Thursday, April 30, 2015

Never Felt More Like Singing the Blues

Annual:  Bachelor Button

Most people don’t think of blue as an adaptable color in the garden.  I do! 

Blue can be a neutral because it goes with all other colors – yes ALL!  It can be the blank canvas of your garden’s picture.

Think big picture:  Blue skies are a major portion of a garden.  The blue of water also blends perfectly.

Art enthusiasts know how the primary colors all look good together.  Plus, shades of primary colors can look good together.  Add a little white to true blue and we have soft blue.  Add a little black to make navy blue. 

Perennial "Forget-Me-Not"
Mix red and blue and there’s purple; add white to purple and we make lavender.   Yellow and blue make green.   Green and blue can make turquoise.  It’s depends on the amount of each you use in the mix as to the shade or depth of color.  Shades of colors determine if a color cools or heats up the picture. 

Some traditionalist won’t go outside the traditional color wheel rules while other free spirits mix with abandon and love the look.  Try mixing blue annuals first which allows experimentation without a big permanent investment.
Ornamental Perennial grass
 "Festuca Elijah Blue" 
Blues all look good together by mixing shades and other colors.  It’s all in the theme you want to paint in your garden.

Perennial Globe Thistle
If you LOVE, love, and love hot bright colors, light blue and lavender will provide a soft halo for the bright colors to shine.  Orange looks stunning with a pale blue shaded background.  Red, white and blue will look fresh and patriotic.  One of my current favorites is royal blue with chartreuse.   

Turquoise is often used for beach and nautical themes. The darker teal is the fashion industry’s number one color for 2015.  Adding clear bright blue or dark navy can let the turquoise stand out while adding depth.  Or, just a little turquoise can make a small pop in a sea of blue and green.

Every local nursery has an abundance of blue plants.  A few blue plants easily found (although the list would be huge if I included all.):

Blue Spruce
Trees and bushes:  Blue spruce trees become large and can anchor a blue theme in an otherwise green garden. Blue fruit from a blueberry bush is a seasonal blue accent.

Blue perennials:  There are no true blue daylilies.   Some hostas have blue-green leaves.  Globe Thistle has blue flowers and leaves.  Leadwort has blue flowers.  Several salvias and sages are blue.  Forget-Me-Nots, varieties of ornamental grasses, vinca, Monkshood, Corydalis, blue bellflower, succulents and many more.  Easily found are blue roses.     

Bearded Iris "Full Tide"
Bulbs and rhizomes: Virginia bluebells and many varieties of blue iris.  Selections of blue spring flowering bulbs such as Hyacinths and scilla.   

Blue annuals:  Morning glories, violas and pansies are notables.  The complete list of blue flowered annuals is extensive to list.

Blue glazed pot right after potting
Blue may be brought into the garden with pots, birdbaths, fabric, gazing globes and anything paintable. 

 If you’re afraid of blue in your gardens, try a little bit at first.  Blue can calm or excite and expand your summer days.  The only “blues” nature is singing is a happy song.

And for decorative art or crazy garden lady, here's a few blue things from my back yard.

Blue wine bottle flower

Some pottery patterned blue

Clear blue gazing balls and
some others from thrift stores.

Even in the winter, this blue wine
bottle tree adds zing.


Do it NOW

Crab apple

Crab apple

Ornamental Plum

Red Bud

If you live in this part of the Midwest, get in your car in the next couple of days and take a drive.  Why?  Because this is the year that all the spring flowering trees are perfect.  No late frosts, no huge ice and wind storms and just the right amount of spring.

BUT we are expecting several days of rain, possible thunderstorms, and the trees will surely loose most of their petals.  This is a car trip you can't put off until the weekend.

No need to drive hundreds of miles, simply take a trip down any street or county road (even the interstates are beautiful in places.)

If you ever wondered why anyone would plant a crab apple tree, this year is your answer.  They are stunning.  From light pink through all shades until a brilliant mulberry pink.

Stack the kids or neighbors or granny or friends in the car and share this summer's beauty AND leave the electronics at home.  Tulips are at their height of bloom, lilacs are just starting to bloom and then those lovely apple, cherry, plum and other spring blooming ornamentals.

Birds are excited and are more interested in building nests and mating than hiding.  Take along a camera, binoculars, bird books, crayons/paper for the kids to copy the beauty and maybe even a P&J sandwich and have supper on the road.  

