Classify This!

In case you hadn’t noticed, gentle reader, I’ve been off your screen for a while. Not because I’ve been off with the masses, catching up on the life missed during Covid by lining up in airports or hanging out on beaches. And not even because I’ve been spending endless hours in the garden. At first in my silent spell, I was doing the latter, but not lately, not during the beastly heat waves we were playing host to here in what used to be the semi-frozen north.

Nope. I have been Otherwise Occupied. And for your sake, believe it or not!

Photo of winding road leading into mountains with jagged peaks

You just never know where reasoning will take you…
Cilaos” by Worlds In Focus is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

You see, I came to think, through routes of ratiocination too tortuous to be examined, that if I am to continue writing about Nature and all that jazz, I’d better know more about it. From a standpoint of Expertise and not just Experience.

So after some cursory exploration (routes also best left unexamined) I decided to pursue a Native Plants certificate through the Native Plant Trust. Two certificates, in fact: basic and advanced. Starting, you may be astonished to learn, with Basic.

The requirements didn’t look too tough: several core courses available online, some focused courses online or in person (Shrubs, for example), and a few electives out in the field (Ferns! Know Your Pests!). Easy peasy, I thought.

I could not have been more wrong.

See, as I saw the whole summer stretching out before me, I figured that doing all three of the core courses would be a cinch. I had from April 25 to September 12. Plant Form and Function? Roots and shoots, good to grow. Plant Ecology? Gotta get along with the neighbors. Plant Families? Mom, dad, the kids and the grandfolks. Piece of cake.

Ha. Ha. Ho.

In future posts, maybe I’ll tell you more about some of the many fascinating things I learned along the route. But this is just about one assignment.

Until nearly the bitter end, I was drowning in Plant Families. I should have guessed. We do all know what happens when we start delving into our own families. Skeletons in closets, wackos in plain view, dysfunctions up the wazoo. Why should plant families be any different?

Photo of a family at a heavily-loaded (Thanksgiving?) table, with character at far right making goggle-eyes at the camera

Happy Thanksgiving” by BenGeldreich is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

If you didn’t know about the concepts of species and genus, had never heard of Linnaeus, and had 400,000 samples (there are at least that many species of plants in the world!) to sort through and classify, how would you do it? What kinds of cabinets and drawers would you plop the plants into? That was one of those easy-peasy assignments that ended up gobbling hours and days of my time.

Here’s what I wrote:

Photo of gray rabbit in the middle of a clover patch, looking like she's inspecting to find a tasty shoot.

Rabbit” by James F Clay is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

I propose the organizing principle of Utility. I take my inspiration from my local bunny rabbits, albeit applied differently. For the bunnies, the major classification demarcator would be Can I eat that? My net extends more broadly, with several demarcators added for the things we humans get up to.

But let’s start on the rabbit end. Edibility. The bunnies and I unfortunately agree on the edibility of most of the veggie plants I grow. They’re overboard on the edibility of the flowers, but they make up for that by shunning most of my herbs.

The edibility principle does pose some challenges, though, even if we confine it to edible-for-humans and don’t fuss over whether it’s an appetizer or main course:

Closeup photo of rutabaga root, top 3/4 buff-colored, bottom 1/4 purple, with gnarls and twisted roots showing towards the top

Rutabaga” by -meredith- is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  1. Do all or only some parts of the plant have to be edible? Brassicas (your garden-variety broccoli and cabbage) seem to skew towards all parts, although it had to take some elegant breeding moves to come up with a rutabaga. Walnut trees, only part, and you have to work to get at the edibles.
  2. A plant might be edible but poisonous. Here we have a different kind of challenge (strong influence here: Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants). There’s rhubarb, for example: the ribs are okay, if you cook them, but even the cooked leaves can make you sick or possibly kill you.
  3. So, one added dimension of classification would be raw=poison or toxic, cooked=okay or even yummy.

We pause for a head-scratch

This doesn’t get into the question that has always puzzled me: after Murgh, Ayam and Csirke have keeled over from eating a mystery plant, why would it occur to the rest of the clan to say, “Gee, let’s try cooking it and see whether that kills us.” In this category: cassava (hello, tapioca!), bamboo shoots, fiddleheads. Even, my god, kidney beans! And pangium nuts, which have to be both cooked and fermented to get rid of their hydrogen cyanide. The clan had to do some fancy trial and error on that one!

photo of caveman, dressed in animal skins and with finger tapping a stone tablet; caption says "Maybe NYT Cooking would have a better idea..."

Photo:; caption by me.

Then it gets really complicated

  1. Another dimension: part of the plant is poisonous; part is safe, at least if properly treated. Rhubarb here; also, cashew, the nut of which has tasty edible flesh inside a toxic casing growing from a tree many parts of which can give you a nasty rash or worse. Actually, some of those in the raw/cooked dimension may belong here too. Already the classification system gets a little fuzzed.
  2. A plant might not be much of a culinary treat but have important medicinal properties. People may ingest it anyway. Plants could even taste downright nauseating but still be good for you. Many of the herbs that figure in Chinese traditional medicine notoriously fit in this category.
    picture in pastels of a girl and a boy, both blond, standing in front of a house with forest behind them, and looking amazedly at an old woman in long dress and wearing a black conical hat as she peers at them over a railing at the front door.

    Margaret Tarrant’s ‘Hansel and Gretel‘” by sofi01 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

    But we don’t have go all the way to China to find numerous medicinal uses of plants. My personal library includes Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary, which indexes the uses of 3,000 indigenous North American plants. There I find the most unexpected uses for some of the flowering plants in my garden: among the several medicinal uses for my foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia, for example: an “Infusion of roots and leaves given to fatten little children.” For what, is not stated. I’m thinking: Hansel and Gretel?

  3. Many other plants might not be wise to ingest, but have medicinal properties when used as poultices or other external applications.

Beyond the bunny

That last point explains why I decided to label this classification method as “Utility” rather than “Edibility.” Unlike bunnies, we can come up with a wide range of possible uses for plants that we couldn’t or wouldn’t eat. Clothing (cotton, hemp, linen, even some tree barks, and the fig leaf that plays such a large part in the pop version of the Judaeo-Christian origin story). Material for making useful items (wood, or course, but also reeds, flexible twigs or branches, straw that can be braided for cord or tied together for bedding or other uses, palm leaves).

In fact, if we appreciate the diversity of human cultures throughout history, we might find that almost all plants could fit somewhere within a classification scheme according to utility. Even poison ivy makes good food for goats. For hunting, you could dip your arrow tips into any of a number of plant-derived toxins.

Painting of Socrates in apparent prison cell half-sitting on a pallet on a wooden platform, just before taking a cup being offered to him by a man carrying a tray. Socrates's right arm and hand are lifted up, as though he was declaiming, as his left hand touches the cup. His followers clustered in the room are in various positions of grief, some comforting each other, none of them looking directly at him.

Jean Francois Pierre Peyron (1744-1814), “The Death of Socrates, 1787. kms7066″ by SMK Statens Museum for Kunst (officiel) is marked with CC0 1.0.

And if you need to eliminate a pesky philosopher named Socrates, look no further than that kissing cousin of the homely carrot, hemlock (herb, not tree).

So why not use my system? Although we might enjoy identifying plants for the sheer fun of knowing their names, I suspect that the most crucial plant question throughout most of human history has been “What can I do with this plant?” The answers may change; the people who first used natural rubber to make balls to play with could never have imagined what Firestone would get up to with it.

But the question of utility makes a constant, and, I think, should be more emphasized today, as we lose species at an alarming rate. Each species lost represents a potentially vital gift to humanity thrown away. Too many of the planet’s drawers have already been emptied forever.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the newsletter, which is just a notice when a new post goes up. Whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. If I’m going to be getting geeky about plants, especially native plants, is there some question that you’d like to see me research and write about?
  2. What, besides eating, is the most important use of plants for you?
  3. How did the summer go in your garden? Did you also have a heat wave and/or drought, and if so, how did you cope with it?
  4. Would you like some rabbits?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts, so scroll down till you find it.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and double thanks for responding!

Posted in animal life, cooking, plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

What bugs me

Don’t worry; this isn’t a rant.

No, I’m just going to talk about bugs. Real bugs. Or, to be more precise about the nomenklatura in the garden: insects.

Let me tell you about the reeducation I’ve been getting as I pivot towards more native plants in the garden.

Going native

There are good reasons for gardeners to turn towards native plants. First, the choice of native v. import may help avoid introducing invasive plants into the local landscape. Second, native plants evolved in the native environment, so chances are they’re better adapted to local climate, both temperatures and precipitation. Third, they evolved as part of a local/regional ecology, which means they mesh with other natives in creating a local ecosystem, right in our own backyards.

closeup of tiger swallowtail butterfly (black stripes on yellow for upper and inner 80% of wings; with black border all around, and panes of deep blue in varying sizes along bottom of wings just inside border). Butterfly seen against backdrop of (apparently) pink flowers and green foliage of butterfly weed.

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly” by Audrey is licensed under CC

Ah, ecosystem! So much grander than plain old backyard. It sounds so harmonious, so balanced, so God’s-in-her-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world. Especially when you think of all the lovely native trees and shrubs and flowers serving as hosts for gorgeous butterflies like tiger swallowtails,

Baltimore checkerspots,

coral hairstreaks,

painted ladies. And yes, of course, the monarch.

Doesn’t that sound heavenly? Imagine yourself planted ‘midst your serviceberry and summersweet and black chokecherry shrubs, your wild columbine and butterfly weed and lupine and black-eyed Susans and cranesbill and wild bergamot on a spring-thru-summer afternoon.

There you are, admiring the tiny works of nature’s art fluttering about, sipping here, feather-landing there, doing loop-the-loops around the sugar maple and the pin oak. (Naturally, your fantasy should substitute other regional native plants and pollinators if you’re not in New England.)

Idyllic, no?

Wellllll, let me tell you. If you’re setting up hosts in your garden, you’re not just laying out a buffet of floral sippy-cups. This is not exactly AirBnb—unless you’d offer a house where the guests, after draining the sippy cups, are free to set their kids loose to eat your curtains, your rugs, the furniture, the books, the paintings, and the paint off the walls.

Your lovely native-plant hosts, I regret to inform you, are there to be eaten.

It ain’t pretty

You begin to see where I’m going on the reeducation? Used to be, I’d look for plants advertised as virtually pest-free. Generally, that means plants so alien to the local environment that no self-respecting local-native bug would touch them.

Now, however, I’m supposed to put plants in because they attract pests. Because something buzzing or floating or crawling about will take a sniff and yell Dinner! and zero in to chow down. Or worse yet, yell Honey, I’m home! and zero in to lay a couple thousand eggs that will hatch into Very Hungry Caterpillars.

Several Baltimore checkerspot caterpillars (bright orange bodies with small black spots and black hairy tufts along body) on a host plant's stem, with half-eaten leaf showing at left and another mostly-eaten leaf in foreground.

Very Hungry Baltimore Checkerspot Caterpillars
Baltimore checkerspot caterpillars II” by dogtooth77 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Granted, there’s payoff here for the local biome, not just for the individual species of guest I’m hosting. The caterpillars attract birds, who gather not for the aesthetic enjoyment but for the eating. And birds will help keep other insect populations (and annelids, aka worms) under control. So it’s all one great circle of life, kumbaya, amen. Right?

Still, when the leaves on my newly planted winterberry bushes started disappearing at an alarming rate last summer, Kumbaya ain’t what I was humming. It’s one thing to put up with the kids eating the drapes, but when they started in on the furniture, all I could think of was that those bushes came at 70 bucks a pop. A pretty steep price for a bug buffet!

Game plans gang a-gley

For this year, I planned to head off the sticker shock by buying seeds. Then I could start from scratch and keep refilling the smorgasbord in hopes of some leftovers.

