely transformed his yard on the free pickings. There are a lot of industrial/profession areas in his township and there are a lot of different kinds of plants dumped there. So, he grabs things and sticks them in the ground to see what they are. Well, he did. They've lived there 9 years now, and the yards are full of plants. Although, he does still keep shrinking the amount of lawn he has to mow.

The other nice thing about county yards is the free mulch. I'm going to like to take advantage of that. These poor beds only have old wood chips. If that. And since I'm going to want to kill some grass myself to make bigger gardens, I'll need organic matter. I just wish my yard was big enough for a compost pile. If I had my yard waste bin free, I'd take it with me, but it's full, so I can't. C'est la vie.

Edit: Didn't want to go to stinky old Poolesville anyway. It seems that the mulch in Poolesville isn't at the beautification yard anyway. I'll just have to brave Rockville. But I have to admit that the idea of mulch from Christmas trees is a wonderful idea.

The mulch page

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Rained Out

We got some light showers yesterday and today promises to be the same. Hopefully that will help the hydrangea. I don't know if the interior leaves are just getting sunburned or it didn't like getting pruned in the driness. I'm not too concerned. The beech trees are already starting to turn, so the season is almost over.

The rain did prevent me from mowing my lawn. The UPS man showed up last night and delivered my lawn mower. So, I assembled it. It was late and the yard was damp, so no test drive. I should also stop out and pick up another outdoor extension cord. I thought the one would be enough. I also thought that the lawn mower would have more than a 3 inch cord included. *rolls eyes* The problem is that there are more showers expected today and into tomorrow, so I don't know that I'll get to try it out until Monday. But all the plants need the rain, so I can't cry too much. (Besides, it's mowing the lawn, I shouldn't be crying at all.)

I will have to thread the extension cord out of the window though. No outside outlets on the front of my house. That's very odd. Not even for Christmas lights. Well, I don't do Christmas lights anyway. Too much trouble checking the bulbs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Hole in My Front Garden

So, I've been musing about the holes in the front garden. I need a ground cover with some character to try there. I've reached a decision: white polka dot plants.

A bit of history. Freshmen year when I went off to college, I surveyed the room and found it bare and drab. I coaxed my father, before he left for home, to take me to the grocery store for a few supplies and a plant. There was little selection. So, I picked a fancy ivy. There was a weed in that pot. I forget what I named the ivy, but I named the weed, Weed. I know, so creative. :P At any rate, the weed turned out to be a pink polka dot plant. It died, since inside, they seem to spend a lot of energy flowering and getting leggy. But I enjoyed it. So much so, that I got a red polka dot plant and named him George. (Gotta love Bugs Bunny.) I think I was up to George the 5th when I gave up. They are just not indoor plants and need constant attention as they get all leggy.

The front of the house is light blue and the other foliage plants out front are either green or green and white or green and light green. So, a white polka dot plant should do. I just wonder what color those rhododendrons are.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I repotted my amaryllis bulb Sunday. I got it for Christmas last year. I should have let it die back and put it in a dark place, but I got lazy and didn't do it. The bulb then put up new leaves. So, I figured I'd better let it make some energy. Here it is September, and it's been horribly abused. I had it in a too small pot and there was more roots than soil. And I had been letting it dry out. So, I put it a bigger pot with more soil and even put it out for some sun yesterday. It probably needs more water. But it's looking good. My mom's had hers flower when placed outside in soil. I think this poor thing is going to need a couple more years of storing up energy, first.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I have a packet of Burpee Cosmos seeds. Bright Lights Mix, Klondike type. I bought it from the grocery store this year. March or April, I think. This was before I was rudely told to either move, or hand over a fortune in mortgage to keep the Townhouse I was living in. I had decided to get serious about a container garden. I was going to get one of those half barrels and plant some odds and ends in it. The cosmos, some pansies and either some petunias or million bells. I waffled about buying it as I was snowed under with other matters, so when May rolled around and I was served notice, I still hadn't done it.

Now I have a packet of seeds and a backyard. It's too late to plant them this year. But next year, it won't be a container they go into. It will be the butterfly garden. Basically the yellow coneflower types are going to be taken out and replaced with butterfly weed, cosmos and maybe mexican sunflowers. The coneflowers are nice, but I'm not thrilled about the brown cones left after the rest dies. I don't think any catapillars rely on them.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hydrangea Pruning

I went shopping and bought gardening gloves and a yard waste container. I needed them to prune the hydrangea today. I just meant to deadhead the flowers, since according to the literature, it has already started the flowers for next year. However, the poor thing had been neglected and needed shaped. That and the neighbor didn't want it leaning out into her yard. It was planted toward their side, as opposed to centered in the bed. I'll put up after pictures later.

