Tuesday, May 23, 2017

R&R The Ikea Effect

The end of "Spring Clean Up/Start Up" is almost over. Most flowerbeds have been weeded, newspaper put down and mulch (eight cubic yards so far) applied. Brown metal edging has been placed around five of the beds to prevent the mulch from washing away. Trees have been "limbed up" (there are few things as tiring to me as using a pole trimmer) and hauled to the front of the yard for pick up. More sticks and branches than I can count have been picked as well. (It seems as if I finish this just in time for the next storm to blow down more sticks and branches.) New roses (Rosa) from David Austin and bulbs (Lilium) from White Flower Farms have been received, planted and fed. Daffodils (Narcissus) and Summer Snowflake (Leucojeum) have been cut back and placed in the compost pile. Azaleas (Rhododendrun) have been cut back and other assorted shrubs trimmed and shaped. Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia) have been inspected and treated (sort of, see last month's blog for details) for Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale. This is gardening; this is what all gardeners are doing this Spring and do every Spring. So, is this work or love or both?
Social scientists have described a phenomena know as "The Ikea Effect" Ikea, a Swedish retailer, is known for selling items that require "some assembly". What social scientist have discovered is that people place added, inordinate value on items that required some "sweat equity" from the customers. The customers feel that their piece of assembled furniture is on a par with that crafted by a professional. So, to apply "The Ikea Effect" to gardening: is what we do a labor of love or a love that's created by the labor? Do we love at first sight or learn to love? Just something to muse on before heading back to the garden.
Here are a couple of poems to think on. One by William Blake and one by Gary R. Ferris
Image result for william blake
William Blake

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of the Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not, writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires

Why Do We Labor

Why do we labor and work so hard?
Is it for riches that leave us scarred?
What makes us rise and begin each day?
When for courage and strength is what we pray.
We do things we hate so deep.
Murmur and complain until we are asleep.
What makes us choose the things that we hate?
Almost like sorrow has become our fate.
Why can't we choose the things that we love?
Things that bring joy and come from above.
Why do we labor for all that is vain?
Somebody tell me. This is insane.
Why do we labor for all that is vain?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

First Tomato and New Vegetable Containers

I think it was very early March when I noticed a tiny tomato plant that had self-sown in a flower bed. I had not planned to have a tomato plant in this flower bed, but I was in no hurry to plant the bed so I did not immediately take it out. This particular bed holds water and I've found that if I plant too early, the plants succumb to root rot. I have been trying for the past few years to add amendments to address this issue. This spring I added a mixture of good bagged garden soil, pine fines (aka soil conditioner), and our own homemade compost. 

It was a few weeks after I noticed this little tomato plant that we had that cold snap (the temperature was 26 degrees one night at our house), and I fully expected that this little plant would simply turn to mush. But apparently it must have had a strong will to live. Or maybe it lived because it was protected by growing so close to the house. In any case, it came through unscathed, and I plopped an old tomato cage over it while I decided what I wanted to do with it. 

Last week I decided it was time to plant summer annuals in this bed. I love annual vinca (also called Madagascar periwinkle), which prefers a sunny, fairly dry location. I debated about removing the tomato plant (which likes more moisture than the vinca), but, by this time, it had gotten quite large. It was too large to transplant to another location and too healthy-looking to yank it out and throw it on the compost pile. So I took the easy way out and postponed the decision once again. 

Today, while watering the vinca, I noticed a tiny tomato fruit, and this sealed the deal. Even though I know that trouble awaits me as the tomato plant grows (crowding, watering, etc.), it will remain in my flowerbed. 

Although I can't be sure, I believe that it is a cherry tomato. Last year I had two cherry tomatoes in pots on the patio and I suspect that this is a seed from one of those. It's possible, though, that it could be a Roma or even a full-size tomato, as these seeds were probably in the compost I put in this bed. Whatever it is, I'm hoping for a winning tomato for the Great Tomato Contest on July 1. I planted tomatoes in my patio pots, but they were planted too late, I think, to produce ripe fruit by then. This may be the only entry I can come up with.

Speaking of patio tomatoes, I came across these nifty, self-watering vegetable planters on sale. Never able to resist a bargain, I bought two of them for the tomatoes I grow on the patio every year.  The planter is on rollers, which makes it easy to re-position the plant when it starts growing toward the sun. The bottom of the container is a water reservoir, and water is added through the tube that can be seen in the left corner of the container in this picture. Maintaining consistent moisture is important to prevent blossom-end rot in tomatoes. Keeping a regular pot consistently moist can be a challenge, especially when the plant gets large and the weather gets hot. I am really excited to see how well these planters work for our tomatoes. I have high hopes they will produce some excellent tomatoes! And did I mention they were on sale?