I’m great on planning. On execution, not so much.

I got all the pots and potting medium and even put together a nice little nursery frame out under the Canadian hemlocks. The seeds should have gone into the nursery around January. Now it’s nearly June and I still have all the pots and potting medium. The seeds are still in the fridge.

Maybe next January.

Hope springs infernal

Meanwhile, incredible though it may seem, there are empty spots in the sunny-garden beds. And plenty of space in the shade border, where mulch continues to fight a losing battle against weeds, and needs some help from ground cover. So the weekend before last, after perusing several different sources and compiling a carefully curated list, I betook myself to the local native plants nursery.

Naturally (no pun intended) they were out of most of what I was looking for. “Crazy-busy” might best describe the scene; the manager and sole ringer-up on duty said it’s been hard to keep up with the demand. Apparently others share my preoccupation with native plants.

If I were cynical, I’d say a native plant nursery is the perfect business. You’re selling people stuff that begs to be eaten.  (Thumper and Bambi are another issue. Having more cosmopolitan tastes, they’ll eat just about anything.)

Several different varieties of plants in black plastic pots on an outdoor glass-topped table

The 2022 bug banquet

Anyhow, I improvised enough to assemble a bug banquet, the members of which are still waiting for distribution to their homes-till-consumed. And I’m hoping that enough will survive, even after the painted lady and monarch caterpillars have eaten their fill, that the banquet will have staying power.

Stay tuned.

About the larger environment

What can I say? Huge swaths of the western US are burning (again), the gun lobby and its hired hands in Congress remain adamantly opposed to legislation on gun safety despite yet another horrific slaughter of schoolchildren, and the Supreme Court… well, I said I wasn’t going to rant.

I’ll just say that if you can figure out how to light a candle rather than cussing the darkness, go ahead and more power to you. If you want any recommendations: we gardeners know how important it is to get root systems well established—that goes for movements as well as plants! Two organizations doing essential work that begins at the grassroots are (action on climate change) and Movement Voter Project (assisting community-level organizing for progressive causes). I especially like the way MVP sends occasional bulletins describing in detail what it has been supporting, and why.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the newsletter, which is just a notice when a new post goes up. Whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What native plants for your region do you particularly love? (If you’re not sure what’s native and what’s not, you can use the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.)
  2. Have you been trying in recent years to put more native plants into your garden? If so, what impelled you to do so?
  3. Do you know of any good sources for native plants in your region? Share a recommendation, please!
  4. Are there any good grassroots-oriented organizations you would recommend that other readers check out?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts, so scroll down till you find it.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and double thanks for responding!

Posted in animal life, pests and problems, plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Spring Fevers

When last heard from, Inconstant Gardener was rolling up the garden and putting it away for the winter. And anticipating more time for blogging, hence more frequent posts all winter.

Guess what? Well, look at today’s date, and you’ll know. I last posted shortly after we went off daylight saving time. We’re due to go back onto it this coming weekend.

Where did the past three-four months go?

Does this ever happen to you during winter? You start out with all these ideas about how you’ll make the winter cozy and/or productive and/or b-e-a-r-a-b-l-e, and before you know it, none of that has happened and the seed catalogs have piled up and there has been no knitting, barely any pickles or chutneys made, and no chestnuts roasting by an open fire. Nor has the stack of must-read books receded by one millimeter.

For the last of those, may I say in my defense: I have been reading, but somebody who will remain nameless but sports the initials I.C.G. keeps ordering two books (or three, or four) for every one read.

But seriously, where does the winter go? Or to be more specific, where the hell did this winter go?

Spring is on the Way. Yikes!

Not to get too far ahead of myself. It is still winter out there, and I have the photo to prove it. (Okay, it’s a week old, and it was 66° a day or so ago, so most of it’s gone now, but still….)

Snow-covered garden section showing outlines of 2 raised beds, with a small cast-iron decorative fence and some stakes to the left of the beds; beyond and on a lower level the trunks of some small trees can be seen rising out of the snow.

Not ready yet.

What a weird winter it has been. I had looked forward to a chance to use my snowshoes, newly bought in 2020 and never used. But snowfall has not cooperated. On average, we get 28 inches of snow from November through February. This year, we got barely more than half of that. The snows that did fall subsided faster than usual, too.

Climate change? November was 2° above the historical average; December, 4° higher; January, about average; February, 2° higher. Those averages don’t convey the seesaw we saw, though. Daily highs in February of 52, 58, 62 and even 66°, hopscotching with highs of 32, 28, 22 and 20°—and many of the lows in single digits. Climate whiplash!

And yet, and yet. There’s that switch to daylight saving time coming, followed shortly thereafter by the Ides of March, and about a week after that, spring equinox. It will be May before I know it.

Are we there yet?

We New Englanders know all too well that winter ain’t over till it’s over, but there are harbingers outside the calendar too. My daffodils out in the north forty (feet) started poking green feelers above ground back in mid-February. Something next to the front stoop is trying hard to assert itself, and once the pile of cleared-from-driveway snow melted away, that something revealed itself as undaunted.

We can’t rest easy (ha! we can’t get too active outside, is more the point) until mid- to late April, and I dare not plant much out there until a good deal later. But I know from sad experience that if I don’t get ready well beforehand, I’ll miss the spring boat.

Photo of ground with snow at top of photo, and some mulch-covered soil in foreground with several shoots of spring bulb plants coming up green through the mulch

Harbingers or foolhardies?

Do you know the last frost date for your area? (If you never get frost, don’t gloat. Remember you will never savor the joys of chilblains and frostbite.) And do you know when to get bizzzy with the spring garden tasks? Some call them chores, but that sounds, I dunno, kind of onerous, like it’s work or something.

If you’re planning on planting from seed, or putting in any tender plants, you need to anticipate what Ma Nature could toss your way unexpectedly. For that matter, even if you aren’t gardening, it’s a good thing to know that last likely frost date. Some years ago, a friend of mine in Boston, psyched for spring by a spate of March weather in the high 60s, put away all her winter clothes at the beginning of April. Whereupon of course the wind turned and she froze her tushie off all of April and into early May.

Your garden odometer

So, gardener or not, you may want to study carefully this tool from Dave’s Garden:

Look up your first and last freeze dates by zipcode

For reading the table you’ll get from your search, remember that degrees of probability matter. For my area, for example, there’s a 50% chance of light frost even after May 10; to get down to only a 10% chance, I have to wait until May 24. I might luck out with tender babies planted on May 11, but half the time I probably wouldn’t. So I will wait on those until late May.

Of course, if I’m planting the tough guys, like peas, I (and they) can afford to scoff at frost a bit. Those could go in as early as April 12. Peppers and squash, on the other hand, should only go into the ground after June 1. If you know what you’ll be planting in the veggie, herb, and annual flower department, Margaret Roach has put together a spring garden calculator that helps you figure out when to sow them outside or plant indoors. Or, if you prefer a more graphic guide, you can order the gorgeous spring planting poster from Hudson Valley Seed.

Down and Dirty

Cover of Fedco's 2022 Seeds and Supplies catalogThen, naturally, we need the seeds. Temptations in the form of seed catalogs started plopping into my mailbox in December. I resisted temptation the only way I know works: I didn’t open them. But they still whispered to me. I stashed them all with the gardening books and files, nearly a dozen of them. Johnny’s Selected. Fedco. Baker Creek Heirloom. Seed Savers Exchange, High Mowing, neseed, and a bunch of others.

That tally does not include the bulb and tuber and corm vendors. Those catalogs poured in with covers adorned with legions of irises and lilies and their sisters decked out in colors that would turn a rainbow green with envy. Some of those catalogs got saved too.

Why, I do not know. Because here’s the truth of the matter: there is no room at the inn. Well, maybe a tiny bit more. But only if I assemble the new cedar planks-and-connectors into the 3’X18’ bed I have in mind for the bottom of the stone wall. I find, however, that planting spaces are like unexpected money that rolls in. I can always think of three uses for every extra dollar. And by gum, I can always think of ten uses for every square foot of garden space.

Garden space has tricks my dollars haven’t learned, though. When it comes to veggie or annual flower plantings, I can often get two uses out of the same spot, with early and late crops. Like the late crop of beans and peas and carrots and radishes and lettuce and chard that kept me harvesting into late October last year.

Still, there are limits, unless I yield to the temptation to dig up yet another part of the lawn—a big part—and get Serious. But—no. Not this year.

Plan. Plan again.

I think I told you last year it’s best to have a plan, but you saw how that worked out. Even with a plan, I ended up way over-buying on seeds. Some of my neighbors benefited thereby.

But I may not have mentioned that I also bought all sorts of seed-starting paraphernalia. Grow lights and the chains to hang them. Heating mat. Trays and pots and a plastic-domed setup for starting the pickier seeds. None of that got used, but it beckons now, with many of last year’s leftovers labeled (last fall) START INDOORS IN MARCH or APRIL.

Meanwhile, I planned on something simple for the edible garden this year: herbs and salad, with a few bug-repelling flowers for company. How’s that for a resolution? The resolution stuck until I arrived at my local co-op market a few days ago to find confronting me, right upon entry and even before the bananas, several racks with choirs of seed packets crooning just to me. I resisted the melons and the broccoli and the cauliflower, but oh how the peas and squashes stirred my soul.

To the tune of the assemblage below.

photo showing fronts of a couple dozen seed packets of vegetables, herbs and flowers

Too much of a good thing

Another happy event for the neighbors.

Well, down at least

If you haven’t nabbed your seeds yet, you can still order online or even via mail-order (yes, some companies still do that!). For readers’ convenience, I have started a Resources section on this website, where you’ll find Seeds as the first crop, emphasizing organics.

But if you have the self-control necessary to run the risk of over-buying, check the seed racks at your local garden center, not the big-box one but the co-op or mom-and-pop operation. You’ll be supporting your local economy. Many of the companies listed on the Seeds page sell through stores as well as online.

A jumble of supplies for indoor seed-starting: peat pots, planters, mounts for grow-lights, timed extension cords, etc.

Batterie de jardin indoor

My next act with the seeds: to pull out the seed-starter equipment and get to work. Fortunately, the pandemic continues to curtail my wanderlust. Once the seeds get planted in the starter battery, I can’t leave them for more than one overnight without risking their drying out and expiring.

Up first: nicotiana, whose flowers, believe it or not for a name like that, are said to have an intoxicatingly sweet aroma.

Stay tuned. You may get to see candid shots of tiny shoots.

What got away

Here’s my admission of winter failure, though. I’d planned to plant a bevy of native wildflower seeds, the kind that require “cold stratification.” In English, that means they need to freeze their tiny buns off in cold wet outdoors for a couple of months before they’ll sprout.

Last fall I ordered Joe Pye weed, red columbine, and New England aster seeds from Maine’s Wild Seed Project. For those, you could just spread them out on the ground in fall and let them take their chances, but good luck telling them apart from the weeds when they come up. The more surefire approach requires sprinkling the seeds in a pot, watering well, and placing them outdoors in an enclosure to protect them from critters.

Surefire? You’re supposed to do that in November or December. Maybe January, if you’re pushing it. I intended November, really I did, and even got a 3’X3’ cedar frame set up ready. Then I intended December. Then I figured Oh well, January. And lo! it became Feb. 15, so I said Next year.

Yeah, I do that a lot.

The perennial problem

Cartoon in 3 panels, with 1 leader and 3 responders: <br>panel one: Who are we? (responders); Gardeners!<br>Panel two: What do we want? (Responders): All the plants! <br>Panel three: Where will we put them? (Responders): We don't know!The irony here of course is that if I had started all those nifty natives, by summer I’d have faced the dilemma of where to put them (see above disquisition on space limitations). Which brings up my favorite gardening cartoon. I wish I knew what brilliant soul came up with this, because I’d like to give credit and get permission. So if you know the source, please let me know!

