Saturday, April 26, 2008


This post covers so much, it's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Home Exchange/Home Share for Gardeners
I've been thinking how great it would be to have a home exchange website for gardeners who like to travel but are on a limited budget (such as... looks around, whistles nonchalantly, drums fingers... say, me). I've even offered a bedroom in my modest home for anyone visiting Ann Arbor (see earlier post) who doesn't want to shell out for a hotel room. Plus, local gardeners could show visiting gardeners around, give them a tour of their own garden, and chat about all the things we blog about! As a single traveler, I'm especially open to this idea. I've checked out a ton of home exchange sites, but they all seem to be people with jet-set lifestyles and amenities. Finally I came across the Couch Surfing Project, which is more my speed.

My profile is here and that's my house above with a fall garden two years back. I think it would be cool if more gardeners signed up! :) Hint hint hint. And if any of you plan to be in the Ann Arbor, contact me ahead of time to see if space is available (regardless of whether you register at!

Every day last week I was serenaded by American toads living and mating in the vernal pond in the woods at the end of my backyard. Unlike spring peepers, which can be so loud one has to raise one's voice to be heard above them, even if they're in the distance, the American toads' chorus is lower pitched and a bit softer, but still perfectly audible. I very much enjoyed hearing it from my living room. (Or is it the family room? I only have one such room and I'll be darned if I know what to call it.) So much so, that I asked my friend Pete, who has some fancy electronic recording device (he's a music composer and performer, you see) to come record them for me, just so you could hear them, too. That evening, there were no calls, nor have there been since. The darn wet area mostly dried up, literally overnight! There's a creek about 20 feet away, but obviously they did not move there. Undaunted, Pete and I headed out to some other local places where we knew frogs would be calling. (The previous three years we've done a frog and toad survey for Ann Arbor Natural Area Preservation, so we know where to go.) We (by which I mean Pete) got an awesome recording of chorus frogs with spring peepers in the background in a wet area of woods near Stone School and Morgan. (We do the survey purely by song, not sight, so I don't have any cute photos of the beasties in the way Wildlife Gardener does! Well, OK, I do have a cute photo of a chorus frog, completely unrelated to the official survey, SOMEwhere, but it's not digital and could be... anywhere.)

Mt. Pleasant MG Conference
A year or so back, I gave a talk on winter seed sowing for the Isabella County master gardeners in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan (two hours northwest of Ann Arbor). They offered me a free vendor table at the conference this year, which I gladly accepted as a way to step out of my comfort zone and try my hand at selling my book, Fun with Winter Seed Sowing, in person without also presenting. I've never been a vendor before. My table was in the same room as the speakers, not in the side room with all the real vendors. This had the advantage that I could see/hear the speakers, which the other vendors could not. But I believe more traffic existed in the actual vendor area. No matter, I met my objective of being a chatty salesperson (did I mention this was outside my comfort zone?) and sold a few books.

Imagine me sitting in the chair instead of behind the camera and you get the idea! Books in middle, signs to the right, winter-sown samples to the left.

Composting Class
Last week, I taught a composting class at Washtenaw Community College. I devised a game for the class where I divided the class into small groups. Each group had maybe 30 small cards onto which I'd written things like "coffee grounds," "rabbit doo doo," "egg shells," and "meat scraps." Based on what I had just covered, and a little extrapolation, they had to decide whether what was written on the card was green (nitrogen-heavy), brown (carbon-heavy), or not compostable and place that card into an appropriately labeled envelope. I wasn't sure if they would enjoy this, but I figured it would be fun, and based on their feedback, it was!

The Dove chocolate was meant to be an incentive but it melted in the car and was instead a blob!

Blog Excellence Award
Some time ago, Garden Girl bestowed me with a blog excellence award. Who me? Blush. I'd like to thank the academy... or at least Garden Girl! The award is technically a meme in that if you accept it, you're supposed to pass it on to/tag 10 others who need to pass it on to 10 others who... Garden Girl says she's not so into rules, and I see her point. I'm not one for pyramid schemes. I do however believe in passing on praise, so I would like to mention some blogs I enjoy reading, and to whom I would make the award. You'll excuse me in that they're not all garden-related.

I really enjoy Precarious Tomato's blog, which I came across randomly. I enjoy her offbeat sense of humor and practical life approach. She'd be able to write several paragraphs about how, say, she wore her shirt backwards (which, um, yeah, hi, I managed to do today) that would have you rolling with laughter.

I check in from time to time at Inhabitat, which is all about design with an eco bent. I really dig the wonderful news and photos this site's many authors convey. Admittedly, the cutting edge, extra hip feel of the site sometimes makes me feel decidedly poor and UNhip, but I do enjoy the info there.