My little blue house:


My before picture of the hydrangea. It's a blue one. I missed the blooming.


And the other side of the door, just for balance:


Friday, September 09, 2005

Indoor Plants

I should also detail my other indoor plants. I have two snake plants. Spike, the big pot, is a collection of odds and ends culled from my mother's snake plant. She thinned her pot. That is the same snake plant that was in her mother's kitchen. Little Feather, is a cutting off of Spike. I broke a leaf in the car door when moving to the Dungeon. I put in water for a couple days/weeks. The water was spiked with turtle dip, so it was nutrient rich. When some roots started to show, I put in a little terra cotta pot and kept it soping. Another stalk popped up and that's where all the new growth is.

I can never remember what kind of plant Baum is. It's one of those foliage plants you always see in malls. It has a collection of leaves off of a stalk, almost like umbrella spokes. When I was a kid, my dad was rooting around in the back of a garden center and found the discount rack. This is when we lived in New York, so I was about 8 or 9. Anyway, my dad looked at that sorry collection of 10 cent plants and told us kids to pick one. It didn't matter if they died, they were 10 cents. I picked this and my brother picked one with yellow and red spots on it's waxy leaves. My brother's plant has been to this day, in a constant state of dying. Mine, however, thrived. When we moved to CT, it was taller than my mom. It had been named Baum, because it was turning into a tree. My mom chopped it off around 4 feet, supposedly so it would fit into the car. We teased her that it was because it was taller than her. But that helped it branch. I wish I had known that when I was a kid, the stalk has gotten woody and the plant threatens to be top heavy now. Sometime in the Dungeon, I broke a stalk off of that too. There is now a thriving cutting in a terra cotta pot. But that one stubbornly refuses to have personality.

More later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I have a pretty scraggly indoor Hibiscus. I'm not sure if it's name is Candy or Sweet Pea. Yes, I name plants. I got two plants, one one summer, the other the following. They were rescues from the supermarket. The first, Sweet Pea has red flowers. Candy has gold. At the time, I had them in a window that recieved full sun year round. They thrived. This is about 5-6 years ago now.

Then, I moved into the Dungeon. It was a dark apartment, which was complicated by the fact that I was on the ground floor and paranoid about leaving my blinds open. So, they got no sun, unless I put them outside. Way outside, because of the balcony above me. And I didn't put an ultraviolet light on them, just a regular incadecent. I lost one. I'm not sure which.

Then I moved into the previous place, the TownHouse. Nice place, but the sunny side was the backyard and that was practically a communal lot. That and I didn't trust the lawncare workers to be careful of my potted plants. So, my poor remaining plant sat inside with possibly the blinds cracked. No flowers, no recovery. Since everyone was pretty much forced to move out this year, the neighbors thinned out. So, I put it out for a day of sun in May. Horrors! It came in with some sucker bug and lost a lot of leaves! It perked up some when I put it next to the aquarium in the quarantine corner. The flourencent helped.

Then I move to the Little Blue House. The back porch gets strong morning sun into late afternoon. The Hibiscus sits at the sliding glass door to the deck and since it's so private, I keep the curtains open. So, a weekend ago or so, I put my Hibiscus out. I know it loves sun. And I sunburned a couple leaves. But there is a lot of new growth. So, I put it out again last weekend. The old leaves are now bleeched white, but it is pushing a lot of new growth. *sigh* I'm going to put a plant light in that corner over the winter.

Pictures will follow. Have to charge batteries first.

*One the reasons I didn't like the blinds open, is because I leave for work at o'dark thirty in the morning.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Layout, The Plan

This is a journal to primarily vent gardening frustrations, joys and layout of my new little yard. Since I'm renting, I can't give free reign to what I want in the yard. I'll be using pictures to document plants I don't know and inherited, as it were. Or am too lazy to research.

I have a thin garden in the front yard, on one side is a hydrangea. The other has a berry bush, an rhodedendren and some little foliage plants.

The back yard has a deck on the upper story. Underneath the stairs to the yard and the deck itself is some hostas mixed with I think fennel and some weeds. I think there is a little bed of lilies by the stairs. There is a foliage shrub to the side of the shed. The shed takes a up at least a quarter of the yard. By the other side of the shed is what I believe are yellow cone flowers and something dead behind them.

I'll have to link a diagram later. As well as some preliminary pictures.