The moral of this story: I’m beginning to understand why Japanese gardeners came up with bonsai. But that gets us to the topic of pruning, which I’ll have to reserve for the next post.

Meanwhile: make sure your garden really is warmed up for spring before you start “cleanup,” or you may destroy some of the beneficial insects that overwinter in leaf litter and dead twigs. I’ll say more on that next post, too—before spring advances too far.

While you’re waiting for that last frost

Dandelions growing alongside a gray curb; the street and most of the dandelion plant have been sprayed the blue in the Urkainian flag; a single dandelion remains bright yellow.

“Ukrainian Flag,” by Olga/ _Nezemnaye_
CC BY-ND 2.0

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created hundreds of thousands of refugees, and may mount to millions; it has also destroyed the homes and livelihoods of countless Ukrainians. If you’re looking for somewhere to donate or something to do, and aren’t sure about reliable organizations, here are a few possibilities.

Remember that in situations like this, there are rarely ironclad guarantees that your money will be used responsibly. Perfectly reliable and honest organizations may be so busy responding to urgent needs that they don’t get around to timely tracking or accounting for funds. So if you don’t feel comfortable with the assurances by particular collectors, investigate further or find organizations vetted for by a source you trust.

(NB: I’m not vetting, but I am passing on links provided by people or organizations I consider reliable. If you find the same organization/s recommended by several sites, they’re possibly that much more reliable, but they could just be more mainstream.)

  1. GoFundMe fundraising for Ukrainian Humanitarian Fund. According to the site: “All donations raised will be distributed to verified nonprofit organizations supporting vulnerable communities to obtain access to shelter, food, medical services, education, and psychosocial support….” Read the fine print! You can find here a listing of the organizations that have received funding so far, and those likely for future funding.
  2. How you can help the people of Ukraine, from the Obama Foundation.
  3. Want to support the people in Ukraine? Here’s how you can help, from PBS.
  4. How to help people in Ukraine and refugees fleeing the conflict with Russia, from NPR.
  5. How to Help LGBTQ+ and Black Ukrainian Refugees.
  6. Stand with Ukraine. Provides links to places to donate, but also to some non-financial actions you can take.
  7. Help Ukraine Win. The section up top is for supporting the “the Ukrainian tech community,” but if you scroll down there are links to other organizations and actions. Also includes link to widgets you can place on your website to link to the Help Ukraine Win site.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts, so scroll down till you find it.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What’s the first thing you do in your garden in the spring?
  2. How do you get your new plants started? Sowing seed indoors or out, or buying the seedlings started for you?
  3. What’s your favorite seed company or garden supply outlet, whether bricks-and-mortar or online? (You can provide one link per comment.)
  4. If you know of a good organization or action for helping Ukrainians affected by the invasion, could you post about it here? (One link per comment, please. You can post any number of comments.)

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Wishing everyone a spring that brings peace.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and double thanks for responding!


Posted in garden tasks, plants, seasons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Eleventh Hour

Happy Unhalloween!

‘Tis the season, at last, for dealing with the last dead or dying scraps before wrapping up the garden for the winter. (Don’t worry: the blog will continue. And I’ll have more time for it!)

A few days past Halloween, I happened upon a scene that seemed tailor-made as a motif for this season—and I even managed to park and get the phone camera out fast enough to get several shots, and a video to boot. Herewith, a sample:

Three black vultures near yellow center line of a road, two of them picking at some roadkill while the third appears to be supervising from about two feet away; tombstones of a cemetery in background, with green grass going brown and trees behind, most of them with leaves already dropped. In far background, a hill can be seen, topped with blue sky.

Picks just keep getting harder to find.

As I drove down the road towards this scene, I thought at first that it was crows picking at roadkill in the middle of the asphalt.

Wrong! Carrion eaters, but not corvids: VULTURES. Vultures picking daintily at a dead carcass. Not turkey vultures, apparently, unless they’ve been at the Clairol. Black vultures, which supposedly don’t range up this far north, but hey, climate change.

It’s not a jungle out there just yet

Now, if you’re expecting me to jump right to political topics, sorry! Sure, we’ll be getting to that as usual, but in the meantime, given several successive nights of real frost (and some humdingers; I woke up to 24°F one morning, and precious little warmer on others), winter is truly setting in, and deserves a mention.

Weeds are at last gasp; I can hear them choking when I step out onto the deck. They’re sitting ducks now for the pulling, which I have resolved to do this week, after I get this posted and the temperatures go up enough to make gardening less excruciating.

A bluish-white iris bud just about to blossom, but killed by frost. frost can be seen on the bud tip, on the beigy-brown casing, and on a flurry of iris leaves behind the doomed blossom.

What a frosted reblooming iris looks like.

Flowers? Curtains.

Yes, I actually did still have flowers. Quite a few: Montauk daisies. Black-eyed Susans. Coreopsis. Butterfly bushes. One or two gallant coneflowers. Some stalwart reblooming irises. Even a couple of gorgeous peachy-pink foxgloves that kept chugging right up until the mercury hit 28º. Requiescant in pace, every last sweet one of them. See ya in the spring.

But my main concern was the vegetable patch, of which, believe it or not, a good deal remained. In the last week of October, I ripped out the faltering pea and bean vines and harvested all the remaining cilantro, which still sits in a vase of water on kitchen counter awaiting judgment.

A large bunch of leafy cilantro, deep green, stems showing in the bottom of a large glass vase on a white kitchen counter. Miscellaneous small packages and bottles partially visible in background. Backdrop includes the lower right sections of a natural-wood window frame, a white cellular blind on the left side of the photo (closed), and off-white wall to the right.

Highly recommended if you need greenery for a flower arrangement!

Corn and bean salad? Chicken larb? Freeze the suckers? I’ll get back to you on that, because….

Pressing matters

The real drama remains in the veggie beds. Seeing the frosty forecasts, I hastily consulted my go-to source: The Internet! Can carrots survive frost, I asked Google. Are parsley and chard frost-hardy, I inquired of DuckDuckGo. (BTW, I highly recommend the latter as your go-to search engine. It does not track your every move the way supposedly first-don’t-be-evil Google does.) Mostly, the more reliable sources said no problema, although some drew the line at 24°F, others at 28°.

I ran to the garden store and found a GardenQuilt, 12ftX20ft, so I could cover the poor babies in the cold cold ground with a nice warm blankie. (It isn’t really quilted; it’s just a thickish layer of “spun-bonded polypropylene fibers,” which doesn’t sound very organic to me.) Before opening the quilt, I moseyed outside to assess the situation, and made an executive decision: a quilt was nuts. As in, what am I going to drape it over, and how many spots do I have to cover, and what will I hold it down with, and do I really want to cut this thing up and what about next year???

But I’m not reckless. To be on the safe side, I went to…

Plan B!

Part of a raised bed, viewed horizontally, with lots of bright green carrot tops showing at the left edge of photo and in the middle, with light tan saltmarsh hay tucked several inches high alongside the carrot rows. To the right of the carrots, some clumps of leaves of red-ribbed chard and bluish-green kale can be seen, with bare soil around them.

Settling in for a short winter’s nap

I piled a lot of salt-marsh hay alongside the carrot rows, muttered best-of-luck to the chard and parsley, and yanked out the last couple of lettuces. Then I went inside and turned on my central heating. (I held off till Nov.1 this year, in honor of our beleaguered planet, but also because we had such a warm fall.)

And what to my wondering eye did appear, that first morning after the first serious frost?

The raised bed, now seen vertically, with all vegetable leaves frost-covered: the hay-mulched carrot foliage fallen sideways, the red-ribbed chard leaves lying low. Only the kale, although also frosted, looks undaunted.

Frosted veggies! (Those floppy things in the middle and in back are/were carrot tops.)

I thought they were all goners for sure. But later in the day, I took a break from composing their epitaphs to survey the damage, and lo!

The same vegetable bed, from the same angle as in the preceding photo, with frosting gone, and most of the leaves perked back up.

Back up they perked!

Almost as good as new.

This hasn’t been a matter of one frost, though. I think we’ve had a string of five consecutive mornings that started off around 26° or even lower. When I checked yesterday afternoon, the parsley and the chard looked like they were having second thoughts about hanging on much longer.

My plan is to put them (and the carrots) out of their misery today or tomorrow—and to plant the garlic and shallots in their stead. The kale can stay; it has a bring-it-on insouciant air that almost makes up for its being… kale.

Planet A

Circle of life, right? I harvest the carrots, and put in a couple of allium cousins.

Some vehicle leaves roadkill, and the vultures get it.

Meanwhile, as I was beginning on this post, COP26 was just getting going in Scotland. It started on Halloween, apparently no irony intended by the organizers. (This gives you some idea of how long I labor on these posts. You’re welcome!)

Photograph of earth as seen from outer space, with part of the globe in total darkness; about 2/3 of the circle is visible, showing mostly blue with some continental masses buff-colored; swirls of white clouds overlay the whole. The background is pitch black.

The only one we’ve got.
NASA photo from collection “Looking back from Apollo 11,” July 16, 1969

If you were blissfully unaware of what COP26 is all about, well, not to bum you out or anything, but it’s a big UN conference, an international talk-a-rama about what to do about the increasingly dire situation of climate change. My apologies for giving you only Greenpeace links here, but you would not thank me for linking you to the Minotaur’s labyrinths of circumlocution on the UN and official UK (host for this session) sites for the conference. (I looked; I barely made it out alive and/or sane.)

That might be taken as a portent for what comes out of the conference, which continues till November 12. There may be slight progress, but nowhere near what’s needed given the challenges we face now. As far as I can tell, the main outcome seems to be that we’re all still lined up as not-too-distant-future roadkill. Maybe slightly more distant than before. Maybe not.

I’m not sure who will get to pick our carcasses, but to the extent that the homicidal vehicles have any drivers, they appear to be a mix of those aiming straight at us (big oil and big coal, can you hear me?) and those busy doing the après-vous-Alphonse shuffle over who will take the wheel if it means shouldering the responsibility of finding a better route.

In the nick of time

A group of short cylindrically shaped carrots, bright orange with lush green foliage tops still on them, set in a metal bowl on top of a pebble-glass table. A small white plastic plant label "French Baby Carrots" sits alongside the carrots in the bowl.

What the world needs now?

In the face of what’s coming at us, poking around in the garden sometimes seems nothing but a slightly more elegant variant of the ostrich-head-in-sand gambit. I mean, seriously, is what the world needs really more organic French Baby Nantes carrots or Festiva Maxima peonies?

Before I managed to work myself into a hopeless pretzel over this (which I confess could just be an excuse for giving up on the garlic planting), Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, Orwell’s Roses, landed in my mailbox.


I’m about halfway through it, and it’s so good I plan on devoting a whole future post to it.

But I can tell you this much now. Solnit discovered, almost by accident, that George Orwell, that famously acerbic essayist, novelist, and memoirist, was an avid gardener. And that he relished the beauty flowers bring to our world, as well as enjoying the tasty things he brought to the table from his veggie patch. In the midst of the Great Depression. Before and after taking part in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, which pummeled the UK for six years beginning in 1939. And postwar, while slowly dying of tuberculosis.

Solnit makes a strong case for the necessity of beauty in its many forms (from flowers to philharmonic orchestras) to sustain us as we work for a better world. So, en avant, carrots and peonies! And now I’ve got to get to the garlic.

But before I do, in case you aren’t already involved in action on climate change, let me suggest that you take a look at grassroots-oriented groups in your area. Or check out, which works at the grassroots internationally, describing itself as a “planet-wide collaboration of organizers, community groups and regular people fighting for a fossil free future.”