Go! Tonight!  Seriously!  Tonight!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Garden Work Gloves

In my garden article "Garden Gloves #295", I did a review of garden gloves and now for the BEST of the BEST garden gloves.

I have a pair of "ironclad" cold conditon CCG windproof and waterproof gloves that I've been using for three years.  Check out their web site at IRONCLAD Performance wear.  

I don't remember where I bought them but it was probably at one of our local farm stores.  

I got them for winter outside work and then one day grabbed them for some tough summer hand gardening.  (Sometimes accidental happenings are the best!)

Although these gloves are made for cold weather they aren't really any hotter to wear than any other heavy duty summer garden glove.  In fact, the things designed for cold weather are some of the things that make them work for gardening:

They are lined in a soft fleece which means it absorbs sweat and doesn't rub sores.  The wrist is longer and double lined with a soft material.  The palm and palm side fingers are leather and applied so the fingers can bend easily.  The tips are also leather coated.  The back is a stretchy fabric and the knuckles are reinforced.  Three years and not one hole.  It has a snap and a loop on the top where you "could" attach them to your sleeves if you tend to lay them down and loose.  I machine wash and lay flat to dry.  The leather doesn't get stiff or break.

They are amazingly comfortable and flexible.  Meaning if they fit you, you can work almost as well with them on as bare handed.  

These gloves are not particularly cheap but they work perfectly and have lasted a long time which pretty much makes them much cheaper than any other cheap or expensive glove I've ever used in my gardens.  (priced around $40-50)

No I'm not being paid to endorse this product - I'm just telling you it works for me.  The photos are from ironclad's web site and they are the 2015 model.  They have lighter weight gloves but not sure if they would please me as much as these beauties.        

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It Isn't Raining Rain You Know

It's raining violets and daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and other spring flowers.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thrifting for the Garden

Dad's old rain gauge 
Today we have a tutorial on gardening and thrift stores.  Yep, odd combo for sure but one that is oh so much fun.

I come at thrift store knowledge from two sources:  (A) I enjoy the whole digging for treasures.  (B) I was on the Board of Directors of Freedom House (Women and children’s domestic and sexual abuse shelter and services) when they owned a thrift shop.

Thrift stores have a treasure trove of things to use in your outdoor spaces.  Some are ready to use and others are for repurposing. 

The difference in stores:

Religious and mission owned stores:  They typically are in existence to funnel very inexpensive things to those who cannot afford more.  Any profit they receive goes to support their projects.  Their items are donated and usually priced the cheapest of any store you’ll visit.  Most of their items are not cleaned nor repaired; gems in the rough.

Philanthropic based stores:  The items are a little higher in quality and prices.  Their items are donated, priced reasonable and usually clean and somewhat repaired.  Some are locally owned and others are nationally large such as the Salvation Army stores.  Their profits usually support an organizational base but they funnel the majority to their mission. 

Wren house
Corporate for profit philanthropic based stores:  These vary a little from the above stores because they operate more like a corporation although their merchandise is donated.  Goodwill Industries falls into this category.  They actually do community service work but much of the profits go to the corporation’s operation.  Their items are usually clean, somewhat repaired and varied.  Their prices vary but tend to be the highest of the thrift stores especially if in larger towns.

Consignment stores:  They are privately owned and for profit.  Most are mom and pop enterprises.  They share the profit with those contributing.  They seldom carry clothes.  According to the business climate in the town, the prices are usually reasonable.  Items are usually clean, somewhat repaired and varied.

Used items and antique stores:  These are privately owned and for profit.  They are usually mom and pop enterprises.  They buy their items and price for profit.  According to their focus, their items may be primitive and in original state or they may be high end and restored.  Prices, quality and inventory vary hugely by location and focus.  If you’re looking for bargains, shop small town stores.

Robins love this.
Thrift stores typically restock on Mondays and the best time to “hunt” is Tuesday.  The worst time to visit is on weekends when families are shopping for necessities.  To find treasures, you must visit often because the inventory changes rapidly.  Some shoppers buy at thrift shops and then sell at flea markets and their own shops; these folks snap up things quickly, regularly and usually know quality.

If you are the creative sort, thrift stores are a treasure trove of things to repurpose into something else.   