I also stumbled upon Christine Kane's blog. She's a singer and songwriter, whose music I don't follow, but who also talks about pursuing your dreams and aligning your purpose with your life's work (which I really dig). Plus, she makes up whole life stories and scenarios for her cats, which, well, yeah, I thought I was alone in!

And now for fun garden blogs, with a huge caveat: I'm still getting used to organizing blogs in Blotanical and never seem to be able to spend as much time reading these wonderful sites as I'd like to! Plus, I'm always amazed at the quantity and quality of blog postings with such great photos and information. There's so much to read and it's quite hard to narrow down favorites.

I enjoy A Wildlife Gardener's beautiful photo essays in Our Little Corner of Paradise. I also love wildlife and I've always been a bit of an Anglophile, so this blog fits right in. I always feel like I'm transported to her backyard. Wildie, do you watch Corrie (and yes, I know Manchester isn't in Scotland!)? Americans never know what I'm on about!

Frances at Faire Garden also posts frequent and beautiful photos of wonderful blooms in her Tennessee garden, and she's been a friendly and frequent commenter in my own blog. Her garden looks so inviting!

Garden Wise Guy in Santa Barbara offers fun anecdotes, gardening and otherwise. It's also really interesting to learn about gardening in a zone so different to my own, in terms of temperature and humidity!

Golden Age Gardens posts frequent photos and info about Victorian gardens, a particular interest of mine, especially those in England, his home country. It's fun to go back in history, right from my computer chair, at his blog.

Yolanda Elizabet's Bliss is another site with lots of great photos. She's in Holland, another favorite place of mine, and she also likes cats. What more is there to say?!

Bek's Augenblicke im Garten offers a great selection of garden stories and photos, in German and English. She has a second site that compares life in the US and Austria, which is of particular interest to me, as my dad was Austrian. Plus, it's nice to learn German names of plants. I also enjoy a few other German garden bloggers, such as Sabine's Creekside Gardens and Wurzerl's Garten-Impressionen.

Finally, back to where we started, I like Garden Girl's blog, and I don't even hold the fact that she's so near the Chicago Botanic Garden against her. Much. ;-) She posts nice photos and interesting stories.

Cincy Flower Show
You're kidding right? You want to read yet more? I'm surprised you even made it down this far. Aren't you tired? I admit I am, so my photos and recap shall have to wait a bit longer. Oh, all right then. Here's one photo to tide you over.

A happy, cute, and friendly window box display. I love the colors!

Monday, April 21, 2008


Do you ever get the feeling your plants are trying to tell you something? I feel so connected to my spring bulbs, it's almost like they're sending me messages by tulipathy. See what I mean?

This is my only clump of glorious tulips (out of dozens) that will bloom this year. They were clearly rejoicing, smiling in the sunshine this afternoon, awaiting my return from Cincinnati. I was so happy to see them!

In the backyard, another fate awaited the only other tulips that were intact when I left Sunday morning. They seemed to be telling me they are somewhat perturbed at the groundhog and, if they're honest, at me for not protecting them!

Resolution reached: I have officially resolved to accept the situation and no longer plant tulips, sacrificing the ones that exist (except the yellow clump out front, please leave me that yellow clump!) without further bloom expectations. I'll instead add more hyacinths and daffodils for color next season.

Details and photos of the Cincy Flower Show and Cox Arboretum will follow in a few days after I catch my breath, unpack, watch my Coronation Street omnibus, and, oh yeah, go to that windowless room where time spent is exchanged for money gained.

Edit: I may have slightly modified the lyrics to Lene Lovich's "Telepathy" to get "Tulipathy." Allow me to apologize in advance.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Monica's Spring Garden Tour

Finally, finally, finally (did I mention it's been a while in coming?), it looks like it just might be spring! Won't you walk with me in my garden?

As you can see, the forsythias are in bloom! The close-up view is in the front garden, which gets more sun, and the one above is in the backyard.

The crocuses have finished blooming, but the hyacinths are in their prime. Not only do they exude a wonderful aroma (so welcome when coming home from work!), but they also don't seem to be favored by groundhogs, as each and every one I planted not only came up but bloomed! Look closely to the right and you'll see the viburnum is ready to bloom soon, too, as are many others in different areas of the yard.

Speaking of which, this viburnum gets a lot of sun. It has three clusters of buds, and these blooms on one of the clusters! I love viburnums; there are so many different species with different colors of beautiful flowers in spring and berries in fall!

The groundhog left the daffodils standing, in between many mounds of chewed down tulips.

For some reason, this one clump of tulips remains unchewed (toi toi toi!).

And look at these two cute little wind flowers. There should be more (see above), but the two that are left are quite beautifully placed, don't you think?

Uh oh, here come some ducks. They want to know if you've brought them any food. No, seriously. Are you hiding it in your pockets?!