As for that contest:

Remember these?

Mystery fruit A

… and Mystery fruit B

… along with Mystery fruit C

Several eager readers made stabs at identifying these fruits. We had two guesses for A (mangosteen and loquat), and two for B (pawpaw and mango). C seemed the most popular item: two people went for lychee, and two for kousa dogwood.

And the correct answers are….

A: medlar

B: pawpaw

C: kousa dogwood

Nobody got all three, but one person did get both the pawpaw and the kousa dogwood right. Helen, I hereby declare you the winner. I think a suitable prize, unless you already have it, would be a copy of Orwell’s Roses. Will be in touch!

Thanks go to Corky for the photo of the kousa dogwood fruits. I took the pictures of the other two fruits during an Edible Landscaping Walk (and talk) at Cricket Hill Garden on October 9. Dan Furman of CHG gave a fascinating introduction to some fruits that gardeners often don’t even know about.

Photo of a pawpaw fruit, opened and partly scooped out with a spoon. The fruit is in a round white bowl, with a black-handled spoon inserted into it. Part of the creamy yellow flesh has already been scooped out, and a couple of the large dark brown seeds are partially visible, as is a small line of the greenish skin around the fruit.

A pawpaw, open for business.

Such as the pawpaw. As part of the walk, we all got some sample fruits. I took my pawpaw home with me, set it sideways to slice off a small lengthwise section, and used a spoon to scoop out the fruit. It was delectable, like a cross between a sweet custard and an applemuch like its aptly named tropical cousin, the Custard Apple. I nearly jumped back into the car to drive the 2 1/2 hours back to Thomaston CT to collect a couple of pawpaw trees for myself.

Only one thing stopped me. As long as I had (and have) no idea where to plant the aronia bushlet I’d brought home with me, buying a couple of trees was maybe not a great idea.

But I have plans for spring.

And one little heads-up, for the ecologically minded

The Berkshire Botanical Garden has announced its Sixth Annual Rooted In Place Ecological Gardening Symposium on November 14. This year they are offering two different types of registration: one for physical attendees on the day of; the other, for online-only, which provides recorded sessions you can dip into any time from November 21 until New Year’s Day 2022. I’ve signed up for the online version. Some of you may want to do so as well. ($ involved, but not an outrageous amount.)

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. Is there anything you’ve given up on in your garden and consigned to winter’s blast? Anything you’re still hanging onto, or moving indoors?
  2. What steps do you think it’s helpful or useful for us to take in our gardens or in our daily lives that might, albeit infinitesimally, slow down our hurtling into climate change, or mitigate its consequences? And if you know of any good organizations working on climate change, please share that info. You can include one link per comment. Multiple comments are fine!
  3. Asking again, in case you’ve had a brainwave, or recently joined us: What topics would you like to see me tackle while we’re hunkered down for winter in the coming months?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Thanks, and stay healthy and green in the best of ways!

Posted in animal life, fall, garden tasks, plants, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Falling Behind

Every year before this one, fall has come like a kind of reprieve. All those tasks still undone turn moot. Weeds keel over and expire of their own accord. Way too late to plant more veggies; sigh of relief there. The rodent marauders have done pretty much all the visible damage they can manage, and I happily leave the overweening hosta to them.

But not this year.

Mixed signals

My memory tells me that by late September, we’re supposed to have had our first frost. Yes, I know memory could play trickster. But I think the plants, too, were all expecting the frost, and don’t quite know what to do with the extra time this year. They seem like the householder halfway out the door getting ready to lock up, suddenly realizing that the lights and the iron and the TV are still on, and the washing machine has somehow stuck between the wash and rinse cycles.

Muted colors this fall

Halfway out. Some of the hardwoods finally gave up on waiting for frost and decided to strut their fall colors regardless. The trees that wear yellow in autumn have decked themselves out spectacularly. Driving back-country roads on sunny days during the past week has felt like a slide through tunnels of incandescent butter.

The red and orange crowd, though, haven’t kept pace.

My poor old ailing granny sugar maple ordinarily ramps up from tangerine to cherry red in late September. This year she started dropping her leaves in October without the formality of fall colors at all, unless you count brown.

tiny bright red crabapples (looking like berries) on a dark gray-brown branch; indistinct green background

Crabapples, on the other hand, are putting on a gala fruit display this year!

The veggies have shown confusion, too. The late peas and beans continued producing into last week, but well before that the pods seemed resigned to losing their race against the shriveling, from ground on up, of their parent plants. Except for the snow pea plants, which apparently thought all along that their job was to grow as high as possible and skip the pods. Topping six feet, and a grand total of six pods.

They’re improvising…

…different responses to what they must all sense: the shrinking days. They just can’t figure out what to do when daylight and temperatures fail to correlate as usual. So they wing it.

four tiny red lettuce seedlings spaced to grow in a dark gray-brown bed; at the top of the photo, the edge of a chicken wire crop coop slghtly obscures a couple more lettuce seedlings and a few leaves of a small chard plant.

Can you spot the lettuce? (Hint: it’s red)

Me too. About 10 days ago I planted ten lettuce seedlings, just to see what happens, if we don’t get frost till November—not such a bizarre supposition, judging by our ten-day forecast. (Thus far, approximately nada has happened in the lettuce patch.)

So this year it’s a different kind of reprieve: extra time to do things that I’d ordinarily have given up on. I’m still not sure I want that kind of reprieve. I’d like to be able to look out the window and say to myself, Wait till April. After six straight months of nonstop gardening, haven’t I earned a rest?

Apparently not.

Mind you, I know full well that I bring this on myself. It was not my evil twin who decided it was a good idea to order all those pollinator-pleasing native-flower seeds. Those call for cold stratification in pots, outdoors in a screen-protected frame, which I have to build before the snow is under rather than on top of it.

Why did I opt not only to plant garlic again, but to add shallots to the mix as well? Both require late-fall planting.

section of garden plot showing just-planted elderberry sapling and a smaller shrub; in background an assortment of buckets in green, red, and lavender, and a large bag of topsoil on grass which extends into the background

One mission accomplished

And somebody—maybe that was my evil twin—ordered not only a stripling elderberry bush-to-be, but also an aronia. For several days both sat on my deck, waving importunately at me. There was space for the elderberry, so I finally got it into its home last week.

I looked up the aronia. It grows to 12 by 12 feet!

That had to be the evil twin’s doing.

Seeking the cure

Meanwhile, I’m feeling a bit like that ailing maple tree, wanting to drop it all without going through the standard steps. I make gardening schedules but don’t stick to them. Try to cram too much into an afternoon, and end up getting none of it done.

This has me wondering whether there’s a climate-change psychodiagnosis to match the Covid-19 pandemic one. You know, the discovery that many of us haven’t been exactly depressed or anxious or manic or catatonic for the past 19 months, but languishing.

How many of us manage to languish with grace and panache?
Languish” by mengzi13 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For climate change, when the weather gets weirdly out of sync with the seasons, I propose a diagnosis of wilt. Or maybe wilt-not, as in do the weather what it wilt, I wilt not do what I ought.

Is there an antidote for the wilt-nots? Thus far, I’ve found only one. It consists in tricking myself. In mid-afternoon (which seems to arrive around lunchtime these days), I put on the gardening boots just to take a tiny stroll outside. Once I get out there, the garden does its magic.


Chaotic and disorderly magic, perhaps. I go outside with no fixed purpose. Picking the last three beans can segué into transplanting those lettuce seedlings, which can incite some harvesting of lemongrass or sage, followed by weeding the clover out of the lowbush blueberry patch.

That trick got me out to put that elderberry into its new digs last week, just before heading out of town for a two-day break in my regimen of procrastination.

Maybe this week I’ll manage to trick myself into ripping out the useless landscaping cloth (hosting a bumper crop of weeds), in order to relocate the Japanese forest grass hakonechloa. And that will naturally transition to spreading a lot of the mulch that’s encumbered the driveway for two months.

Oops. Three months.

Michelle Obama, in olive green and on the right, and an unidentified child in blue jacket and dark watch cap on the left; both kneeling in front of a wood-edged garden bed with M.O. demonstrating planting a lettuce seedling; indistinct background with mostly bare trees and bushes and a partly sunny blue sky; yellowish green tinge of a bush in the background suggests early spring.

White House Kitchen Garden Planting (NHQ201604050007)” by NASA HQ PHOTO 
licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With luck I can keep busy enough to stop fretting about when I’ll be able to get a Moderna booster for my J&J vaccine. Or whether we’ll see yet another pandemic spike in the winter.  And when or even whether the global supply chain will mend itself. With even more luck, Mitch McConnell will take to poring over seed catalogs (let’s all send him one!) and realize he has a lot in common with Michelle Obama.

That’s the lovely thing about gardens. Hope springs eternal, if you just get down and dirty.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. Is fall lasting longer in your garden this year? If so, are you doing anything more, or anything differently, compared to “normal” years?
  2. If you’re one of the many millions who turned to or intensified your gardening during the pandemic, do you think you’ll keep at it when (I won’t say if) the plague has receded? How do you think you’ll adjust your efforts once the outside world’s distractions aren’t life-threatening?
  3. What topics would you like to see me tackle while we’re hunkered down for winter in the coming months?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

For extra fun: can you identify the fruits pictured below?

Mystery fruit A

Mystery fruit B

Mystery fruit C

Give it a try; you can put your answer/s into a reply below. You can look for the answers (along with photo credits) in the next blog post. If you want to provide a link to a source for your answer, you can do so, but you should know that in order to prevent spamming by nasties, the blog is set up to allow only one link per reply.

Posted in fall, garden tasks, plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Department of You Think You’ve Got Problems

Every once in a while, I learn something that puts my problems into perspective.

This is not to say that I’ve bought into my mother’s pocket wisdom, based largely on her impoverished childhood. Whenever one of us kids was inclined to complain about some minor irritant—somebody picking on you at school, a smashed bike we couldn’t afford to replace, a parental prohibition on having any fun with friends on Good Friday—her invariable response, unless actual blood was spurting, was: “no matter how bad off you are, there’s always someone worse.” (I know that’s not grammatical, but that’s what she said.)

Don’t get me wrong; I am well aware that there are degrees of bad. There’s too much rain in one week, for example, and there’s the Greenland ice cap melting. There’s a very dry July, and there’s the Dixie fire and then the Caldor fire.

Best intentions

I’d been planning on treating you to a blog post about all the little things that were actually going right in my garden. Maybe I’ll slip in a few of those a bit further along here. But I have to admit I have been getting the tiniest bit grumpy because not everything has gone right.

My chickenwire crop coops (try saying that ten times in a row, fast!) have kept out the bunnies, but not the cabbage white butterflies. Twice now, within a week, I’ve found one of those fluttering inside one of the coops, trying to get out. Either they’re smart enough to figure out how to get in but too dumb to find an exit, or they’re hatching inside. In any case, I released them and now watch anxiously for signs of caterpillar devastation on my Pink Beauty radishes. None appeared, but something attacked the roots of the arugula in the same coop. Sayonara, last night’s salad.

And I delayed just a little too long before harvesting my beauteous basil. Five flourishing bushes of the stuff. When I finally went out with my knife, I found them all full of downy mildew. So, down the oubliette with those.

Bean plants in foreground, growing upwards supported by strings stretched horizontally attached to vertical wooden stakes. Right hand stakes for 3 rows of beans are visible. In background, other plants, chickenwire crop coops visible, with some lawn off to the right and trees in background, revealing a small splotch of blue sky.

When bush beans go pole…

There can even be too much of a good thing, like the bush beans that weren’t. Bush, that is. I thought maybe I misread the package, but I just dug it out again.  There’s the name on the label: Maxibel Haricot Vert Bush Bean. Two weeks ago, I had to sacrifice a half dozen of my 5-foot plant stakes to improvise a support system for bushies that seem to think they’re pole beans.

