Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dreaming of Spring...You Can Grow That.

While most of America scours sale flyers and races to malls in search of perfect holiday gifts, we gardeners anxiously await bargains of a different kind.

The end of season bulb sales.

It starts slowly with our favorite mail order nurseries. E-mails entice us, offering 20 percent off...30 percent...40 percent...sold! And because some overzealous gardener ordered thousands of sale bulbs last year...and then spent weeks planting them in the midst of the holiday season, restraint is in order. Just a few. 

A handful of species tulips...

...some snowdrops for the forest path...

...maybe a box of tulips to plant as a cutting garden. Oh, and a few species lilies to try, plus of course a few extra Casa Blancas. After all, Casa Blancas featured in my long ago wedding bouquet.

A girl can never have too many Casa Blancas.

Oh, wait. Let's not forget the important bulbs. Paperwhites to force for teacher gifts, and a few new amaryllis bulbs to sample...but only a few, because they're not on sale.
Not bad. In fact, when the shipment arrives, it's only one, medium-sized box. I congratulate myself on my restraint.

But then--disaster.

A quick trip to a big box store for a small potted evergreen requires a stroll through the garden center...

...where there are bulbs. Boxes and boxes of bulbs.

And they're 75% off.

I know what you're thinking. You're right.

I have no willpower.

Still, I challenge any gardener to pass up 75% discounted bluebells and tulips.

You know you can't.

(Right now, my husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this in Switzerland, where he's visiting his parents for the week. Because he's in Switzerland and I'm home with the kids, I feel completely justified in my purchase.) 265 bulbs for--wait for it--

I promise you, my friends, these are not disease infested, moldy, shriveled up bulbs. They're plump, lush, and filled with potential. Yes, they're a little smaller than my mail order beauties, but they'll do just fine.

Most of my purchases will find homes in the perennial beds, but a few varieties that are more shade tolerant and deer resistant will be incorporated into the forest paths. Plus, a few will remain indoors for a bit of color during the gloomy winter days.

Bulbs are brilliantly easy: dig a hole the depth according to the directions on the package. A good rule of thumb is to dig a hole to a depth of approximately three times the height of the bulb. Then plant the bulb pointy side up.


Over the years, I've learned a few things that can help make your bulb planting easier and more successful.

Plant in clusters.

By grouping bulbs, you'll make a more dramatic show in your garden—and you can dig one very large hole for many bulbs as opposed to lots of time-consuming individual holes. Who doesn't like to save time and create a better design impact? 

Plant in layers.

If you purchased several varieties of bulbs that bloom at different times, such as crocus and tulips, dig a large, deep hole. Plant the tulip bulbs first, as they require additional depth. Partially backfill soil into the hole, then plant a layer of the smaller crocus bulbs. Fill in the remainder of the hole with soil. You'll have a lovely, continuous display of blooms throughout the spring.

If you have a choice in sale bulbs, choose varieties that flower in intervals. Tulips, for instance, include early, mid, and late-flowering varieties. Select some from each group for continuous blooms. 

Don't make bulb soup.

Good drainage is a must. Otherwise, all of your efforts will simply rot away. 

Beware the nasty vole.

The vole is my nemesis. Garden cats tend to help alleviate the problem...unless they turn into spoiled, overfed, lazy fluff balls like our Sammy and Oreo. We love them, but the kids feed them too many treats for them to be inspired to hunt. Voles will devour your tulips and snack on your lilies.

It's infuriating.

Don't bother with vole-repellant products. I've tried all organic remedies, and honestly—the bobcat urine was like adding salad dressing to the hostas. I'm sure the poison bombs probably work—but they're not happening in our gardens.

What I have found, though, is that a little extra prep work when planting can help alleviate some of the vole destruction.

Apparently, voles don't like to cross anything sharp in the soil. After you've dug your holes for your bulbs, line the bottom and sides of the hole with a layer of sharp gravel or perlite. Place a bit of soil on top, then add your bulbs and cover with soil.

