Category Archives: in the garden

Dispatches from the garden

It’s been awfully hot here, as I believe it’s been everywhere. The garden is hanging on with the help of pretty aggressive watering and fertilizing. We’ve had a couple of small bushels of string beans and a few cucumbers which made for tasty meals. The jalapenos are also doing well. This year we added hot banana pepper which has yielded a few fruit but is currently taking a beating from the sun. Tomatoes are also starting to come in, we have roma, some heirloom, and big boy hybrids. We just have to get to them before the birds. I’ve had to replant the herb garden as our vacation to the beach saw its demise. So, on the front step we now have again sweet and Thai basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Other lovelies that we are waiting for are zucchini, squash, and new this year tomatillos. Yummm!

We’ve also had a run in with some yellow jackets who saw fit to make their home under one of the raised beds. After stings for each of us and a can of spray the garden is ours again…for now! There are also hungry little doe-eyed rabbits that like to congregate around the garden gate. I’m sure they are plotting a take-over.

Just outside the garden gate are an apple and peach tree. Only planted last year they are still very small. Only the peach tree produced a very small and fuzzy peach. We watched and watched that little peach, petting it and watering the tree only to come out one day and find the peach missing with no trace of its pit anywhere!


From The Garden

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

I have vegetables! This is the first year I’ve gardened outdoors in raised beds.

I’m very excited.

Heading South…

It’s vacation time again and I’m heading south to Savannah, GA to ring in the New Year. Maybe it will be a bit warmer there, this 30 degree business is for the birds. I’ve brought along The Group by Mary McCarthy and Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I have no idea how much reading I will be able to do while exploring this charming Southern town so just in case I’ve also taken along my very first audio book, Her Fearful Symmertry by Audrey Niffenegger for the long drive. I love historical sightseeing, museums, old houses, squares, and the like and it seems that Savannah is filled with those things. Of course I wlll do my best to raid the bookshops.

**photos from Hyatt Regency Savannah**

Container garden update: The balcony plants have been inside nesting for some time now. I’ve dumped all of my flowering annuals and cleaned and stored the pots for next year. I’m already dreaming of the colors and wonders of spring.

An underwater garden

For a while I’ve wanted to try my hand at a planted aquarium. I’ve seen photos of lush underwater landscapes that support an entire ecosystem of fish and about two months ago I set out to set up my very first planted tank. I think some folks call this aquascaping and since it’s plants in a type of container, I think I’ll keep up with my progress here. I waited before I posted just in case I was a failure and all the plants died off, but they are still going strong, and I have fish and shrimp (…and snails).

I’ll start with the set up. I have a 20 gallon tank with a basic filtration system, heater, and lights. I added a substrate specifically for planting-a mix of fine and larger gravel and some RO water about 3 inches from the bottom. This allowed me to landscape. Into the tank went a couple pieces of driftwood (already soaked and ready to go) and a variety of plants. Fill her up with more RO water and turn on the filter and stare eagerly through the glass. Not too bad.

Maintenance hasn’t been too bad…similar to the containers on the balcony. Trim and remove dead leaves as needed. I have 4 cardinal tetras and 2 zebra danios, ghost shrimp, and some snails that hitched a ride in on something. I’ll have to keep an eye on them since they eat plants, so far they seem to be eating only the dead stuff.

The bulbs I planted a month ago are sprouting-a water lily and an aponogeton are coming up.

Some Flowers by Vita Sackville-West

I have The Edwardians and No Signposts in the Sea on order but in the meantime I figured I’d browse through Some Flowers. I was looking for any of Sackville-West’s other books that the library might have. I was not aware that she was a gardener or had written a book on flowers and gardening, apparently she was quite the gardener and enjoyed writing on the topic. This book inlcudes her favorite flowers and her musings on them. She says in the Foreword:

    “This short book is very personal and therfore very arbitrary. It represents nothing more than a couple of dozen among the plants I like to grow in my own garden and at first sight it may seem that there are no connecting links in this choice of plants at all.”

I was surprised to find that in my garden this year were some of the flowers Vita mentioned in her book. Particularly gerbera daises and dianthus that “while they are blooming and giving off that special, incomparable smell which makes people sniff inquiringly as they wander about your garden.” The daises have since departed but the dianthus are hanging on through the cooler weather. I also found flowers that I’d like to try. Though the book is written with those gardening in England in mind, I think a lot of the advice is relevant to most climates. Some I’d heard before and some were new tricks to try this spring. I think even those that don’t garden would enjoy this book as Vita incorporates stories of how she came to know these flowers and her adventures in the garden.

    The Velvet Rose. What a combination of words! One almost suffocates in their soft depths, as though one sank into a bed of rose-petals, all thorns ideally stripped away. We cannot lie on a bed of roses, unless we are very decadent and also very rich, but metaphorically we can imagine ourselves doing so when we hold a single rose close to our eyes and absorb it in an intimate way into our private heart. This sounds a fanciful way of writing, the sort of way which makes me shut up most gardening books with a bang, but in this case I am trying to get as close to my true meaning as possible.

And lucky me, I just happened to have some lilies on hand to pose with the beautiful illustrations. Illustrations of each flower are done in watercolor by Graham Rust.


Some late clippings and fall prep

The days are shorter and I’ve stopped fertilizing but I’ve had my jade and spider plants continue to take off. The jade and other succulents in my mini succulent garden are leaning and so aren’t getting enough sun. They might also be getting too tall and need support or cutting back. I’m thinking of placing them under a light.
I’ve also cut back the basil and upon closer look I found that the thyme that was next to the basil has died. The oregano is still holding on but gets more and more sparse. Next spring I won’t plant these three together. I do know that basil and tomatoes do well next to each other. And I decided to take clippings from the spider plant so that I could get roots and a start on a new plant. This one I will give to my mother as she’s been stalking my all-green spider. Any how, after sunning near a window the clippings put out roots and so were ready to be planted.