But at least they have started to form the skinny little haricots.

That, however, is not the perspective I got.


For that, I take you halfway round the globe and invoke the experience of my friend R.

R has lived in Bali for many years now. I’ve visited that amazing island a couple of times, and let me tell you, when people talk about tropical paradises, they are not exaggerating. Things grow fast, in profusion, with wild abandon. Everywhere. Rain is regular, and so is sunshine. Okay, maybe it’s kind of hot and humid, but hey, tomatoes and eggplants and peppers love that.

Thick Balinese jungly growth, with vines climbing up tall trees, and some large-leafed plants in foreground that look like vastly overgrown versions of house plants; dominant color is green in shades ranging from bright medium to shadowy dark green

“House” plants in original habitat

So do all sorts of plants that we here in the “temperate” (speaking of averages) northeastern US consider houseplants. But oh my, outdoors in Bali, they grow so big they’d never fit in your house. Unless you are blessed with cathedral ceilings and seven thousand square feet of unencumbered floor space.

R recently consulted me about what plants might be suitable for sprucing up his indoor open-air patio (aka living room and dining room). He thought Monstera deliciosa would be easy (and Monstera can sure live up to its name in Bali!). But he leaned towards some kind of Heliconia. We went back and forth a bit, and I suggested that he might want a combination that would fill out more lushly than the more narrowly vertical Heliconia.

Paradise, but for…

He replied that it’s not a good idea to “let things get too jungly,” citing experience.

There used to be two or three big vines of [a] climbing plant…. [I]t had morphed into huge, tree-like vines that climbed to the ceiling in two locations, some very big leaves, actually somewhat attractive.

Sounded pretty cool to me, all right, but he continued:

The problems is that when things get too jungly here, one can find that one has created a wonderful habitat for snakes.

His next sentence mentioned cobras and kraits.

He was not just dramatizing the issue. I did some research.

Bright green viper coiled on top of a branch; branch is bare, brown, and about twice the thickness of the viper's body. Viper's tail has a strip of red; the top of the head is a slightly deeper green than the body, which verges on chartreuse

White-lipped Island Pit Viper, Trimeresurus insularis
by Bernard Dupont
licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Bali is home to six species of poisonous land snakes: the spitting cobra, the king cobra, the blue krait, the banded krait, the Asian coral snake, and the island pit viper (which hangs out in trees and shrubs during the day). For a couple of these, no anti-venom is available. You might survive a bite from one of those, if they get you onto a ventilator fast enough, and keep you on it for a week.

Not that R had seen any of these interlopers in his living space yet, but he sure got me thinking. Especially after I ran across the photo of the seventh and highly venomous reptile, the banded sea krait. Normally they stay in the water, but they do come on land to lay their eggs. This particular specimen had its portrait taken after being found in a villa in the lovely little seaside town of Sanur.

Near where R happens to live.

Why invite trouble? Plant the Heliconia!

A patch of Heliconia pendula, with straight upright stems and large leaves somewhat like banana leaves, but flopped over, and strings of yellow-tipped red bracts hanging below the leaves, nearly to the ground

Heliconia pendula, by wallygrom
licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Next time I’m out shaking my head over the cabbage whites’ damage or muttering unprintables as I struggle to establish yet another tier of support for those boisterous beans, I’ll hear my mother’s voice saying, “no matter how bad off you are…”

Good news?

So, the good news is, I can reach in to harvest those haricots without worrying that my hand will come out with a krait attached to my wrist. This, believe me, is a great comfort. So much so that I barely notice the large spiders staring warily at me from atop the bean leaves.

Other things are going fairly well too. My main attention in recent weeks has been on the veggie garden. I was late putting much into it this summer, so most of the raised beds stayed pretty bare until late July. But I’m here to tell you: there’s a lot you can put into the ground in late July or early August, and still get a respectable crop.

Two French breakfast radishes and a handful's worth of thin haricot green beans, on either side of a 12-inch wooden ruler, showing that the beans are about 6 inches long and the radishes about two inches. The radishes are vaguely cylindrical in shape, with deep pink tops (here, inverted to bottom of the picture) and a small strip of white towards the root end.The aforementioned beans look likely to overwhelm me with their output. The arugula (the ones the mysterious root marauder hasn’t gotten to) and the lettuce are chugging along nicely, and bid fair to overwhelm me alongside the beans. The peas (peas!!! in September!!!) have started flowering and I cherish hopes of getting a few. Not too many, because: the beans. The radishes have yielded numerous pink globes and a few French breakfast pink-and-whites. (Never mind that half of them look more like a dog’s dinner; they taste just fine.)

Shiso has been spicing up my salads, and the cilantro is looking close to ready. The chard is rampant. And I just put some kale starts in a couple weeks ago; I’ll report back about those. Not sure yet whether I’ll get much out of the carrots, but the green tops sure look pretty. Thinking I should plant a lot of them as borders for the flowerbeds next spring.

Speaking of which, my sister was here for about 10 days and heroically weeded those beds, thus leaving me with more time for fussing over the veggies. Meanwhile her dog, by snuffling eagerly around the burrow apparently taken over by a wascally wabbit from Tamerlane-the-woodchuck, struck such terror into its resident that I have seen nary a rodent since. He is aptly named: Boo.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. Did you do any late-season planting this year, and/or do you usually do so? If veggies, which ones do best for you? If flowers, please let us all know what manages to flower before the frosts hit!
  2. Or, if you’re already packing your garden in for the year, what are you looking forward to, to replace your work out in the garden?
  3. What’s the worst garden disaster you’ve experienced this year, and on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being meh, and 10 being a banded sea krait), how bad would you say it was?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Thanks for reading! (And P.S.: that’s a monarch butterfly’s caterpillar pictured at the top of the page, taking a rest from chomping its way through my one surviving Asclepias tuberosa.)

Posted in animal life, pests and problems, plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

To Do Or Not To Do


In case you’re wondering why I call this blog “Inconstant Gardener,” let me give you an example.

A screenshot of the top part of Charlie Nardozzi's Late July Newsletter, with a title panel in white font (on green background) reading "Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi" and an inset headshot of Charlie in blue shirt and wearing a panama-style hat. List of subjects under the Late July Newsletter line includes Tough Russian Sage, Plum Crazy, Bountiful Basil and Controlling Tomato Hornworms. Under that list is the top of a photo of a cucumber handing from its vine, surrounded by backlit leaves.

Gardening with Charlie Nardozzi

Last October, as I was starting up this blog, I searched for good blogs or newsletters on gardening. You know, so I would have some models, and some sense of what wasn’t being covered in gardening blogs. One of the newsletters I subscribed to was Charlie Nardozzi’s (you can sign up at, guaranteed to plop into my emailbox once every ten days, labeled by month and segment. “Charlie’s Early February Newsletter,” “Charlie’s Mid February Newsletter,” and so on.

And on and on. It’s like when I subscribed to the daily and Sunday New York Times, on paper. I felt obliged to read from the first-page headlines right on to the final section (although I did allow myself to skip Sports). The pile of not-yet-completely-read papers rose higher and higher, and then I had to start a second pile, and… yeah, you can imagine.

Well, I did okay with the fall and winter issues of Charlie’s Newsletters. The fall ones mostly talked about harvest and cleanup. Since my raised beds only got raised in October, I had no harvest to worry about. I reveled in Charlie’s wisdom on cleanup—mostly: leave it lie!—and immediately put it into practice by doing nothing.

So far, so good

Then during the winter, as the snow piled up and the winds howled, I got to read the previews of coming attractions. How-to’s on growing catmint, for example, or African violets (as if!). Or even, inventorying seeds left over from the previous year—an easy one for me: all of them!—and making a list of things to be done in the garden come spring.

Also an easy one. I excel at list-making. If you doubt that, I could show you the entire box of index cards containing to-do items, carefully categorized. House, garden, errands, calls, write, read, social media, fix, cook, tidy, office, and a fair number more. “Done” has its own category, just so I can reassure myself that I do occasionally get something done.

There are three cards in it.

The Hurrier I Go…

Closeup of card file box containing dividers labeled with garden categories: fruit & veg, perennials-sun, perennials-shade, annuals, shrubs, trees, plans/design, and three other dividers shaded so their headings are indecipherable; various colors of index cards can be seen ehind each divider.

Gardening with Inconstant Gardener

“Garden” got so big it now has its very own box, subcategorized to the nth degree.

And there’s Charlie’s newsletter, giving me plenty to put on the list. So much, in fact, that when spring sprang on us early this year and then we roared into summer, I fell a bit behind.

How behind? Let me put it this way. Charlie’s Late July Newsletter recently arrived. I’m still working on Late March. Now when they arrive, I file them in the Blogs/ Inconstant Gardener/ Materials folder and pray for December.

It’s not as though I haven’t been working out there. I have at latest count seven very full yard-waste bags of uprooted dandelions, plantains, Johnny jump-ups, crabgrass, and other assorted weeds whose names I still don’t know. (Because I’ve had no time to check them against the encyclopedic Weeds of North America.)

If you roamed my yard, you’d find two huge tarp-wrapped bundles stashed in odd spots. These are full of branches pruned (weeks ago!) from dogwoods, burning bush, Canadian hemlock, kolkwitzia, witch hazel that were contending too obstreperously with their neighbors.

And there’s garlic in one raised bed ready to harvest, which I planted in a big rush last November praying it wasn’t too late; and onions I planted in a big rush in April because it would be too late by the very next day.

Raised bed, seen longitudinally, with garlic plants ready for harvest in foreground, most of their leaves having turned brown. Behind them are basil and other plants flourishing (or not). To the left of the bed is a gravel path; in front, behind, and to the side of the bed is an area covered with straw mulch. On the right side of the photo is the top of a stone wall with a couple of herbs in pots on it, and beyond the wall, a stretch of green lawn.

Garlic, as good as at least ten mothers!

…The Behinder I Get

What else is in the raised beds? Welllll, there’s the rub. In late May I finally gave up on my seeds and got some herb and lettuce starts on sale at the garden store. Then about three weeks later when those looked about to give up the ghost if I didn’t do something, I bunged them in near the garlic and the onions.

But off the hook I am not.

Woman in white tank top and black running rights squatting in middle of a sandy/grassy path tying very long shoelaces on her right shoe.

Getting them jussssstttt right!
“Sporty woman tying shoelace on running shoes before practice” by wuestenigel, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Now, I know the importance of planning. You know, so I don’t do things in such a slapdash way that I end up not tying my shoelaces before beginning the race, so to speak.

I concentrate very hard on tying the shoelaces. The advantage: my shoes never fall off mid-stride. The disadvantage: the race is usually over before my shoelaces are finally tied properly.

A Woman, A Plan B

This late in the summer, I knew the time for planting early crops in the space left in those raised beds was long gone. But I took hope from the fact that I had plenty of room for late summer/ fall crops. As I ruminated over plans for those crops (inventorying seeds: all of them!), I stumbled upon a gorgeous multi-colored poster offered by Hudson Valley Seed Company. Late Season Planting Guide!

Colorful "Late Season Planting Guide" poster in graphic form with numbers running in countdown along top: 16, 14, 12, etc... to first frost, followed by 2 and 4 after first frost; to the left, sections are marked out for direct sowing outdoors or for starting in pots. Various vegetables and herbs (indicated with small pictures and names written in script) are represented in colored bars in the body of the graph, placed according to suitable planting times; areas in graph without bars are vividly illustrated with pictures of wildlife and fall tasks.