I've succeeded in saving bulbs from becoming vole midnight snacks by using the gravel. It's worth the extra effort and small expense. Trust me.

After all, you know you're going shopping tomorrow so you can pick up some stunning Star of Persia Allium or Checkered Lily Fritillaria, and maybe some Ice Follies daffodils or a few Lady Jane species tulips.

All for 75% off. You know you can grow that!

Just wait. Your garden will be bursting with color next spring.

For more gardening how-to, check out these fabulous ideas from garden bloggers every 4th day of the month at You Can Grow That! 

Happy planting!

XO ~


Monday, December 3, 2012

Tarnished Angel.

It's been a crazy few days, celebrating hubby's very significant birthday on Friday followed by a mad dash Saturday to deck the halls before he left for a week in Switzerland. Today, when I should have been writing, I attempted to restore order to the house. Really, the Christmas decorations seem to breed each year, and I wind up with a pile of odd Santas and candles that have no home. 

Also, can someone please explain to me why every year I must make no fewer than two trips to Target in the midst of decorating to replace lights? 

Honestly, nonworking lights turn me into the Grinch. Normally, Peter claims that title. There's nothing festive about half-lit strands of lights that need to be removed from wreaths or garland and replaced with new lights that must be woven throughout the greenery. 

Grinch, Grinch, Grinch.

After much non-festive muttering and worse, I'm afraid, the outside lights are up and working, the tree is dripping in LED colored lights that make our living room look like a disco, and every branch of the 9.5 foot behemoth Fraiser Fir droops with treasures. 

We don't do decorator trees. Our tree is filled with handmade ornaments: clothespin reindeer and painted puzzle-piece toddler ornaments. Bells from Switzerland. Sparkly glass balls from vacations. Tacky, "back of the tree" ornaments. Ornaments showcasing each child's passion--music, Star Wars, horses, chickens, Madeline, Barney. Sailing ornaments for Peter, a tomato ornament for Garden Delights. Photos of a baby that is now a 21-year-old adult. And, like the ornament that occupied the place of honor on my family's tree as we grew up, a teapot resides just below the star. Our glass teapot ornament is everyone's favorite.

Our ornaments evoke memories, each one with a story to tell. I received the brass angel (above) when I was in second grade from my (now former) sister-in-law. Somehow, this little engraved angel meant the world to me--possibly because, being much younger than my siblings, I felt invisible. My sister-in-law talked to me like an adult, showing genuine interest in my crazy passions. I rarely saw her without a book in her hands, and she encouraged my book obsession. That same Christmas, she gave me The Secret Garden. Honestly, how could I not adore her? 

Life happens, people change. I saw her a few times after the divorce, but she remarried and we lost touch. It's one of my great regrets. I would love to know her now, as my adult self.

But every year, when I unwrap the little angel, I think of her. It's the one ornament that I insist only I can hang on the tree.

It's tarnished now, a little rusty along the back, aged like its owner.

But in the dark, reflecting the disco lights, it shines with possibilities.

It will never be banished to the back of the tree.

XO ~



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Happy December to You!

Happy December to you! Chicken Mama is busy, dressing her girls in their holiday finery, and I'm tackling the leftover mess of yesterday's marathon decorating session. Still, in the craziness that is December, I'm planning to play along with the December Photo Project. 
We'll see how it goes...want to play along, too? Just visit this link to sign up. From what I gather, there are no rules--just take a few moments each day to regroup and play with your camera. We all need a little creative diversion this month, don't you think?

Happy Sunday! 

XO ~


DPP Banner 500 x 360

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chicks Go Christmas Shopping.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Why, to find some bargains, of course! Wouldn't you?

There's nothing more humbling than a Saturday morning knock on the door while you're caught lazing around in your PJs. Actually, it's most humbling when it's your next-door neighbor at the door, announcing that your chickens crashed her yard sale.

What can I say? I'm sure the girls just wanted a jump on their holiday shopping. 

