Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter blooms

Winter Blossoms
I go a little crazy at Christmas...well, winter really. Not to do with the holidays, because I never do much shopping, I mostly make gifts. No, I go crazy in the winter because nothing is blooming, the garden is quiet and static and I cannot get my hands into the soil. One thing that helps is to have some blooms in the house, and I don't mean cut flowers. Every fall for the past 5 years, I have purchased between 25 to 50 paperwhite narcissus bulbs. They are not expensive (don't buy them in a paperwhite kit, a pricey way to go) they are easy to start and quick to bloom. I often plant them in a vase, half filled with gravel and water, with their ends in the water (do not submerge them). Place them near or in a sunny window and voila, in two weeks, they will grow and bloom. I buy so many, because I like to start a few every week to insure months of bloom. Paperwhites are also very fragrant. It is comforting to see and smell flowers in bloom. If you haven't tried starting narcissus, give it a go! The same with amaryllis, which, unlike narcissus, can be summered outdoors and brought back into bloom for a few successive winters.

About 4 years ago, my students gave me this hibiscus. Though the plant loses leaves when brought indoors in the fall, it reliably puts out a bloom or two (sometimes more) each month it is indoors. It is a relatively care free plant- it needs food, water and sunlight outdoors in the summer and just minimal care when inside.

So, if the winter gets you down, try these cheering plants! And remember, the solstice has passed, so days are getting longer now!

Happy Solstice and happy gardening!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Favorite "Garden" Gift

I have written in the past about favorite garden gifts. Well, this doesn't really qualify as a garden gift, but....My dear friends know that my interest in gardening is partly due to an intense interest in food. I started cooking as a teen and have not stopped. My mom was always willing to let us try new fruits and produce- this was in the 70's when some "exotic" fruits were beginning to hit markets in the Northeast. I remember my first kiwi and carambola (star fruit). But more importantly, I remember the revelation of a home-grown tomato when I was a small child. It is a cliche to say it, but this was a near-spiritual experience that set me "going down the garden path" for life. Even back then, I was a foodie.

A dear friend has given me this 1934 Metropolitan Life booklet on nutrition. This was during the Great Depression, so it has some helpful advice on purchasing food. But what is so interesting is the different philosophy and food advice from today. though I can see the threads of current-day "nutritionism" as per the food writer Michael Pollan (the misguided focus on individual nutrients versus whole foods and a balanced diet). The book was written prior to the obesity epidemic of the last 20 years, and emphasizes getting adequate intake, not tips on reducing intake. The most amusing recommendation in the booklet is that everyone should take between 2 to 4 teaspoons of cod liver oil per day! Ugh! 1934 nutrition supplement advice!

That's all for now...happy gardening!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Friday Lagniappe

So far, the waterfall is keeping an open-water area in my pond- don't want it to freeze solid, because that may distort the sides of the pond. I have put some pots of boiling water on top of the ice to melt through and the pond heater (with above 45 degree shut off) is coming soon. But the ice is very pretty outside my kitchen window! And the birds are enjoying their water source!
Enjoy the snow! Happy gardening if you can!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mid-Week Lagniappe: Door Swag

Door Swag
A little lagniappe for you ("something extra" in Cajun). Every early December for the past 10 or more years, I have gone outside with my pruners and created a simple door swag (actually, is this a swag? Or a bunch of greens? It's not a wreathe) for the holidays. All you need are some greens, some string and some recycled holiday ribbons and...voila...a holiday decoration! This year I used a base of eucalyptus, some holly, some box wood and a pine bough with two opposite pine cones. I laid them all out on the ground, tied them together with a loop in back for hanging and covered the string with ornamental ribbon. It is pretty, imperfect like me, but especially meaningful, as it all comes from my yard. It was also free and will be recycled in January.
Happy gardening!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not Poison, but a Problem

English Ivy: Pretty Menace

English Ivy is a ubiquitous landscape plant- you see it everywhere...and, unfortunately, it is growing everywhere. I can see why people use English Ivy- it is sturdy, hardy, can take a lot of abuse, attractive, and is great at stabilizing slopes. An ivy-covered brick wall, for example, is very pretty. In my early gardening days, I used it to stabilize a sloped front yard and it did the trick. But English Ivy can be an invasive plant and has taken over some forested areas in the northeast and in other places in the US. The problem occurs when English Ivy begins to climb, which signals the plant to flower and produce seeds. Birds eat the seed and scatter it, along with their "personal fertilizer," often from a tree limb, with the seed falling at the base of the tree- another perfect environment to create climbing ivy. The big worry is that, over time, ivy climbing on a tree can smother the tree, killing it, especially if it is a small or medium-sized tree, like a crape myrtle (see photo above). If you see this happening on your tree, it's time to cut the ivy down at the base and remove it from the tree (the particular ivy in the photo has already set seed, and needs to come down). So, if you must have English ivy, use it as a ground cover and do not let it climb. Better yet, make another choice. The Southern Gardener's Book of Lists (see book review in this blog) states that English Ivy is one of the "ground covers that can quickly get out of control," along with honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, bamboos, creeping Jenny, Boston ivy, and Bishop's Weed, and a few others. Green and Gold, creeping thyme, prostrate juniper, euonymous and euphorbia might be better choices.
Happy gardening!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Acer color

I love this Japanese maple. I planted it 4 or 5 years ago in a large ceramic pot I got on a super sale at a discount home store and it is thriving. Beautiful chartreuse green in spring, blazing in fall. I love all Japanese maples, but this one I love deeply and I wish my brain were not stuffed to overflowing with plant names so I could drag the variety name of this one out of the old gray matter (I used to be able to). My "last resort memory back up," also known as the metal label in the pot, rusted away and broke off. It is somewhere in the mulch and dogwood leaf duff on the ground near the pot. And it is probably illegible anyway. The original plastic tab that came with the maple has faded away. I failed to record the name in my garden journal (can you say New Year's Resolution anyone?) and might have a tag or tab somewhere in the dreaded garden pocket-binder. Or not. I am too intimidated to open the binder up. Things fall out and make a mess. I tried that memory trick that has worked in the past- the one where I tell myself I will remember the name when I wake up. Falling asleep, I visualized remembering the name, and even dreamt about it too. All I remembered when I woke up at 4 AM is that I am behind at work. (Is it bad to behind at work when you schedule most of your work yourself?). I also tried the trick my mom taught me, go through the alphabet letter by letter until a letter pops up at you and gives you a word that is similar to the name. It's worked like a charm in the past. But I think this variety name is in Japanese and I don't know Japanese words, except that phonetic Cherry Tree song we learned in 3rd grade and "ohio," which doesn't count as it is also a United State word. So, it is a beautiful Japanese maple. Nameless forever?
Happy gardening!