Late season planting guide for the planter who’s running late

Aha, thought I! This will guide me through the planning and planting. From what I could see of it in the online catalog, it looked so inviting. It depicted many delectables I could plant 16, 14, 12, 10 etc. days before first frost. Definitely a must-have. So I ordered it, well ahead of time: July 3. Even if it took a week to arrive, there was still plenty of lead time for the planting.

Are you already rolling on the floor laughing? Yes, it arrived, and only upon unscrolling it and reading the small print did I realize that those numbers up on top were not for days before first frost.

They were for weeks.

Plan C

Farewell, hopes of parsnips, winter or summer squash, cucumbers. No time for you!

This had its advantages: more room for the beans, beets, carrots, Asian greens, lettuce, calendula. Even peas! And the squash and cucumber seeds stay viable for a couple years at least.

rounded basket containing ziploc bags with dates showing inside each (week of July 11, week of July 18, etc.); in front of the bags is a green index card with vegetables listed after each "week of" date from July 11 through Aug. 22

Plan C

Disadvantage: RIP parsnips. They’re good for only one year, the finicky snips.

Now in acceleration mode, I divided all the seeds that still qualified for a try. They went into separate ziploc bags labeled “week of July 11,” “week of July 18,” “week of July 25,” etc. All the way to the week of Sept. 28, the likely zero hour (as in Zero Centigrade).

Then I decanted all the seeds in the first bag into separate little lidded plastic cups. (If you’re planting in a hurry, the last thing you need is to have all the seeds spill out of the paper envelope when you’re trying to fish out just one.) Stuck a little masking tape label on each lid, loaded them all into an aluminum pan, and sashayed out to the garden to get to work.

Seeds sorted into small individual plastic containers, labeled with a strip of masking tape across the lid of each: names (e.g., cylindra beet, summer savory, maxibel haricot), depth and spacing for planting, and where important, height of mature plant.

Ummmm, Plan D?

Whereupon I quickly realized that if I planted seeds for all the “Week of July 11” veggies, no room would remain for the Week of July 18, let alone the 25th. As for August, fuhgddaboutit.

Well, maybe not entirely. The garlic has to come out now, and the onions won’t be far behind, so there may be room for some kale and chard if I get the seedlings started indoors, which I am (according to the planting guide) supposed to do this week. Or was it last week?

Meanwhile, back at the wrench…

Keep in mind, we’re only talking about two 4’X8’ raised beds. A mere 64 square feet. My lot as a whole is a third of an acre, all burgeoning with weeds that did not fail to notice (unlike many of the recently planted perennials and shrubs) that we have been getting lots and lots of rain.

Photo taken from above, with small lilac bush on left, a few reddish-green leaves from an hibiscus plant to the right, and many many large vigorous weeds filling up the bed between them.

Weeds R Us

How much rain? One day, two and a half inches came down. For comparison’s sake: we got about two and a half inches of rain in all of June. In July, we got 11.92 inches.

Weed heaven.

Hence, on days when it hasn’t rained, I’ve been spending most of my time weeding and mulching like crazy. The veggies in the raised beds somehow have to be squeezed in between.

Pieces of a "crop coop" (chcken wire on frames of metal rods) still to be assembled, set on their sides against a table and still wrapped in plastic, with an instruction sheet protruding from below. All rest on a deck with brown wood-grain slats; only the black metal legs of the table are visible behind the pieces.

Assembly required. Natch!

And meanwhile, assembly work awaits me in the garage. The rotating compost bin that arrived (in pieces, natch) in June still sits patiently—no, let me amend that. It lurks in the garage, tapping its figurative feet and glowering balefully every time I venture in looking for an empty pot or a trowel or a trug for weeds.

Lately, though, that carton isn’t causing me quite so much guilt because three boxes containing Chicken Wire Crop Coops (also in pieces, natch) are now keeping it company. These, once put together, will protect my tender baby veggie plants from Tamerlane The Woodchuck and Thumper The Wascally Wabbit.

No doubt all of these would have been assembled much sooner if I had my work bench set up in the garage. That has sat (in pieces, natch) in the basement… for the past 8 years.

All Depends on Point of View

Photo shows a Greek handled vase depicting Hercules trying to subdue the Hydra, a monster growing more heads as each is cut off. Hydra in this case has 9 snake heads. Vase has light ochre background with decorations in black and dark ochre. In addition to Hercules and the hydra, the vase has a strip of stylized designs running along the bottom and the top of the vase. The handles are black, with petals of black radiating out from where they join the body of the vase.

“Heracles’ 2nd Labor: The Lernaean Hydra I”
by Egisto Sani
licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

How to do all that needs doing, when you’re only one person and every task done sprouts hydra heads?

Clearly, the obvious solutions will never happen. I will not become two, three, many persons (and I suspect if I did, the extras would set yet more goals and make things even worse). I will not change my basic approach to life and work. And I certainly will not suddenly become younger, more energetic, or able to leap tall buildings with a single bound (not a useful garden skill anyway).

So instead of tormenting myself, I’m going to have to change the way I look at the situation.

Here’s the way I’ve started thinking about the garden. I do this work because I love it. Not necessarily because I adore the results. Sure, I get a thrill out of the bursts of flowers in early spring, and the blast of hibiscus blooms in August. I enjoy harvesting my very own lettuce and chard and basil, and sharing them when they invariably exceed my capacity to use them up. If no rewards ever popped up, I might quit. But when I stop to think seriously about why I spend so much time, sweat, and money on the garden, two reasons come to the fore.

Philosopher in the Garden: 1

Closeup photo, from above, of bright yellow yarrow flowers with a bee, legs bright yellow with pollen, at the center. Some indistinct greenery shows in background.


First, every task I perform in the garden rewards me with a sense of focus while I am doing it.

I may start out removing the weeds to give the shrubs and flowers and veggies room to grow. But a very few minutes into the work, my attention rivets on the square inch or square foot that weed occupies. I notice the differences between the crabgrass roots’ expansive shallow clutch and the dandelions’ deep-plunging taproot. The way some weeds fight to maintain their hold while others surrender with deceptive ease (sheer trickery: they always come back so quickly).

Every coneflower or peony or blueberry bush or lettuce seed I plant represents a hope for future bounty. But while I’m placing them in the right spot at the right depth with the right nutrients added, my world consists of the earthworms squirming away from the site, the ants busy at their own focused tasks, the mama spider hurrying off with egg case bundled close, the texture of the soil, the way last year’s mulch is melting into earth, the match between the height of plant in pot and the depth I dig.

No matter how stressed I am when I step out to work in the garden, within five minutes this focus brings me calm and peace.

Philosopher in the Garden: 2

Second, the combination of happenstance and experiment serves up an ever-changing dose of nature’s reality, keeping me humble while poised on my toes.

Drought or too much rain or a hailstorm at the wrong time or a new marauder, fungal or four-footed or fluttering, may decimate the fruits of my efforts. I can experiment with ways to reduce the random disasters, like those crop coops or a better juxtaposition of plants or a liberal sprinkle of powdered cayenne.

A tiger swallowtail butterfly (yellow and black striped wings edged with bars of black outlining one strip of dark blue squares and one of orange-yellow squares, with a black "tail" at back of wings; body is light yellow with black stripes) perched on top of a bright magenta frond of butterfly-bush flowers. A bumblebee is busy at work on a frond above the butterfly's. Background is gray cement at bottom, white clapboard at top.

Astonished by joy

But ultimately, I cannot exercise total control.

On any given day I may be outraged at the chomps taken out of the heuchera or the lacework created out of what used to be a hibiscus leaf. But I may also stumble with delight upon the tiger swallowtail butterfly judiciously sampling every magenta frond of the butterfly bush, or the toad so blended into setting that I spot her only when she shifts position.

I could never in a million years have planned those.

Is There a Big Picture?

Joy is not on the to-do list. And yet, why else do we do so much that we do, if we aren’t hoping that some form of happiness will come from it?  (Not all of it. A stack of clean dishes does not thrill me, even though a stack of dirty ones makes my teeth hurt. Relief of pain is a good goal too!)

In this frazzled, crazy, productivity-is-all, doing-more-is-doing-better culture, it does make sense for me to pull back from the worm’s eye view of the to-do list and soar up to get the eagle’s eye view. Why do I need to do all these things, and why now? Do I actually need to do them, and even if so, are they really so urgent?

Sometimes life intrudes in ways that remind me of the importance of getting the eagle’s perspective more often. A very dear friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly just a week ago. I hadn’t talked with her in a while, and for much of the previous week I kept making mental notes to call her. But I put it off because there were urgent (so I thought) things on the to-do list. So I planted beans instead of making that phone call.

Believe me, the next time I think of calling a friend, I will do it right away. Beans I can get at the supermarket. Friends are not replaceable.

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. Do you ever manage to finish everything on your to-do list? If so, how do you do that??? If not, does it bother you, are you trying various approaches to deal with it, or do you figure it’s just the way things are?
  2. Is there any particular garden task that you feel you’re always behind on? Ahead on?
  3. If there’s a friend you’ve been thinking of calling, and you’ve been putting it off, make the call now! Then come back and tell us about it if you still have the time.

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in garden tasks, people, plants, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Home Sweet Home

Inconstant barbarian

I destroyed somebody’s home about a week back.

Actually, I probably do that a lot without even noticing it, and when I do realize that’s what I’m doing, I stop myself.

Like the day before the homewrecking, while I was watering the dwarf Norway spruce (“needs frequent watering unless you’ve been getting ample rain,” said the tag—or something to that effect). I’d already deliberately jet-hosed off the spider-mite webs lurking between branch tips. Those mites do a ton of damage to the poor little vertically challenged spruce. Then I spotted an expansive open-work web stretching the two feet between the spruce and its viburnum neighbor.

Still in cleaning mode, I was about to hose that away too, but hesitated.

Why spray it away? It’s not in my way. It may be in the flyway, for flies and mosquitoes and gnats and such. But—not that I mean to be judgmental—who needs them?

So I desisted, and received my reward. I spotted what I took at first for a curled-up brownish leaf lodged at the web-to-spruce intersection. It hung on to the branch in most un-leafy bouncy fashion.

I looked more closely, and spied a small tank of a spider, its huge boxy body supported by the kind of legs a Star Wars monster might stomp with. When I say huge, I’m thinking like a fly caught in web as Spidey hustles forth like Godzilla incarnate. Half an inch across at least, and all deadly menace. I would show you closeup photos, but you would not thank me if they gave you nightmares. Look here if you dare.

Full of surprises

A strange mess of slender gray/brown twigs, with some green coneflower leaves over and (a couple) under them, with the rim of a black plastic pot showing in lower right corner

The mysterious mess of sticks

My big surprise, though, was walking out onto my deck the fateful evening and finding, as I glanced at the four pots of coneflowers stashed in the rail planter awaiting their permanent homes, a strange intrusion. Masses of small sticks protruded that weren’t there in the morning.

Now wotthehell! I muttered. Weird things have been happening on that deck lately:

The gust that yanked the umbrella out of its stand and the surrounding table and launched it on an arc all the way to the garden’s edge. I didn’t see this happen, but deduced the arc from the fact that nothing in the straight line from launch point to landing got destroyed.

Or those flourishing Asclepias tuberosa (milkweed if we’re not talking fancy), all four of them set down tidy in their pots for the night atop a milk crate after bedtime watering. When I came out the next morning, I found skeletal remains: lost and half-gone leaves, and a few stalks also halfway gone. Ain’t no caterpillar did that!

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) in bloom, with clusters of bright orange flowers atop stems with foliage, alternating long thin pointed green leaves, against a background of brown mulch and gray cinderblocks

What the milkweed should look like

Four pots of Asclepias tuberosa after something munched them down by half; pots are light green plastic with black rims, a couple of them showing dark green script reading "Native plants." Pots are in a black plastic plant tray atop a glass table top, and parts of two lemongrass plants in smaller black pots can be seen nestled in two corners of the tray,

The milkweed, after the marauder got to them

But who else would have munched off most of the leaves and left half-bare stalks standing? Have I perhaps acquired a rabbit who toughly scoffs at milkweed toxins but dines daintily enough for Emily Post?

