Monday, November 23, 2009


I'm grateful to live a simple life, which is rich in the freedom it provides.

I'm grateful for friends and family, and all our flowered, feathered, and furry friends!

I have plenty.

I am rich.

I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Curbside Shopping: Yes I Do

OK, I'm just going to say it. I curbside shop. These days, primarily for leaves, but over the years I've also gotten other wonderful, useful things that others had discarded as trash. I love leaves, both shredded in my compost bin and whole as mulch on my many garden beds. I don't get enough leaves in my own yard, so I supplement my leaves each fall with those others have set at the curb.

Curbside Shopping for Leaves
The other day I came across the hugest collection of leaf bags I have ever seen in my life. We're talking 20-quadrillion-41, or at least eleventy-nine. (Trust me, I'm a master gardener!) We're talking mother lode. The kind of plenty that makes you want to drop to your knees in thankfulness or take a long running jump into the crunchy goodness!

Unfortunately, I could do neither as I was on my way home with ingredients to make hummus for the master gardener potluck that evening, but I decided to return to this leaf mecca later and to show you the curbside shopping process. Promptly after the potluck, at 9:30 p.m., I phoned my friend Pete to ask him to meet me and take photos. (What I really like about Pete is that he knows (and humors) me so well that his only question dealt with logistics, not the whys or wherefores of what I was wanting to do!)

It's important to get the right kind of leaves at the curb. Oak leaves break down slowest and are best for mulch; maple leaves break down quickest and are best compost — but that's not exactly what I mean. I mean that I only want to come back with leaves, not with brambly twigs, spent garden foliage, a leaf/grass clipping mix (though ideal for compost, I have plenty of my own grass clippings, and these bags are heavier to lift), or any other creative combination.

Often it's obvious if twigs are in the bag because they have a way of poking out the top or through the sides. I won't even stop if I see that. When I do stop, here's what I do (I usually wear gloves for all steps but got distracted being a model, too!):

I quickly look into the bag and exclude bags that obviously contain yard waste other than leaves. However, I've found that even if a bag only has leaves visible at the top, other stuff you don't want may still be hiding underneath.

To quickly gauge what else may be in the bag, I give it a quick frisk (patting both sides). If there are twigs, you will feel the edges of the bag being pokey. If there are other kinds of yard waste, they feel denser and more solid than dried leaves. This may sound ambiguous, but you'll know it when you frisk it, trust me!

Next, I give the bag a quick lift a few inches off the ground to gauge its weight. If it's really heavy, it probably also contains plant clippings, which I don't want (dried leaves are fairly light). Plus, I need to be able to comfortably lift the bag into my car or trunk.

I also avoid bags that are filled to the brim and those only half filled. The first will spill leaves into my car and the second aren't worth my time.

Bags should be easy to handle and load. I can't stress this enough.

I set bags upright into Sandy (my Ford Focus). Three bags fit on the back seat, one on the front passenger seat...

... and several in the trunk (more if I'd cleaned it out first!).

I use some of the leaves as mulch...

...and shred others (using lawnmower or weed whacker inserted into can of leaves) as browns for my compost bin. I fill it to the top in fall and by spring (when I have greens) it's sunken down halfway. I also save leaves in my shed to use during the summer.

I reuse the bags for my own yard waste (remember all those buckthorn branches?!) or as weed blockers or in lasagna layering.

It's a win-win-win-win.

What Is Trash?
Over the years, I've gotten some wonderful things at the curb: my beloved Weber grill, high-end ceramic pots, living plants in good health, sturdy shelving I use in my shed and basement, a glass windowpane I use to adorn my shed, and window screens that I use on top of my rain barrels and in winter on the ground to make it easy to pick up leftover seed hulls from the feeders. I've been with others who have found a bent-cane rocking chair, an antique wingback chair, a solid wood side table, other types of furniture, and designer shoes and clothes (most barely worn, and some new).

I was raised with a strong sense of "waste not, want not." I'm a long-time garage saler, recycler, and reuser, so the mental leap to "trash picking" (curbside shopping is a way better term!) was natural to me. And it really got me thinking about what "trash" even is. Sure, a lot of it really is trash (unusable, dirty, or broken things; wrappers and packaging; and just plain icky, yucky stuff). But in our affluent society, people get often tired of things well before their useful life is worn out. The only thing that turns these items from valued personal belongings into trash is the opinion of the owner, not the value or condition of the object.

I'd often stopped to look when something caught my eye at the curb, but I didn't start going out specifically to see what might be waiting until about eight years ago, right after my divorce. I actively curbside shopped Ann Arbor for maybe two years. Since then, the city changed its trash collection policy so all items must be contained in city-supplied carts; nothing can be left just sitting at the curb and nothing can be in owner-supplied bins.

There is a wide spectrum of people who curbside shop, all with differing motivations, goals, techniques, and comfort levels. Personally, I never opened bags of trash or even lifted lids of bins; I only took items that were sitting out in the open. For me, the change in city trash rules ended curbside shopping.