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Joys and Trials of Water Features

Doesn't everyone love water in the garden? When Jack and I moved here from Virginia, one of the things that attracted us to the house we bought was that it had a water feature. I have always admired water features in the garden but had little experience with them. Our townhouse in Virginia had a very small garden area so my options to include water were extremely limited. When I saw that the property we were considering here already had a water feature, I was delighted. But then reality set in . . .

Here is a picture taken when we first moved in. There were several things that did not appeal to us. For one thing, there was too much stone for our tastes. Black mulch had been used between the stones, but it was not suppressing the weeds so we knew it would take a lot of work to keep the weeds out. Also, neither Jack nor I liked the overgrown look of the plantings. In particular, there was some kind of water plant in the pool (a small portion of the pool area is just barely visible in the lower left corner) that had escaped its pot and over-run the pond. We had to drain the pond and take all the stones out to remove the roots.

Our water feature in 2011

So for the first few years, we set about removing some of the stones around the water feature, cleaning out the invasive plant in the pool, and getting rid of all the black mulch. Then we began to replace the plants in the surrounding area. We put in a red Japanese maple to spill over the waterfall and an assortment of ferns and hostas to soften the edges of the stones. The bright, grassy plant at the lower left side of the picture below is Japanese forest grass (Hachenechloa macra), one of my favorite plants for brightness and texture in a shady area.

We cleared out the taller plants along the stream (they blocked the view of the waterfall) and replaced them with low-growing, groundcover plants that would minimize weeding. Because this area receives partial sun, we were able to use plants like phlox subulata, candytuft, gardenia radicans, and spreading juniper. The very low-growing groundcover in the picture below is a mixture of ajuga and creeping charlie. Since both were already there, I decided to leave them both and see which one crowds the other out. So far, the creeping charlie is winning near the edges of the stream and the ajuga is winning in the drier areas.

Now that we have the plants surrounding the water feature pretty much done, I've been thinking more about plants to go into the water. The ecosystem of a pond is a very delicate and complicated thing. For whatever reason, the ecosystem of our pond has always been healthy. We have goldfish that seem to be healthy with no supplemental feeding and a lot of tadpoles in the water. Even so, I'd like to have some vegetation to provide a hiding place for the fish. (That fake heron in the picture above is sometimes joined by a real one, and a hawk frequently hangs out in our backyard). Also, the pond end of the water feature gets afternoon sun, so without some plants to provide shade, algae can become an issue when the weather gets hot. 

In the past, I've used water hyacinths to provide coverage in the pond end. We usually buy two plants in the spring and in a few weeks, they've covered half the pond. They multiply like rabbits! For the rest of the summer, we are throwing away about half of them every week to keep them from suffocating the fish. In places where they can survive the winter, they are considered invasive water plants that are dangerous to the environment. Supposedly, water hyacinths are annuals here, but with--dare I say it--global warming, that may change at any time. Looking for an alternative to water hyacinth, I was delighted when a master gardener friend shared some of the floating plants from his pond.

Another thing I'm experimenting with this year is growing in the stream a variety of plants not traditionally thought of as water plants. Impatiens, which I've grown in the stream bed in previous years, does great.

This year, I'm experiment with lobelia, as well. So far, it seems to be doing quite well. 

Notice that both the impatiens and the lobelia are simply wedged, barerooted, between rocks at the stream's edge. Not only does it look more natural without a pot, there is no risk of the soil escaping to muddy the water.

I'm also trying a few cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) directly in the stream. These are plants that typically grow near streams so I'm pretty sure this will work. Because these plants can get fairly tall, I placed several in a mesh planting bag hoping it will provide enough support to keep them from falling over. As the plants get taller and fuller, I don't think the bag (which is placed behind a large stone that serves as a bridge) will be noticeable.

Having a water feature this large is not without work, but I'm hoping that as Jack and I learn more about how to manage it efficiently, we'll find more joy and fewer trials. Already it is more than worth the effort we put into it to be able to watch the birds that bathe in the stream and to listen to the frogs whose babies swim in the pond and laugh at the cat who sits on the edge watching the fish swim just out of her reach. There is something very soothing about water . . . .