An investigation

So yes, like any gardener, I’m used to odd happenings. But these sticks ’midst the coneflowers were an anomaly of anomalies. They couldn’t have blown there at random. The coneflowers’ leaves massed so thickly they’d even made it hard for me to ensure that water got from the hose wand into their pots.

Bird's nest viewed from above, constructed of sticks and moss as described in accompanying text, with a few blurred green leaves showing at the four corners of the photo

Mystery solved

As I moved closer, I realized the sticks formed an interwoven structure. It wasn’t until I looked directly down at the plants from above that I realized the truth. Somebody of the avian persuasion had, in the course of one day, built a nest lodged tightly among the stalks and leaves. The stick edifice splayed out at the bottom, extending the underpinnings out among all four of the pots’ tops and the coneflowers’ understory. No wind would blow this nest away, unless the coneflowers, pots and all, took flight with it.

Closer to the center, the nest refined into fine intertwinings. At the very center, for the ultimate homey touch, the sticks spun into a bird-sized cup, carpeted with a soft, greeny-gold moss.

Moral calculus

Are you thinking, awwww, how sweet?

Not I. I faced a moral dilemma. To wit: If I leave the nest there, the coneflowers are goners. They need their homes in the ground soon. They might have a fighting chance if I keep watering them, but how could I spray cold water daily over a broody bird and her babies?

It came down to a choice between the bird’s nest, or the plants’ survival. I’d like to say I thought long and carefully, but I made the calculations fast. No eggs in the nest. It might have been built on spec—you know, Joe Robin builds a love nest to lure his maybe-lady to. But this year seems choc-a-bloc with these bird guys hopping about puffing their red chests out like there’s some MAGA rally in my yard. Maybe he has so much competition that he’ll never get lucky.

However, if he does get lucky, there might be eggs here soon.

Hell, if he can build a nest in a day, he can do it again. I’m proud to say that sticks are a dime a dozen (free, in fact) all over my yard. And there’s lots of moss handy too.

The coneflowers, on the other hand: seriously at risk.

Reader, I removed the sticks. And then I moved the coneflowers to a less bird-luring location.

A moral calculus?

An Eastern bluebird nest made of grasses interwound and containing three pale dusty-blue eggs, each about thumb size, as shown by the thumb on top of the nest at bottom of the photo

This would have stopped me cold!
Eastern Bluebird nest” by
licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I could justify myself by noting that if even one teensy egg had sat in that cushy nest, I wouldn’t have hesitated a nanosecond. The nest would still be there. I’d be praying anxiously for coneflower survival, while mama bird shrieked every time I stepped on deck.

Or if I had known it for a bluebird’s nest, with or without eggs, I’d have left it and let the coneflowers take their chances.

But I don’t feel good about my decision. This was somebody’s home.

And when I stop to think about it, I recall that homes—for wild creatures and humans alike—have been disappearing at an increasingly rapid pace in recent years.

Some of that we can blame on climate change: the ominous rise of seawaters, the devastation wreaked by more frequent and more violent rampages by wind, water, and fire. Bangladesh could sit largely underwater in far too few years. California could go up in smoke, and Wyoming, you could be next. Ultimately, those disasters stem from over a century of human impact on the environment, not deliberate but as a side effect (an “externality,” as the economists phrase it) of increasingly breakneck industrialization and burning of fossil fuels.

In the shorter term, though, deliberate human action has caused massive habitat loss for thousands of species, sometimes including Homo not-so-sapiens. Many of us shuddered at the reports last year of the accelerated setting of fires Amazonia to clear land for farming or cattle grazing. (You can see a NASA report based on satellite images tracking the past two decades of Amazon forest destruction, with some vivid maps, here.) Here in the US, the destruction of natural (diverse) forests, meadows, and wetlands has augmented the effect of invasive species to put hundreds of our indigenous species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, trees and other plants at risk of extinction.

There may not be a lot I can do about all of those problems day to day, but I can (and should) put more care into making my own garden into a better habitat for other species. You’ll be hearing more about those efforts in future posts. (Mice, ants, and earwigs, if you are listening: this does not mean I will stop trying to drive you out of the house!)

Homes for all?

While I tinker on my own home, the issue of human homes has been weighing on my mind. Having volunteered in the past at a local survival center, I am keenly aware that homelessness among those of our own species is scandalously prevalent.

The numbers aren’t hard to find, although I suspect they understate the problem. The federal government uses a standardized approach in tallying the homeless. Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development coordinates locally organized counts of people without homes who are in shelters on one January night. Every other year, those who are unsheltered get counted too.

In 2020, the official tally found 580,466 people homeless in this country, nearly a fifth of them children. Over 200 thousand people had no shelter. In January.

If the numbers are a bit hard to see in perspective, think of it this way. If you imagine you had a clear field, you could put all these men, women, and children in Miami (FL) or Raleigh (NC) or Omaha (NE). You’d still have more than a hundred thousand of them left over. You could put them in Atlanta (GA) or Sacramento (CA), but over sixty thousand still would have nowhere to go. If you put them all in Baltimore (MD) or Minneapolis (MN), there would be enough homes left for only a few thousand others. Those however are the 2020 numbers. By this year, the increased numbers might top even those cities off.

And this doesn’t begin to capture the predicament of the ten million Americans living on the brink: in poverty and spending more than half their income on housing, or doubled up, due to poverty, in housing with people with whom their relationships may be precarious.

Hitting close to home

The issue has become visceral for me in recent weeks.

My sister has been ill for some months now, with a stomach disorder that has plagued her since childhood. It gets dangerous when she is under severe stress. She needs calm, stability, and security. Her stress levels ramped sky-high, what with losing a large part of her medical insurance during the pandemic and butting heads with the work-from-home bureaucracies for months on end; struggling with dirt-level poverty, bills piling up, meds unaffordable, dog getting sick, car dying—you name it. The mounting stress had her so sick that she lost about 50 pounds in two months.

Just as she was beginning to regain some health and strength, the owners of the little house she’s been renting decided to sell the property it sits on—land, big house, little house, everything. Before she moved in a year and a half ago, she told the owners she needed a place where she could stay put for at least 3 to 5 years. Their response: We’d never sell this. The real estate market in the area has now gone stratospheric. They’ve been living 200 miles away and like it where they are now. So they’re selling.

At first they said they’d wait till next spring. Then they said they wanted her out by September. Then in mid-June they told her she had to be out by July 15.

She’s been packing all day and vomiting every night since, and often spends half the night doubled up in pain.

The owners have every right to sell my sister’s home. Or do they? Legally, yes. Morally? You tell me.

I had every right to remove that bird’s nest. Or did I? I’m not so sure.

And now, your turn:

Remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts, if you haven’t already done so. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but please feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What have you tried in order to make your garden into a good home for more animals and plants?
  2. In your area, what are the biggest challenges to maintaining and expand habitats for native species?
  3. Do you know of any local community efforts to provide homes for those without any? Any ideas on the best ways to go about this?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.


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Exceeding Expectations

In a garden, as in life, we think we like predictability.

The sun will rise in the east in the morning and set in the west after making its daily arc across the sky. In summer, it will take its sweet time on that trip. Where you have planted bean seeds, it will not come up as okra or asparagus. If you apply dark rich compost at the right time and right place, your garden will be more fruitful. If you pull the weeds, the plants you want will have a better chance. The sun is a given, naturally, but the others depend on our efforts. Efforts that often yield wonderful rewards.

But other natural forces are not givens, and sometimes things happen that foil our efforts. The state of the weather notoriously preoccupies farmers and gardeners. A couple weeks ago I watched my farming neighbor cutting his hay and leaving it to dry where it fell. He came back a day or two later to do the baling and get it into the barn. If rain had fallen in the meantime, it would have washed out time, effort, and money.

If rain doesn’t fall for a long spell, especially during a heat wave, the farm’s other plantings need irrigation. I can gauge when it’s high time to water my garden by when its sprinkler system starts spraying across the rows. In the drought of 2016, when the town declared a watering ban, the farm could draw on its own pond for irrigation.

Irrigation sprinklers at work behind trees and shrubs in foreground; green hills visible in background

I, however, had to haul buckets of household water from washings and rinsings out to the plants that needed it most. Some of them nonetheless died, and the middle-aged birch and the gigantic grandma sugar maple on my lot have never quite recovered from that season of stress.

Charms of the unexpected

And yet, the unexpected in the garden can bring zings of delight. I’ve been savoring many of those. The weather brings some, as when the spring weather came in early March this year and the crocuses and daffodils and grape hyacinths billowed forth a month before I’d anticipated.

Tiny mushrooms with pale stalks and dark grey heads, growing profusely on top of strawSome garden surprises reward without direct effort. I get enchanting side benefits to watering, for example, as when my gaze lazies across the raised bed while I spray-bathe the young onions and my sight is snagged by a legion of tiny mushrooms that sprouted overnight from the straw mulch. Ephemerals that keel over as soon as the sun hits them.

Two stalks of yellow foxtail lilies in bloom against a white clapboard background; spiky green foliage spreads far below where the flower heads beginWhat else have I missed?

I nearly missed the eruption of two 5′ stalks brandishing giant bottle brushes made up of hundreds of small saffron flowers. I must have planted them, but can’t remember when. The yellow blast whacked me when I turned the corner of the house. They’d materialized while I neglected even to look at, much less weed, that particular bed for far too long. The thrill of seeing those fully grown, a reward for virtue postponed. But what if I’d delayed longer?

Now that I’ve figured out what they’re called (Eremurus bungeinickname: foxtail lily) I’m already wondering what to plant to keep them company.

There are sur-prizes for timelier work. When I inch through the shrubs-and-trees bed uprooting invaders, I encounter another party crasher. A welcome one: a profusely blue-blossomed cornflower plant that somehow burst forth where no cornflower had gone before. Is it cheating if I count the garlic scapes that  emerged seemingly overnight and corkscrewed their ways around their parent stalks and each other? If I hadn’t wondered whether it was time to water the garlic again, I might never have noticed (or harvested) them.

Life’s little lagniappes

Closeup of garlic scapes (capped by swellings tapering into sharp tips) wound around each other and the garlic plants' stalks and leaves; straw mulch visible in background.

Garlic scapes in action

Don’t get me wrong. I have not turned into Petunia Pollyanna. I still worry about the bunnies and Tamerlane the Woodchuck eating that which should not be eaten (except by me, or in the case of the geraniums, at all). The growing paper-wasp nests that I find moored on the underside of the deck umbrella make me fret; I know I have to do something about those some cool early morning. And I keep finding weeds growing in the darnedest places.

Still, the garden delivers delightful daily reminders that I am not running a machine that processes inputs in some predetermined unerring way and spits out the exact predictable product. I think of the scientific discoveries that happened because somebody noticed something important when things didn’t go as expected. From one perspective, some mold messed up the staphylococcus culture Alexander Fleming had going at St. Mary’s Hospital. It could have been a botched experiment, but it turned out to give us penicillin.

Not that I’m equating cornflowers with the penicillium mold.

Blue-green Penicillium notatum mold growing in dark red beet juice, seen from above

Penicillium notatum mold
“Penicillium notatum on beetroot vinegar. June 1965” by Mary Gillham Archive Project; licensed under CC BY 2.0

violet-blue cornflowers seen from above, against a mass of chartreuse-green foliage


I think of them more as something like the “comp” your friend the chef may have delivered to your table as a freebie in the middle of the meal you ordered, back before the Covid-19 surprise.