Also, with the emergence and popularity of online sites like freecycle and craigslist, it's been a lot easier for people to sell or give away their usable items, as opposed to throwing them out. I use both sites frequently, and am also an avid thrift store shopper. I love vintage and retro items, things with a history.

Other people also dumpster dive (crawling into dumpsters at retail establishments), which I lack the physical prowess and, okay, the cahonas, to try.

If you've curbside shopped or dumpster dived (dove?), please let me know!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November Bloom Day

I actually remembered a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in time to post (well, I cheated; today is also my birthday), but not much is blooming in my southeastern Michigan garden. Still, a few things are hanging on, like gaillardia...

golden marguerites...


a Mexican hat (waves to Randy)...

a single campanula tucked under some rose of Sharons...

Guara, which was blooming up until a day ago but I still love its pink stalks...

and obedient plant (which is normally done blooming way before now but this was in a location that was shadier most of the season).

This photo is entirely gratuitous.

Canada goldenrod stopped blooming months ago, but I'm enjoying how long it's held its seed heads!

I'm also enjoying the white berries of my variegated red-twig dogwood, which were looking spiffy until yesterday.

Even though I have more than enough Japanese anemone (eep!), I love its fuzzy seed heads, especially against the dark pink of sedum.

Elsewhere, I had my first-ever martini (mmm, lemon meringue) Friday night at a friend's bachelorette party. I figured, what with having had my first manicure earlier this year, I better get in another first before turning 44. Later that evening, we all danced, along with some college kids. I bet they thought we were hilarious. I sure did. And I can assure you that if you decided to dance in these shoes, you'd be bloomin' sorry! My right hip is sore, and I find pressing on it with my right hand helps when walking. Now all I need to do to complete the picture is wave my left fist in the air and yell out "Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!"

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you by Carol at May Dreams Gardens and the letters G, B, and D.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

T'is the Season

...for growing cat grass indoors! James and Fiona may have differing dispositions and diverging views on many key issues, but they have the exact same thoughts about cat grass.

"Nom nom nom! It's mine, all mine, grown only for me!"

They like it so much, they even posed for the photos! (And if you live with cats, you know how significant that is.)

I've seen cat grass both as live plants and as seeds at various shops and online. I grow mine from oat and wheat seeds I get from an animal feed store. They're used to selling huge quantities, so the pound I buy of each seed type ends up costing pennies or often just being given to me. I started buying it this way when I was tending the cat garden and I needed lots of seeds.

If you'll be taking part in my seed swap, I'll be adding multiple packets with these seeds to the swap!

The seeds need very little light to germinate and are up in only a few days. You have to keep the grass cut back or the blades get too tall and bristly over time. As winter drags on, the grass does get ratty (especially as Fiona sits in the container), so I just reseed afresh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's All Good

November isn't exactly a month inspiring most to wax poetic. It's that dreary gray space between the wonderful reds and oranges of fall and the cool, crisp white of winter. It's also my birthday month, which tends to bring up personal melancholy (not related to getting older). But I love all seasons, and the changing nature of life, and upon reflection, I've realized two things, one trivial and one profound, about how small, unnoticed daily changes can add up to big results that kind of pounce on you one day (in a good way).

As a child, I was really annoyed that everyone else got better gemstones and flowers associated with their birthday months (I said it was trivial!). I coveted February for wonderful amethyst, May for emerald, and December for turquoise. But, no, November is topaz, that shade of golden yellow just like appliances of the time. I hated it, though I never got any topaz jewelry, so I don't know why it was a big deal! And the November flower is mum, which at the time were also always depicted in that shade of yellow I hated, and I wasn't wild about mums, full stop. The other day I realized that my favorite gemstone today is amber, which comes in the exact same shade of yellow I hated as a child and now love. I also realized I love mums in all colors and that they are the perfect flower for a no-nonsense person who has always loved fall.

I'd come full-circle without even realizing it.

I also realized something, completely out of the blue the other day, and it made me all misty: I love my garden! When I moved into my house seven years ago, it had lawn up the the house. I've been making and planting beds, moving and expanding and transplanting, so long that I lost track of progress. I still had the mindset of my garden being new and sparse and not as full and lush as I'd like (some early photos here). I have a pretty big property for a city lot, and not a truckload of money, so it's taken a long time for beds to fill out.

"Garden" has been very much a verb to me and it's exciting to see it afresh as a noun!

When photographing my garden for fall color, it dawned on me how many shrubs I have, and how wonderful their fall color is. I used to be very heavily into non-woodies and the transition to loving woodies (hey now, behave!) has been gradual and unnoticed. I still love non-woodies, too, of course. But realizing a huge amount of my plants were shrubs also explained why my spring-summer colors aren't as broad as what I see in others' gardens. I had always felt a bit was lacking in my garden, but now I feel abundance, gratitude, and warm fuzzies.

Then MrBrownThumb commented about the number of shrubs, which made me wonder just how many I actually have. I was surprised to discover I have 39 needled shrubs and 41 non-needled shrubs! Eep! None is huge, and some are quite small, but I was not expecting that count.