After a couple of frost warnings, we are back to comfy weather. The leaves are turning and mid 70s feels so much better. This means that all the plants can return to sunning on the balcony (though it’s supposed to be rainy this weekend).

We look to gardening for an enduring logic, a reasonableness, an overarching harmony, amid the random assaults and discordances of being alive.
-Janet Lembke

Not much gardening going on…

I haven’t had to do much out on the balcony lately besides water, remove dead leaves, and rotate. I did have to gently persuade a few wasps from making one of my hanging baskets their home. I don’t think they would be as cute as these garden pests. Fall is here and the weather is much cooler. When cold weather arrives I have to move all the balcony plants indoors. They don’t seem to enjoy that much and I have to find space for them inside.

Even though I’m not out amongst the containers as often, I’ve found a way to read stories about those who are. Green Prints is published quarterly by a family owned business here in NC. Stories and artwork are submitted by folks around the Nation but this isn’t a how-to magazine. It is filled with gardening stories, reminisces, and funny lessons. I’ve only read a few but I’m liking them and the cover art is lovely (see a few examples I swiped from the site below).

    Paul and his wife collect antique postcards. One in particular has a penny stamp affixed and was sent from West Union, Ohio in 1910. The ship to address has only a name and the message reads: “Why don’t you come down? Have been looking for you so long. Persimmons are ripe so you see our long ugly winter is coming. Love to all. Affectionately yours, Agnes.”

If I squint and turn my head to the side I vaguely remember hearing the name Persimmon. I know it’s edible. Beyond that I am at a loss. Paul reflects on the idea that the flora surrounding us has become unknown to us in our days filled with technology and emails (and blogs no doubt). He says that people “seem more on the land than of it.” How many of us know the environment well enough to know that when persimmons are ripe winter is coming? Or that lemons don’t turn yellow until late fall. He relates this to having a sort of veil up between ourselves and nature. After reading the postcard Paul set out some Persimmon trees.

After reading Paul’s story I have a blanket and am enjoying my small bit of nature on the balcony.


From the balcony: When garden pests are cute


Flipping through the garden books they show you all of these clever ways to combat pests. Little chirping birds however, are not listed among the pages. I had the company of the little birds for about two weeks. I have no idea how long they were there before Sophie, the bird dog pointed them out to me. I’d watered and fertilized them. Four little birds crammed into a tiny but neatly woven nest, tucked deep into my swinging and swaying fern. Originally lush green and reminiscent of paradise the fern began to die on one side, the leaves becoming crinkled and brown. Bits were torn away to make room for the new family. A small brown bird sat watch outside. Each morning they chirped and stretched their necks for their food while Sophie made circles and whimpered in front of the door. As they grew, from bald gray bodies with bulging eyes to miniatures of their parents the fern looked sicker and sicker. I watered the one side that wasn’t inhabited and clipped back the leaves. It held on. It’s been a while since the birds have left and Sophie still looks for them.

From the balcony: What I know about container gardens


One of the most difficult parts of container gardening is that your plants lean and can become one sided. This is because all of the light comes in at one direction and the plants want to be there (thus the title of my blog). So you end up with lopsided plants that you can’t really see from where you are sitting inside. You can turn them often but I wonder if this is stressful for them. Also with containers you have to worry about drying out especially if you have hanging baskets and especially with the heat here.

Spring and summer are some of the best times to experiment with your garden and watch it grow. There are quite a few things to remember. Enjoying a small break from the stifling heat I was able to spend a few moments out on the balcony checking on the plants. I thought about the work I did this spring (unfortunately no documentation as the blog is still very new) and the things that I’ve learned about gardening in containers.

  • it’s hard work and you will learn how to expertly pick dirt from your nails
  • beware of the bugs, and fight back
  • water appropriately: know your plants & use good water. I had a big problem after moving to my new apartment. Just about every plant stopped growing had brown tips and the soil began to look ashy…the tap water was the problem. I now buy distilled in jugs or if I’m in a pinch I filter tap water and let it sit out for a few days. The plants have never looked better
  • stay tuned in for signs of unhappy plants: droopy or yellow leaves, dropping leaves, ashy soil, brown tips, bugs, stretching (succulents). One of the best things I bought this summer was a plant care guide to help me diagnose the water issue
  • let there be light
  • fertilize about once a week during growth spurts. If a plant has new leaves it’s actively growing and might need some food. Read the directions so you don’t burn or overfeed your plant
  • that thing you’ve heard about talking to your plants is not crazy. I have to say I don’t talk but as I remember I do blow on them as I walk by
  • use a good quality soil! I like miracle grow
  • keep indoor plants dust free. A quick and gentle wipe with a damp cloth is all you need
  • Share! Take pictures! Enjoy! I take cuttings of my plants often. It keeps the parent active and bushy and you get free plants that you can repot and share or keep for yourself. My mom and I share plants and tips all the time
  • DSCN0098100_2232DSCN0158

    This year’s garden has had a few ups and downs, mainly I think between the move and the sketchy tap water but the plants seem to be rebounding now while some are still puny. This was the first year that I experimented with flowering annuals. I loved the splashes of color. I also expanded my herb garden to include parsley, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and lavender. This made for very tasty meals. Now when I cook without them I miss them. I also added more succulents as they do well in the heat and come in a lot of interesting varieties. Next year I plan on adding more flowering plants, experimenting with larger containers and mixed varieties as well as adding a few vegetables which will make for even tastier meals.

    About the pictures: The pictures up top are from last spring. Those are the bottom were taken this year.