After all, they need the perfect gift for Chicken Mama.

(Full disclosure: I hid, forcing Peter to answer the door. Yes, I'm that cowardly.)

Fortunately, our neighbor was gracious about the chicken invasion. Still, this wasn't the first time the girls flew the coop. In fact, our three little additions—Saltine, Sugar, and Spice—escape our yard frequently. Apparently, the dozen books Kiki read failed to mention that Golden Campines are flighty.

Very, very flighty. In fact, they would win gold medals for flying in the Chicken Olympics.

(In her defense, Saltine is a Barred Plymouth Rock, and she's not quite as flighty as the Campines. She just follows the lead of the two troublemakers.)

Flighty is both good and bad. Obviously, we don't want the girls bothering the neighbors. We allow them to free range in the forest—with supervision. When we can't supervise, they forage in fenced areas--around the pool or in their yard. However, while the older girls politely remain within our boundaries, the little delinquents take to heart “the grass is always greener” philosophy, escaping the fence.

Of course, when they escape the fence, not only do they potentially annoy the neighbors, but they also embark on suicide missions.

On one side of our backyard, where the naughty girls like to forage, our sweet dogs would happily use them as chew toys. So, when we let the girls forage by the pool, we keep the dogs inside. Outside the fence, the girls become potential snacks for roaming neighborhood dogs.

It's quite an adventure for a suburban dog. When another neighbor's dog rejoiced over his breakout, he hightailed it to our forest. After all, it was doggie paradise--three fluffy, yummy smelling treats to chase.


While we tried to catch the pup, our flighty girls used their wings wisely—Sugar escaped to the roof of our house, Saltine flew back over the fence.

We couldn't find Spice.

We looked everywhere—the forest, neighbors' yards, the coop, the greenhouses.

No Spice.

After 15 minutes, I expected the worst. The dog still ran through the neighborhood, and I feared that Spice became his prize.

I stopped to catch my breath and looked up.

There, sitting on a tree branch peering down at me, perched Spice.


(Did I mention—all of this fun took place in my pajamas? I did manage to throw on running shoes. Now, there's a fashion statement. Hmmm...there seems to be a theme here. Perhaps I need to stop lazing around in my PJs, huh?)

After the near death experience—both for the birds, as well as my near heart attack—we decided it was time to convince Chicken Mama to let us clip her girls' wings.

It didn't take much convincing.

After all, she decided she'd rather keep her girls safe than win more blue ribbons at the county fair. 

I'm very proud of our Chicken Mama.

That afternoon, we gathered the troublesome trio in the back garden to perform the deed.

Actually, I did nothing but take photos. I'm a wimp.

It's really a very easy process, and it doesn't hurt the bird. Basically, you clip approximately 10 of the primary flight feathers on one wing. By clipping feathers on only one wing, the chicken's balance is disturbed, prohibiting flight. Experts recommend waiting until the chicken reaches maturity, because wing flapping and practice flights develop strength in young chicks.

When selecting which feathers to snip, make certain you don't select any new growth feathers that contain blood in the shaft. (The shaft will have a pink tint if it contains blood.) Clipping a wing with blood in the shaft is painful for the bird and causes bleeding. In darker colored birds, you may need to hold the wing to a light to check the shaft. If you do accidentally cause bleeding, dip the tip of the feather in cornstarch and pinch it to stop the bleeding. Also, keep the bird separate from the flock until the wing heals. Blood or injuries encourages pecking.

Wing clipping is a two person task. Kiki held the girls to calm them. Because you need to use sharp scissors, you don't want to try this alone. You don't want to hurt yourself or the bird.

Spread one wing, holding it steadily. Peter cut approximately 10 of the longer primary flight feathers.

And that was it. Simple. Safe. And hopefully, the birds are now secured within the yard.

Then, Kiki, our future veterinarian, wanted to try it.


Honestly, how is this girl my daughter? She amazes me.

Just in case you like diagrams, there's a good one here:

An important note: 
Repeat wing clipping after your chicken molts. Once the new feathers grow in, those naughty girls will head for the skies again.

So, while Chicken Mama is now retired from the world of chicken shows, we're all resting a bit easier about our troublesome trio.

So far, they haven't flown the coop.

But then again, there haven't been any yard sales lately.

Wish us luck!

XO ~


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Barely Blooming...Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day November 2012.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! Finding blooms in our garden posed quite a challenge this month, as we've officially welcomed fall with not one--but two frosts in our zone 7b garden.

Still, while most of the plants sustained quite some frost damage, a few trusty blooms hid from the cold.

'Rozanne' geranium, lurking under the overgrown lantana, survived the frost and continues a profusion of cheerful blue blooms. Thank goodness for this lovely little perennial. It's disappointing in the summer, succumbing to the heat, but boy--it works hard in the fall to liven up the garden.

Most of the lantana blooms disappeared, but a few blooms remained on the lower, hidden-from-frost portion of the plants. They look tired, though, having worked hard to feed butterflies and hummingbirds all summer and fall. They deserve a rest.

A few blooms remain on the tall verbena...

...as well as the Mexican sage. Newly planted in the garden, I'm anxious to see how the sage performs next year. So far, it's been a stunning addition to the fall garden.

Here I go again...my love affair with fraise des bois is well noted. Still blooming, still producing fruit. I won't bore you with my continued ravings...

Even a bit of gaura remains in the garden. A few whirling butterflies, ready to tuck their wings in for the season.

Ah, but the camellias...I'm becoming obsessed with camellias. Honestly, I wish I had planted dozens of camellias throughout the garden. I also wish I had noted the varieties I planted years ago. Keeping records of ornamentals was not my forté when I began gardening long ago.

A few sprigs of 'Provence' lavender fight the cold, willing one more flush of blooms. I fear they're losing this battle. 

What the heck is happening here? An azalea bloom appeared in the front garden. This is not an Encore azalea. These bushes only bloom in the spring. 

Well, usually.

Of course, the azaleas might be confused by the flush of blossoms on our daughter's cherry "birthday" tree. It blooms both spring and fall. In hindsight, I wish we had planted a normal, spring-only blooming cherry tree. Cherry blossoms in fall are just...bizarre.

'Blushing Bride' hydrangea looks like a tired old housewife these days...

...but the viburnum--wow! The huge, lacy blooms apparently enjoy the chill.

I'm thrilled about the newly planted witchhazel. I've been coveting it for awhile, and when I found it at a local plant sale, it followed me home. I'm so excited, I'm about to burst--just like these buds.

Now, this Encore azalea is supposed to bloom now.  Sadly, most of the blooms succumbed to frost.

The tiny blue blooms of rosemary are rare in our garden, as we don't have much sun to encourage flowering. I'm always envious of the bloom-filled, enormous rosemary bushes I see in sun-rich gardens. Still, I love rosemary regardless of its lack of prolific blooms. It's truly my favorite herb.

We've been harvesting sweet peas for a few weeks, thanks to a fall planting and some low tunnels to protect the kitchen garden from frost. With the abundant blooms, I'm hoping we'll be eating peas for quite awhile.

In the herb garden, the mint is the last bloom standing...

In the back garden by the pool, the tea olives' tiny blooms appeared.

And soon, soon, my favorite winter bloom will appear--Winter Daphne. Just a little bit longer until its sweet scent welcomes visitors at our door.

While most of the perennials only sport seed pods... 


...a few fall annuals remain. I've never been a fan of mums, but these mounds of cheerful yellow flowers found homes in wicker pumpkin shaped baskets.  


But pansies and violas will forever be some of my favorite flowers.  

As you know, I often curse our overly shady garden. But then, fall arrives...


...and from every window, the intense colors of the forest remind me to be grateful for our shady gardens.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! To visit more autumn gardens, please visit May Dreams Gardens.

XO ~