Some of my thrift shop garden finds: 

My last batch of canna bulbs came from a Salvation Army store 
Gardening books 
Vases and flowerpots 
Hanging candleholders and lanterns
Statuary, gazing balls and birdhouses
Garden benches, tables and chairs
Tablecloths and garden flags
Baskets and artificial flowers

Things I wouldn’t buy:

Pillows and any fabric item that can’t be washed and dried.
Bird feeders unless you can disinfect them easily.
Anything with a motor unless you test and know what you’re doing
Old copper boiler that leaks (a good thing)

A word to the wise:

I let thrift shop things sit outside until I can clean them.  Boxes, packing and even the items can have roaches or other pesky vermin. 

Washing items in a mild bleach or Mr. Clean solution is prudent if it won’t be ruined.  Letting them dry in the sun helps.

Take cash when your shopping since some smaller operations don’t take credit or debit cards and some won’t accept checks. 

Feel free to give them more than they asked if they are a worthy cause.

Take plastic bags and newspapers in case you want to insure they ride home safely.  Some of the mission stores never have enough of either.  If you have an abundance, give them the extras. 

The old adage “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” certainly applies to thrift shopping.   Donate your extras or no longer needed items to a favorite thrift store.  Shop the stores for new treasures.  It’s an act that benefits both the giver and the receiver.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

One More for the Road

With people more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, the "One more for the road!" isn't heard anymore.  But to use the phrase outside the alcohol scene, here's one more tornado story my kids reminded me I didn't mention:

We lived in a time and place where young families often went places together.  On this late summer afternoon, we were loading the car to meet friends at a local Pizza Hut.  I had Trent and Susan in the car and was walking out the door to join them when I looked over Windmont Park (Kewanee) and saw a door flying through the air.

The kids in the front room of that house about
the same era as the story.  They are pictured with their
Great Grandma.  I smile when I think how cute they were
and the oh so fashionable clothes I made them wear.
I was told this, but do not remember:  I started yelling "Tornado"  "Tornado", we ran for the kids, whipped their young grade school behinds out of the car and ran down the basement steps.  I remember holding onto one of their arms while doing this and Trent remembers his feet never touched the ground all the way down.  Amazing what a little adrenaline will do!

This was a time when kids played outside in the neighborhood until a mother either "yelled for them to come home" or it got dark.  The neighbors told us afterward they knew there was a tornado because they heard me yelling "Tornado"!  OK, so I'm capable of being as loud as a tornado siren.  No surprise for my kids I'm sure.

The door came from Ted and Penny Vlahos' home north of the park.  Thankfully, they weren't hurt during the tornado.  We didn't get hurt nor have any damage to our home.

Yes, we are into tornado season in the Midwest and are sadly reminded after this week's deadly tornado in Fairdale Illinois.  Praying for those families, those helping and the recovery efforts along the paths of all the tornados that day.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Understanding Weather Alerts

We have a car weather alert application but it's simply in color and not a lot of other data.  NOAA National Weather Service has the following graph (and load of other info if you're a weather geek) that tells at a glance just what they are saying from the color.

And this one is just for the funny of it:

Thinking Smalls

Topper for a bird house could also
be used as a mailbox topper.
As you decide to pot up herbs and flowers this spring, think ahead to what it will take to make them live all summer.  

I've copied some pretty examples of annuals in small pots from the web.  All look good in the pictures. 

I'm not telling anyone to NOT plant up small pots of annuals.  What I'll share is what it will and won't do long term.

Most annuals will want to spread - both plant and roots.  A small pot will sooner or later confine the plant and roots where it will need to be trimmed and/or divided.  If it's not trimmed and/or divided it will eventually starve to death because it can't get enough nutrients or water.

A small potted plant will require constant monitoring to make sure it doesn't dry out.  Because there is so little soil and the sides of the pot exposes the soil to evaporation quickly, it will dry fast especially during hot weather.  Small plants may require watering at least once a day - sometimes more.  

Another use for wood pallets
Because they take so much watering, the nutrients will be washed out and used by the plant quickly.  To keep them looking good and producing, you will need to add a mild solution of fertilizer almost daily about a month after potting.

You will need to prune the plant by occasionally pinching off the tops of the stems.  This will keep the plant from getting "leggy".  It's a term we use for stems that become so long the plant looses it's shape.  These long stems eventually stop producing leaves and flowers or become distorted.  If the stems are not pruned regularly from the start, it's almost impossible to reverse the ugly once the stems become long.