Here's some pulmonaria at the north side of my house, with lady's mantle just out of view. Two hepaticas should also be emerging in this bed, but I don't see them. Do you? (Fortunately, this snail is not hungry.)

And what's this? Are faeries setting up tiki torches for a luau? I just love the red foliage of emerging peonies, which appears especially vibrant here with flash-induced shine! I use sections of coated wire fence edging, cut to size and shaped into a semi-circle, as supports for the peonies. The wire fencing is sold in a roll and is much more cost-effective than official plant supports. I got this tip, as well as the peonies themselves, from a former gardening client, Sara, a neat and interesting lady I enjoy chatting with.

Oh, hi there, James! What's that? you don't care about the tulips and grape hyacinths in your little cat garden, you want to know when the cat mint is going to come up? Well, soon, but the valerian will beat it, so move to the left and wait!

You really know it's spring when the prickly pear cactuses (cactus is apparently Greek, not Latin, so its plural is cactuses, not cacti. At least according to Paul James, and, well, that's good enough for me!) are looking less scrunched and more green. Prickly pear is native to this area, and I've even seen it hardy as far north as Saskatoon!

And finally, we walk onto the deck and look at my winter sowing containers (for more photos, see my previous post). I love the lupines with their first set of true leaves; they are just so sweet and I admit I like that fact that they look sort of like a certain illegal plant! ;-)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Naked Nasties' Noteworthy Night

Or, said in a more boring and yet decidedly clearer way: Winter Seed Sowing Update! My winter-sown babies spent their first uncovered evening last night! Because anything that has dared to sprout already is pretty hardy, I wasn't really worried about temperatures suddenly dropping to below freezing despite the predicted low of 45. OK, I lied. I was in fact the tiniest bit overly protective of a few nasturtiums, which I lost last year to an unfortunate and rare combination of too many extremely warm days followed by too many extremely cold nights, and which I'm growing for the heirloom garden at Cobblestone Farm. But as I'll be going away for a day soon, and can't leave the sprouts covered (with predicted sunny skies and highs near 70, it could get way too hot inside the little greenhouses), the seedlings had to get used to being uncovered day and night. And everyone did fine, even the nasturtium! A cool thing about nasturtium seed leaves is that they look just like their true leaves, which is fairly rare (see photo of lupines below).

The winter sowing containers in which seeds have not yet sprouted (they all grow in their own natural time frame) stay covered day and night as the extra warmth will encourage sprouting. Most of my winter sowing containers are modified seed trays, whose lids are easy to remove. I also have some calendula (herb of the year!) in a plastic tray, whose lid also easily comes off:

I also have two flats, for which I did not have lids, inside a zippered plastic tote that once held a bedding:

Do keep the lids handy, however, because you never know when Mother Nature will sneak in a freezing evening or send hail in June.

However, my cutest seedlings by far are lupines, the seeds of which my friend Carole bought for me in Nova Scotia. They just got their first set of true leaves and are just the cutest little things ever! Noogie! Noog noog!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Meet at Cincy Flower Show!

Anyone planning to attend the Cincinnati Flower Show?

My friend Carole and I will be there this Sunday, April 20, arriving around 1:00. If you happen to be there that day and would like to say hello or take in the show together, let me know.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Tenuous Truce

Since my last post, I can proudly state that the new score is, approximately, Groundhog: 146, Human: 2! Yes, those are champagne corks popping and the soft rustle of falling ticker tape you hear in the background.

I humbly report two modest wins in the ongoing groundhog battle of wits:

1) By the laws of gravity and complete dumb luck, I stumbled upon a so-far fairly effective (knock on wood, toi toi toi!) countermeasure to the groundhog burrowing under my front porch. This deterrent is humane, inexpensive, unrelenting, and surprisingly frightening to my otherwise fearless Sciuridaen:

Yes, this seemingly innocuous red velvet holiday bow has stopped the digging for more days than anything else I've ever thought of, putting chicken wire, metal fencing, pepper spray, prickly branches, stacked bricks, and other obstructions to shame. Alas I cannot take credit for this brilliant offensive strategy. A wind burst in fact blew the bow off the evergreen wreath still hanging on my house, and it landed conveniently near the groundhog's preferred access point under my porch. So after hanging the intended new deterrent, the shiny CD, I decided to hang the bow as well. And, amazingly, so far so good (and I repeat, knock on wood, toi toi toi!).

2) Thursday I noticed some irises had bloomed and snapped this photo, which was supposed to be all artsy with rain droplets but was washed out in the flash. Aren't they cute?

Today (Sunday) it snowed instead of rained but the sun finally came out late in the afternoon. And looky what happened to those irises:

Now you're probably wondering why this is listed as a victory, but the groundhog left one flower for me to enjoy! Since one of my rules was not to eat all of anything, I'm considering it a victory. Because this is my blog and I can make unilateral decisions. Plus, I found two clumps of (as yet) undisturbed tulips. So things are looking up. Perhaps the groundhog will continue to share and spring will finally come. Right after chocolate flows out of my garden house and faeries and leprechauns knock on my door with their pot o' gold.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Groundhog: 112, Human: 0

Remember when you were a kid, eavesdropping on a party your parents gave, hoping to find out what cool and secret things adults talked about when alone together, but it turned out the talk was all about mortgages, retirement funds, and taxes? You rolled your eyes, snuck off with some cheese cubes, and resolved never to turn out that way? And only yesterday you were talking with a coworker about investing some money into your IRA before the April 15th deadline?

Well, that has happened to me vis a vis wildlife damage in the garden. I always kind of rolled my eyes when people complained about deer damage or otherwise tried to deter hungry wildlife, which is a battle you can't win. Just give up and go with the flow, I thought. Heck, I have lived next to a park and nature area for nearly six years. My house had lawn up to all four sides when I bought it and now it's very garden-y (I've been meaning to post before and after photos, and I'm still meaning to!). I've spent a lot of time, money, and mostly sweat equity creating a tranquil garden space. I feed birds. And squirrels. And ducks, chipmunks, and groundhogs, who eat the fallen seed, on a daily basis. Of course there are all sorts of butterflies and beneficial insects around, too. In the spring, American toads have sung in chorus in the area right behind my property, and I often see a rabbit. On very rare occasions, I've seen deer, an opossum, and a painted turtle. I used to see garter snakes the first year I lived here, but not since. In other words, the joy of seeing wildlife always made up for the few lost or damaged plants. Yes, I'd always had a very Zen attitude about it all, feeling quite in balance with the whole cycle.

Two years ago, the groundhog(s) began breaking the balance. As reported earlier, s/he ate ALL of my zinnia and all of my morning glories. This year, s/he nibbled almost all of my tulips. (I know it was the groundhog because the trail of top-shorn foliage leads to a hole s/he started under my front porch. Though I concede the crocus may have been a rabbit's handiwork.) When one is oh-so-ready for spring, one likes to see bright flower bulbs. One does not like to see nibbled leaves and carcass stalks strewn about. (Although it does explain why I always feel I plant a ton more bulbs than ever bloom or come back the next year. If the foliage is nibbled off, the energy can't go back into the bulbs!)

So, yes, I was annoyed yesterday, on a warm sunny day as I was inspecting my garden for spring growth. But I was talking myself back into Zen, admittedly slowly and painstakingly, when I came upon a nibbled up Heuchera. Straw, camel's back, anyone? That was just not on! Nobody messes with my coral bells! Tansy? OK, it needs to be cut back anyway! Geranium? Fine! I only have it because I got it in a plant swap and I'm not fussy! Ornamental grasses, Centaurea, daises, lavender, salvia, thyme, great! I have a lot of those! If you're really hungry, I understand. Lettuce and other veggies? Fine! I can always buy more at the store and I know you can't. And I was even willing to look the other way over the nibbled hollyhock leaf, even though that's one of my favorite plants and its tough fuzzy leaves can't possibly taste very good!

"But no one touches my freakin' coral bells and gets away with it!," I yelled out ineffectually to no one in particular with my fist clenched and waving in the air. They're cute! I actually like all the new cultivars! And I got this one in Cleveland last May at a garden writers meeting! It's special! They're all special! And they're all mine, not yours! Frankly, I couldn't have had a better tantrum, complete with full emotional appeal, if I were a toddler in a grocery store!

I don't think the groundhog heard me.

Detroit Free Press writer Marty Hair had a timely column on how to protect tender bulb foliage. I have tried the sprays around the lattice at the bottom of my porch and it worked for a day or two. I also put down chicken wire and the branches of pruned barberry (prickly!). It didn't work much. Now I've tied old CDs, which I've read frighten birds, but I suspect the groundhog will simply admire its reflection before getting on with lunch. Admittedly, I hadn't tried the pepper spray directly on the tulips, but I will.

And my cats are no help whatsoever. Hell, they both sit calmly on the deck within two feet of a squirrel, all three looking like they're having a tea party. Now don't get me wrong. I don't really want my cats to harm another living creature, but I think they should at least try to frighten the groundhog off by getting all poofy, hissing, and otherwise posturing! But, no. That would ruin their sun bathing!

Man, I miss my Zen. Until it's restored, does anyone have any proven, non-toxic solutions for scaring off groundhogs?

On a more positive note, I did find the cute, cute foliage of baby Sedum hding under last year's stalks (yes, I really need to clean up the garden):

And a brave squirrel with a cute pale underside conceded to pose, close-up, for me, while eating nothing but sunflower seeds. Awwww!

Squirrly says "Happy birthday, Peter!"