All this time, the garden has been growing around me, and I didn't even see it, especially not with my latest focus on buckthorn removal. And when I did finally see it, I almost cried because I finally realized how much progress I've made and how it's all come together, little bit by little bit.

And when I realized how wonderful the garden actually looks (especially in fall) and how much my plants have grown, and that I actually have something to be proud of, a physical place that anchors me and holds my own roots, I did cry. I've never lived anywhere as long as seven years since I was a child, and I've never had so much time with any one garden.

I've been working on personal growth for a while, too, and hope that, like with the garden, I've made more progress than I can see at any given vantage point.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mish-Mash Monday

Planty Goodness
I just love milkweed fluff, both up close...

and from farther away. An easy way to separate the seeds from the fluff is to collect the fluff and place it in a metal tray and set a match to it. No, really; it's safe and fun — I've seen it demonstrated several times by horticulturists at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The fluff burns away very quickly and leaves the seeds.

Sedum looks nice with some frost.

A few golden marguerites are still blooming (they're a great powerhouse, blooming in spring and again in fall).

Planty Badness... Turned to Goodness
You'll recall me complaining about the hard work of removing buckthorn from my south "wild bed." This is the front side of the bed, facing east, which is maybe six by 15 feet and which I had previously cleared and planted.

This is the back side of the bed, the area that I've been clearing, facing west. The new cleared area is now about 12 feet wide and 52 feet long (which is a lot of clearing!); this is the view, from the east end. Notice the evergreen shrubs and forsythia. There are some native grasses in there, too, but they're too small to see with the leaves.

The same bed, also facing west, but closer to the west end. Notice the clematis and mock orange (waves to Randy!) waiting in the pot to be planted. (It has since been planted.) There are also three deutzias to the left edge, but they have already lost their leaves and aren't noticeable. The same goes for two cut-back tall coreopsis.

This view gives a better feel for the size. You can see I left some stems of the taller trees, and laid some really large stems down as a boundary, as there's a public walking path a few feet away. I've put down more leaves as mulch, too!

A view of part of the bed, facing south. I just direct sowed a Rocky Mountain wildflower seed mix under the area of wet leaves. They'll need the cold to germinate next spring. Hopefully, they'll have enough sun, too.

If you're wondering what the whole cleared bed looked like before, it looked pretty much like this area that still needs to be cleared: A thorny thicket of buckthorn (both tree-size and shrub-size), with a few black walnuts, invasive honeysuckles, poison ivy, and grapevine thrown in for fun. Eep!

These are the type of roots I've been struggling with. The short upward facing growth is the actual trunk of the tree, cut down. The thing coming out to the right is the root; only a small part of the root, but see how long it is?! I also struggled with the roots of walnut trees, which make the buckthorn roots look like spiderwebs in comparison!

New Xeric Bed (Planty Goodness, Part 2)
I created borders for and planted a new xeric/Colorado bed. I was very taken by Colorado and am trying to get a small feel of it in Michigan. The bed was previously much shorter and held tomatoes. It's one of the few full-sun locations in my yard, and because it's next to the hot driveway and because my rain barrel soaker hose doesn't reach to this location, it's very dry. Not that I'm not a big waterer of my garden plants in general (unless newly planted/transplanted), so my whole garden is xeric in a way, but this bed is for extra-xeric plants, LOL! (The mum will be moved out in spring.) What's in there, you ask?

Two Russian sages, a rattlesnake master, and some echinaceas. (I'll move this mum out of the bed in spring, too, and the stuff to the right is part of another bed.) Also in the xeric bed are...

Mound of hens and chicks, previously in a clay pot I had to bring in over the winter...

Prickly pear cactus (that's how they look in fall in Michigan; they'll be fine next spring!), previously in a location that had gotten too shady...

The cherry skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens) that I bought in Pueblo in July, which had been in a pot all summer, just waiting for me to clear out this bed...

One of two baby-girl yuccas (um, technically, Yucca nana), about two inches tall and wide. They're dwarf forms that will only get six inches tall and wide. They're cuties and hardy in my zone...

The ever-loving Hesperaloe parviflora that was previously in a location that was too shady. I had another one of these that died over last winter, so I'm hoping this one holds on...

One of two big yuccas I got years ago in a plant swap (I believe Yucca filamentosa), which I moved from a location that had gotten a bit crowded and too shady (are you seeing a trend here?). The other one easily divided into multiple pups, whereas this one did not. I also have two other smaller yucca from this year's plant swap in the bed...

I also planted from foxtail lilies, which to me are very quintessentially Coloradan (or at least Denver Botanic Gardenian!), but they are tubers so I can't show them until spring when they bloom.

Composty Goodness
I emptied all this year's lovely compost (from the bin to the left of the photo) onto what will be my sole veggie bed next year.

Monica Ventura, Cat Detective
Yes, Dr. Watson, this scene alerted me to two facts: 1) James had been playing with the milk ring (he likes to leave it on the bed for me, thinking it's a kill) and 2) Fiona was sleeping under the covers. You can see her bump, though she's quite slender, and her entry point.

Happy Mish-Mash Monday, everyone!