Plant dwarf varieties in small pots.  These will require less pruning and may stay well behaved for it's pot size.  

Good for those with no yard.
If the plant becomes root bound (meaning roots fill the pot often winding around), it will eventually die.  Tapping the plant out and taking a knife or pruners cut the plant in half, cut roots down to about three inches, prune the top down and repot into two separate plants/pots.  

Dividing works well for lettuce and other short plants such as marigolds.  If you have planted taller (non dwarf) varieties it may take a month for them to come back.  

If you plant herbs, with the exception of dill, most respond well to division and pruning.  Dill must not be pruned until the seed heads are ready for use.  At this point, take off the seed head & stem down to the leaves and try again - it may or may not respond.  Most other herbs benefit from pruning off the flower heads as the flowers sap nutrients and it's the leaves you use.  

Don't prune peppers or tomatoes once they start blooming.  Vegetables will not produce fruit if you remove the flowers.

Succulents may be the best plant for small pots because they require less water, nutrients and pruning.   

If you let one of these little pots get completely dry, the plant will loose roots and suffer.  Most will not sufficiently recover.

Unglazed pots will loose moisture faster than glazed.

I noticed these pots have no saucers under them to catch the water.  Obviously this will allow dirty or fertilized water to run down onto whatever is under the pots.  Soil and fertilizer stain wood, fabric and porous stones.  This might have been done for the beauty of the pictures but I would recommend saucers to hold water and let the plant suck it up over time.  Plus it gives you an idea of when it's dry or watered enough.

Even small pots must be situated in the right light for each plant to produce and live.  If it requires full sun or is in a lot of wind, it will dry much faster.

If you plan a long vacation during the summer, either have a watchful person take care of these small pots or they will be dead by the time you return.

I would also recommend they be situated close to your source of water (hose or faucet) so it won't be such a chore to water so often. Small pots should be watered gently so the soil isn't splashed out.

You may also want to consider planting twice during the year - one batch in the spring and another towards July to replace any that have been spent.
I'm not against little pots, especially for the dryer needs of succulents.  Small pots can fit small spaces.  They don't require a strong back to move.  But they do require dedicated attention during the summer.  Nothing looks sadder than a bunch of little pots with mostly dead plants detracting from your beautiful surroundings.    

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rounding Out the Tornado Stories

As a bit of a follow-up to the Palm Sunday tornado memory, I'll relay a few other of my tornado experiences.

I worked for a period in time at our Decatur Illinois Power offices.  I'd go down Monday, stay the week and return Friday afternoon.  Good friends had just had a new baby and I stopped to see them on my way home.  This sweet little girl (Ashley) slept the entire time I was visiting with her mom and I was at the front door ready to leave when she woke.  I came back to cuddle her and after a bit, the tornado siren went off.  We hovered on the basement steps until all was clear and then I left for home.  As I drove Highway 50 outside Decatur it was apparent a tornado had ripped across the highway right where I would have been traveling had that sweet little baby not woke.  I still think of her as my "life saver" and know that she was part of a Blessing.

Another Decatur event happened when I was in a meeting in the south portion of Decatur.  Several other women had rode with me.  As the afternoon wore on (and on), we began to hear reports that severe weather was approaching.  (A utility has some of the best weather prediction you can imagine to be as well prepared as possible.)  As a group, we decided to bail out of the meeting and be out of the bad weather before it hit Decatur.  We were skirting around downtown by traveling through the country.  All of a sudden the sky turned black, it started raining horizontal which turned to hail and then - THEN as I was still driving forward, the car started being pushed sideways across the road.  One of the women saw what appeared to be a driveway entrance, I turned in, drove to the garage door, we jumped out and banged on the door.  This kindly older gentleman allowed us inside and we convinced him it was a tornado and we all needed to be in his basement.  It was and we did.  He had no damage but he did get quite the story about a carload of women descending and forcing him into his basement.

Since there were several of us who stayed during the week in motels in Decatur, we had devised a plan for when there was a tornado warning and we were at the motel.  Motels have no basement and aren't all that structurally fortified.  The plan was we gather at the hot tub, take our shoes off, roll up our pant legs and sit around the edge.  If a tornado hit, we'd dive into the water.  It wasn't deep enough to drown, it wasn't wide enough to let the beams fall on us, there wasn't a lot of glass, it was underground and misery loves company.   Those that loved beer soon learned to have a 6 pack in their room for such occasions.  Me, I had a bag of candy.  

When the IP Kewanee office was open, we had initiated tornado drills.  Although a cement block building, it had no basement.  The office personnel were to gather in the ladies' lounge/restroom.  It was an inside cement brick two rooms with no windows.  One of our funniest women (Jan) taped a pack of her Camel cigarettes to the plumbing pipes because she knew if we were hit she'd want a cigarette.  I asked her to tape two packs because even though I'd quit smoking, I knew if we were hit we'd all want one, too.  

I managed the Galesburg IP area when we built the new facility and we were in the middle of a wonderful all employee meeting about what to do during a tornado warning.  I went through the places to go and what to do.  A few employees were still not satisfied because we didn't have a basement.  This was before buildings were placing fabricated units into their design.  It had digressed into what to do for every possible situation and what I personally was going to do to save them.  There was nothing I could say that made them happy and the tone was getting angry.  I had finally reached the limit of patience.  I then made the totally inappropriate politically incorrect direction that if they did all that I had instructed and we suffered a direct hit, they should bend over and kiss their "you know what" goodbye because there was nothing more I could do for them.  At that point, they no longer had questions. 

I was home in Galva one evening when a F-4 tornado hit the town.  We had rode it out in the basement and had no damage.  As the manager of the Kewanee area, I was charged with heading up any storm/emergency restoration and so got in my company car to assess the damage.  It was pretty extensive (150 homes/one injury) and telephone communications were disrupted (this was prior to cell phones.)  I used my car radio to relay the damage and soon we had crews on the way.  We headquartered from my house.  In spite of it not being by the book, it worked well.  My dining room became storm central and the front room was often a place the crews sat for a bit to regroup and rest.  Sometimes you do the best you can with what you have - and we did.

And that's about it for tornado stories and I hope I don't have any new ones to tell in the future.

Note:  All pictures are of the Galva tornado and retrieved from the web.

Spring Shopping

Talking a little advice on how to organize for visiting nurseries to get the best bang for your buck and stay on track. 

When spending large amounts of money (for trees and large landscape items) know your nursery.  I recommend shopping local so you’ve already heard the scuttlebutt on their products and customer service

You can buy an annual from almost any seller and it will probably live through the season; probably is a key word here.

Nurseries that specialize in certain perennials usually have more selections and better advice.  A tree farm, a conifer nursery, a daylily farm and etc. will know what that plant needs and will have an emotional tie to their particular product.

Cheap isn’t always a good buy.  Sometimes cheap works and sometimes it’s a huge failure.  If you’re not experienced, buy cheap with caution.

Read the plant tag on both sides.  If you still don’t know enough about the plant, ask the salesperson.  The tags aren’t hints, they’re rules.

Buying an expensive plant from the best nursery will not make up for your failure to provide appropriate care.

Many large nurseries have a planting service for trees and some larger perennials.  Some have landscaping services.  If you don’t have the equipment to do a proper planting, consider using their services; they usually come with warranties.

Under the do as I say not as I do category:  plan your color and size choices for your annual pots prior to visiting nurseries.  Their displays are so beautiful it’s easy to become sidetracked.

Make sure the sun, water and nutrient needs are the same for the plants you put in the same pot. 

Consider mixing herbs or small vegetable plants in with your annual pots. My favorites are dill, basil, parsley, small hot peppers and cherry tomatoes.

Walk the nursery before picking up your selections.  This will help you to not impulse buy.

If you’re on a budget, use your phone’s calculator as you go so you aren’t surprised at check out. 

Good reputable nurseries try to make your buying experience perfect so you will become a repeat customer and because they truly love what they do.

I don’t buy perennials from a nursery that isn’t in my hardiness zone.  If a perennial is raised from day one in a like climate, it will adapt better to my yard.

If a plant doesn’t look healthy in the store, typically it won’t be healthy once it’s home. 

Big isn’t always better with vegetables.  In the end, larger plants takes so long to acclimate; they end up producing about the same time as the smaller.  

If you have the time and right space, consider starting seeds inside.  Buy good seeds from a reputable company. Don’t buy old seeds (packets are date stamped.)

If you order on line or from a catalog, read the fine print:  plant description/needs, shipping and guarantees.  I never order on line if I find local. 

If a plant’s description is too good to be true – chances are it’s not true. 

Enjoy spring; it’s when all things seem possible.