Surprise, surprise

For the people who keep coming up with new varieties of vegetables and flowers, some garden surprises may just be a penicillium equivalent. Unexpected hybridizations. Small sports on parent plants, brandishing a novel color or shape of leaf, a multi-hued or double-petaled flower while their siblings keep to the original monotone and single-petal theme. Dwarfs parented by giants. Prostrate forms abandoning their upright origins.

closeup of a bloom of Peony 'Charles Burgess,' a deep red-petaled flower with luscious center filled with gold-tipped red staminoides

Well, wouldn’t you love to come back as this?

It makes me hanker for reincarnation as a plant breeder. Unless I could come back as a Paeonia lactiflora ‘Charles Burgess’—which would be quite some surprise.

For now, though, as the days and years tick past, I’m finding that my body does for me what the garden often does and computer technology used to do: every time something goes wrong, I learn something new. One major learning opportunity came on the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

How I spent my holiday weekend

Rain was predicted, so no gardening. Instead, I planned to escape for a couple of days in the Big City. (Well, Boston. It’s the biggest we have in Massachusetts.) I went to sleep Friday night thinking of what I still needed to pack, and was rudely awakened in the wee hours by turmoil in the intestinal tract, which turned into bleeding. So my Saturday went into several hours in an emergency room, transitioned into an overnight hospital stay, and seguéd on Sunday into an unscheduled medical “procedure” (the kind I usually refer to as roto-rooting).

A bit scary, yes, but I learned a lot about intestines. I will spare you the details, except that I finally found out the meaning of the word ischemic. (P.S. I’m fine now, am leading a more virtuous culinary life, and may never endure such an episode again.) I’m still waiting to open the bill from the gastroenterologist to learn how much this particular learning experience cost. My guess is, more than a new shrub. More than a big new shrub.

But the great lesson from this episode is that I found out how wonderful my friends are. L, who lives nearby, dropped everything in the middle of a creative flow to drive me across the river to the emergency room. M, who has an M.D., coached me through understanding what was going on, came to see me after the procedure and whisked me away to stay with her family so they could keep an eye on me—which they did, most sweetly. Another M ran over there the next morning to visit and dispense additional cheer. S drove half an hour up to pick me up and another hour to get me home.

Home again, home again

When I arrived home I also found myself in possession of two massive containers: one of homemade chicken soup, the other of homemade harira. Both delicious, and relieving me for days of any need to cook. Numerous friends and my two sisters who knew the situation called and texted all that week to see how I was doing and ask whether I needed anything. What a gift!

I’m sending love and heartfelt thanks to you all. If pictures count, I’m saying it with flowers.

A swathe of spring flowers: purple Siberian irises in foreground, with a few taller light bearded irises and bright crimson poppies in background

Saying it with flowers: thank you, dear friends!

Speaking of flowers, and for that matter, of trees and shrubs and veggies and grasses and fruits: this year they feel so intensely like ongoing gifts. Like I’ve had a mental cataract operation and now see more intense colors with sparkling clarity. Did it take a pandemic to remind me how beautiful life is?

at lower right, a tiny light lime-green grasshopper crawling on brown bark mulch next to tiny dicot seedling the same color as the insect; bottom of bright fuchsia tube at upper left, and at upper right and very bottom of the photo some pieces of landscaping cloth are visible

What does the grasshopper do?

Whatever troubles might be going on in my own tiny world, nature is out there ready to heal. And by “nature,” I mean the plants and all their friends. The blazing-ruby-throated hummingbird I spotted last night humming through a row of nearly spent flowers. The earthworms that squirm towards cover when I pull a weed from over their heads (do they have heads? Must look it up!). The underground fungal networks that help feed the trees. Invisible microbes that break down the mulch into something edible-for-plants. Even the tiny lime-green grasshopper, less than an inch long, scuttling away from my digging knife’s path. I have no idea what help a grasshopper gives, but this one sure looked willing.

It takes a village. All, salutary reminders that I am not growing these plants. They’re growing with lots of help from their friends. I’m only one friend among many. It’s a lovely club to join.

And now, your turn:

Remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts, if you haven’t already done so. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but please feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What do grasshoppers do?
  2. What’s the best surprise you’ve had lately in the garden? (Indoor gardens count too!)
  3. What lovely lesson have you learned from some mishap, in garden or out?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Remember I’m running a contest for 2021: the reader who sends me (kateriffoley at gmail dot com) the weirdest garden-related snippet of news or information between now and December 31, 2021, will win some kind of cool prize. Might be a hori hori: might be a gorgeous gardening book. I promise it won’t be a woodchuck. I’ll offer a few choices when the time comes. So please, keep your antennae up for choice tidbits, and send them on!


Posted in animal life, garden tasks, plants, spring, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

Whatever it is that spring does to the soul, it’s doing it bigtime this year. And even though I owe you a long overdue Post, full of facts and tips and musings (insight is accidental), all I feel capable of is an ode to joy.

Image of coronavirus as white ball with red spikes, with horizontal label across the center reading "CORONAVIRUS"

The “life” form we’re heartily sick of
Photo by Sergio Santos, Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0

We’ve all spent a year-and-change fearing and fleeing from tiny white balls spiked with evil red points. And we’re not quite done yet. So, when I pulled into my driveway after two weeks away, bracketed by three airports and four flights populated by too many people who think masks are best worn below the nose, all I wanted was to collapse.

But what greeted me was a vision of spring sprayed across the front yard. Blast of awe! The colors popping atop green stems and dangling from branches, white and crimson and lazuli and dawn-pink and apricot and bright butter yellow (your choice, forsythia or dandelions; the bees love both), packed a powerful thrill.

a flourish of pink cherry blossoms, seen from below against a bright blue sky

Nothing like a cherry blossom sky!

I can’t quite pinpoint whether it was the sort of thrill that shivers your spine up to your heartstrings when a just-born baby belts out its first yell, or the kind that seizes your ribcage when you find you’re still breathing after dodging a bullet. Maybe a combination.

New life

Haven’t we all had our senses sharpened by the past year-plus of collective traumas? I know it’s not just me. The New York Times reports New Yorkers’ raptures over tulips they swear are more profuse, more aburst with color this year. I’m not saying that New Yorkers are the essence of blasé, but when you live in the second most exciting city in the world (yes, Paris wins), it probably takes a lot to excite you. After all, weren’t they the ones who invented the word meh?

Several lemony-yellow magnolia blossoms at end of a branch, with dark greenish-black background

Lemon magnolias in bloom

They’re noticing what I’m noticing: there is beauty riotous around us.

Around me. Minutely: with the bumblebee’s lurch-landing on a spray of cherry blossoms; with the unfurling of the impossibly deep-purple tulips, every petal edged as though nature had shaped it with heavenly pinking shears. Or on larger scale, on the lemon magnolia that last year emitted one piteous flower, but this year bedecked itself top-to-bottom in a creamy yellow riposte to the buttery flaunt of forsythia across the lawn.

Forsythia bush in full yellow bloom, with a bit of cloudy sky visible behind it at upper left; in the background on the right, portions of green lawn, serviceberrry tree covered in white blossoms and a weeping cherry covered in pink blossoms

Forsooth, forsythia.

Name it. Tame it?

And even with the weeds—especially with the weeds! They flower so fast and so furious, they must know the fate I have in store for them. My first task in the spring garden is not to plant; it’s to weed, because I know from experience that the weeds will win if I ignore them.

I’ve been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which makes me think that I should know those weeds’ names. So I ordered Dickinson and Royer’s Weeds of North America. I will not go to the extent of asking the weeds’ permission, but I can at least call their names as I root them out.

Plantain, its green rosettes of leaves easy to identify. I should, in fact, ask its permission for the rooting out, because it’s edible and medicinal, and adds zest to a salad. I should treat it with considerable respect, and maybe even eat it.

A large dandelion plant with five bright yellow blossoms and a few buds, growing out of a brick walk against a cement stoop

Dandy, these dandelions!

And dandelions! Read up on these and you’d think we should be cultivating them–except who needs to, when they grow themselves just about anywhere, thank you very much.

Then there are Johnny jump-ups, from the violet family. The Weeds guide tells me they hail from Europe and Asia, and have “escape[d] from cultivation.” I picture the getaway: the moment the cottage door shut out the evening, the Johnnies hiked up their leafy emerald pantaloons and hightailed it into the nearby meadow, flowery faces alight with laughter. They are still laughing. Especially at me, in hilarious popups all over the lawn.

Johnny jump-ups in profuse bloom with purple, lavender and yellow flowers above green foliage, growing between and alongside flagstones at edge of a garden

Johnny jump-ups jump up anywhere.
Photo by Patrick Standish,
Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0

Others? It will take some scrounging to find their names. The tiny ground-hugging creepers with their fairy-blue blossoms. The low-leafed lurkers between the bricks of the walk, throwing up flower stalks like periscopes. I can see their whites blooming where an eye might peer out.

I could invent names for them myself, for now. That might add to the number of popular names they acquired before Linnaeus came around and pasted Latin on them.

All in good time

Portion of mulched garden bed with small tree trunk in center and leaves of perennial flowers in background; in foreground, a half-weeded section of bed with clean mulch to left of trunk and a spread of weeds to its right; gardening tools, gardening stool and gloves in foreground

The job that somehow never seems done

Did I say ode to joy? It may not be joy for the weeds, but for the garden as a whole, it’s a happy tradeoff. The crabapple trees nod their pink-festooned branches, tapping thanks at my hat as I remove the blue-blooming creepers besetting their roots. The new leaves of a resurging aster emerge into view as I dig out the dense carpet that had settled around it; by the next day the aster seems to have doubled in size. The prostrate larch exudes relief as I advance on those periscoped legions that had been greedily eyeing it, and resumes its inching progress toward bed’s edge.

two raised garden beds at right angles to each other; the only visible vegetation a couple of rows of leaves of garlic plants, the rest still bare soil or mulch

The tasks ahead…

Granted, I’m cultivating for decoration at this point; the veggies will come later, as will their weeds. But the big thrill is that things are growing. They are coming back. Life is recovering and taking over again. The grasses that will become July hay burgeon in the meadow. The trees at the woods’ fringe are shaking diaphanous scarves in shades of green. Male robins patrol their territories, while mockingbirds flirt shamelessly with each other; we all know what comes next there.

Me, I’m just trimming a bit to help point a few flowers in a particular direction on one infinitesimal patch of planet Earth. Outside doing my thing while everyone else does theirs.

The inner weeds…

Then comes a rainy day that drives me indoors, and starts me to wondering. We’ve all been so sequestered and shuttered for the past year. That has allowed some underground development—sinking new roots, inching into new territories we might never have explored had we continued ranging out in the open. But maybe, as we begin re-emerging, we—I—need to consider anew what to cultivate in the precious, precarious life that remains.

In order to give it light and nourishment, to bring it to bloom, what might have to be trimmed away? What should I be weeding out in my own life?

Name it; tame it. That’s going to take a good many rainy days to figure out.

And now, your turn:

Remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts, if you haven’t already done so. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but please feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. What flowers do you most look forward to, in your own garden or others’, when spring arrive? What do you think makes them so appealing to you?
  2. How many of the weeds who frequent your garden and your lawn can you name? Which ones do you try hardest to get rid of, and which ones do you pretty much let go?
  3. Do you think this spring was especially powerful for you?

If you’re commenting for the first time with a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Remember I’m running a contest for 2021: the reader who sends me (kateriffoley at gmail dot com) the weirdest garden-related snippet of news or information between now and December 31, 2021, will win some kind of cool prize. Might be a hori hori: might be a gorgeous gardening book. I promise it won’t be a woodchuck. I’ll offer a few choices when the time comes. So please, keep your antennae up for choice tidbits, and send them on!


Posted in animal life, garden tasks, plants, spring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments