Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Garden update: Planted

Garden 2011 photo: LAM
It's planted.  the garden in the Porter Street Backyard is in the ground.  All the plants seem infinitely happier in the dirt than they did in their pots.  The transplants in the perennial garden are all showing new growth and the peonies are intoxicating everyone with their perfume. So far I've made two or three salads and about four spinach melts with the early harvest of greens.  I've even flavored soups with the early basil leaves. The lantanas (one of my favorite summer flowers and butterfly attractors) have been in their pot for a week and they are already blooming yellow and pink!  Now to be honest, I didn't grow the lantana or the marigolds from seed. The Rosemary, Sage and elegant Lavendar all over-wintered in pots last year and are showing leaps and bounds of new growth since they found their permanent homes in the ground.  But the leeks, tomatoes, parsley, basil, chives, spinach, stevia, nasturtiums, and violas are from seed!!

Lantana photo:LAM

This year I'm root watering my tomatoes.  I'm experimenting.  Two tomato plants are in containers on the porch where they get more sun.  Three plants are in the ground with the root watering system.  The idea is that with some PVC pipe, I water the soil beneath the tomato plants, this way the roots grow down to a safe place where they will not be so affected by surface environmental factors. 

million bells mix photo:LAM

Last year I bought a beautiful hanging basket of "million bells," a dwarf wave petunia. I paid at least $22.  This year I planned to purchase individual pots and make my own hanging basket.  Here's the truth:  I spent just as much or more and they don't look as good.  My advice is just bite the bullet and spend the money on the hanging basket that the experts at the nursery have put together for you.

The biggest pest so far is what i believe to be a weasily little squirrel.  Eating the marigolds, eating the basil, taking bites out of the tomato plants. Most of the garden is covered with a net now to keep  him/her/them away. More on that later.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time to stop and smell the roses...

Backyard climbers
I've always felt like this statement is directed toward people who are too busy to allow themselves to be taken by the fragrance of a flower.  It's for people who are stressed or beaten down or exhausted, scared and lonely, or for people who aren't embracing life, right?  The statement leads us to believe that if we would just slow down and enjoy the fragrance of a rose, it might change our day... our perspective...our lives...I always feel like I'm taking advantage.  If smelling the roses transforms your life, I must already be transformed because I always make time to stop, I'll let myself be taken to a magical place by the scent of a rose as many times a day as possible.

USNA Herb Garden photo:LAM
If you look around the city, you will see roses thriving in the strangest of places and that is because Roses are old flowers with lots of history and when they find a place they like, they stick.  They don't go with the trends of our cities, moving out to the suburbs when 'the riff-raff' moves downtown  and moving back when it becomes hip to live in the city again. They don't mind the sites that have fallen into disrepair.  They aren't interested in gentrification. They are just as happy in the 'ghetto' as they are at Hillwood. As long as there is good sun, soil and rain, they come back again and again and do the real beautifying of our neighborhoods, climbing the fences, covering the entryways, brightening the most chaotic bramble.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you not to wait until the end of June to finally stop and smell a rose and here is why:

Best Smelling Rose in the Herb Garden photo:LAM
The early blooming roses have the most fragrance.  If you wait until late in summer to smell a rose,  you might wonder why you stopped at all.  When the rose breeders bred in longevity and repeat blooming, they bred out the fragrance.  Don't delay, stop and smell a rose today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Re-posted: Bird Emergency

A few days ago, a Catbird got itself stuck inside the tool shed at the Arboretum.  This structure is rather ornate for a tool shed and looks more like a Victorian concession stand.  (Around 2pm I'm always hoping there will be ice cream.)  That being said, it has four round windows at the top.  On that day, even though the door stood wide open, the little bird was convinced that the only escape was through the tiny sealed window.  He was getting more and more agitated as he flapped his wings, running into the window and then the wall again and again.  He would stop, but he would not look around and then he would start again, violently flapping his wings and jumping and smashing his beak into the glass. 
Tool Shed Friendship Garden US National Arboretum

Now, at this point I could write about the similarities between us and this bird. I could point out that sometimes, we are so fixed on having things go the way we envision them, so sure that things are the way we believe them to be, that we are unable to look around and see the huge, gaping, welcoming way out or way in or path or whatever metaphor works for you...  But, I'm not going to make that comparison. Today, the story continues...

I try tweeting to the bird in a Catbird like sound. I keep hoping its mate or its mom will sound an alarm to help it get its bearings. I whistle, I close the door and open it again so that it will see the light. I even talk to it. Nothing works.  (Catbirds are native to North America, they should understand English!)

My boss was off that day and Ed, who always helps me out of a pickle, was gone too.  So, I enlisted help from the ladies in Visitor services. By the time we returned I couldn't see the bird in the window from the front of the shed. I felt a moment of hope as I walked around the side, only to find that in its panic, the bird threw itself to the ground and was panting and struggling on its side in a heap. I could hardly look as I imagined that its wings were broken, its dreams of soaring through the Oak trees dashed. Its death or at least paralysis seemed imminent. But, as Nancy and Lindsay came around the side of the building, somehow the little bird hopped to its feet!

It stood still on the floor for a few minutes.  And then when we leaned in to help, it flew to a nearby tree where he sat for the rest of the day.  (I checked on him of course.)  Coincidentally, a few days later a similar occurrence happened at the ballet.  Ms. Donna rescued the little Catbird, this time a younger one, just beginning to fledge.  So exhausted was he from his adventure inside the ballet school, that before she could place him back down on the earth, he fell asleep in her hands.

These miraculous creatures, develop in an egg---needing nothing but the right amount of heat to go from mush to what can only be called a wildly creative, inspiring invention of nature---with a tiny, delicate, complicated, bone structure, and an instinctual, yet novice handle on aerodynamics, they somehow do what none of us can do-- fly! They take the leap, most of the time before they seem ready. Even once they mature, sometimes they fall, sometimes they hit a wall and drop to the ground-- All appears lost.  They look broken, sometimes they appear dead. But what they really are is stunned.  They need a minute, sometimes an hour to regroup.   Intrinsically, they know this. They don't fly off in a panic, they wait it out, they let the process happen, they heal and move on. Suddenly, alive again, they go back to the business of flying.

And so, with that being said, it hardly seems necessary to put into words what each one of us can learn from the birds.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Ironically, while I write, there is a Stink Bug buzzing around my bathroom.  It's a horrible noise but I don't really know what to do with him. If I squish him, he'll stink up the place, if I open the window, more just like him will sneak in....

IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management
Here is the definition of IPM according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices..., it is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

A pest is really just anything that you don't want in a place where it is:  weeds...plants....birds....bugs....people...ha just kidding.  No seriously, I have becoming fascinated with IPM as I have begun a study of the weeds at the National Arboretum, as I contemplate the poison ivy and the mosquitoes that plague me in the summer and as I think about the pests in my own garden and how I will combat them without losing my crop or my cool. 

I'm amazed that our industry has pushed the concept of balance to the forefront.  In an age where excess is key, I'm surprised that we've officially made 'integrated management' of any kind a priority.  But, the effects of most herbicides and pesticides can be seen in a day or two, sometimes in minutes.  And so when you work outside, you can't ignore the effects that toxins, bad matches, wrong environments and sudden changes have on us and on our environment. Still, I can't think of any other area where we (mankind) have created jobs to really incorporate balance into our lives/workplace/world.

And so, it's not surprising that I think we could apply IPM to our own lives, not just our gardens.....Some plants are nice, but they aren't nice in the wrong spot, so they need to be dug up and replanted somewhere else.  Some weeds can be handled just by pulling them out.  Plants can be put near other plants to attract and repel the 'right' and the 'wrong' kinds of insects and avoid having to use any chemicals at all.  Some problems are solved with a lot of sunshine and a little bit of water.  Sometimes, insects that damage crops can be handled by finding the eggs ( their source) and disposing of them.  Some pests, i.e. poison ivy, are so dangerous that they need to be destroyed.  Some plants don't live well with others, they are invasive, and greedy.  Picking up on all the metaphors here?

What's interesting about IPM are the boundaries and balance that it promotes in our environment.  It forces us to share, to be creative, to be knowledgeable and rational.

I think it's the same for the 'pests' in our lives.  Our stresses, our 'enemies,' our fears, our vices, our loves, our obsessions.  Well, for getting through and thriving, we all could use a bit more integrated pest management...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Don't Miss it!

In this post, I wanted to showcase the flowers on parade in the residential gardens throughout Northwest, DC.  If you are looking for a place to appreciate Spring's color and fragrance, this corner of The District has got it. 
Wisteria photo:LAM
Though many people consider it a weed, Wisteria can be breathtaking. When it's in bloom, dangling chandeliers of fragrant lavender dew drops appear, entwining the tower at the National Cathedral, strand upon trailing strand. I have wanted to photograph it for years and recently I had some time to walk over and stare at it.  I don't think it has reached its peak yet, so it's not too late to see it for yourself.

It is probably the evanescent nature of the flowers that makes Spring so exciting.  The Cherry Blossoms are here today and gone tomorrow.  We can't really control them and it makes us love them more. 

Rare things are valuable and in nature most plants bloom just onetime each year.

Azalea Collection USNA photo:LAM
In an earlier post, I mentioned the National Arboretum's Azalea Collection.  It's only a few weeks in April when the Azalea's come to life.  In DC, the Azaleas are the stars of late April and early May.  Their colors are so spectacular that we don't mind planting them in our yards and staring at the green leaves for the rest of the year.  We appreciate that it takes a year long cycle for them to produce the beautiful display.

We too are seasonal beings. We bloom and we fade, we leaf out and we go dormant.

For the most part, other than waiting for babies to be born or flowers to bloom, humans are relatively impatient about development. We are out of touch with our natural rhythm.  Even though we know that anticipation is one of things that makes realization satisfying, we don't like to wait. We don't like to let things take their course. 

This is another opportunity for us to take our cue from nature. Is it possible for us to recognize our process, the building blocks, the time spent 'becoming' and embrace all that in the same way we appreciate the bursts of color and the exciting moments? Can we prevent ourselves from getting anxious or impatient during the part of the year when there isn't any color in the garden? This year, we could try to align our life rhythm with the plants bloom cycle. It might be a good challenge to see if we can enjoy the time it takes to develop a spectacular life, the way a flower enjoys soaking up the suns rays and using the soil's nutrients and the sky's water to make itself whole.
Illicium Anisatum (Star Anise) Photo: LAM
"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, May 2, 2011

From Seed

First Harvest!  Photo:LAM
Here is a photo of the first harvest!! Chives, Mesclun Salad Greens and Spinach, all successfully grown from seed.  This is just the beginning.  The basil, parsley, leeks, tomatoes and bell peppers are still living inside as sprouts, just waiting for the day they can start growing out in the sunshine.  The Oregano's leaves are still little but it's already thriving in a container. The Nasturtiums are the most impressive so far, potted up and living on the deck.  These days the plants stay outside when it's sunny and come in when it's thundering or cold, but I have plans for them very soon to move outside permanently (my dad says, after Mother's Day is when you plant your garden.)  I will likely judge my aptitude as a farmer/gardener on the success or failure of the tomato and leek crop.  If I can successfully grow them from seed, I will know that I have a green thumb. It might have been helpful to be sure I had a green thumb before I chose this as a career....so cross your fingers.

Acanthus "Bears Britches"
My mom recently gave me some Bear's Britches (Acanthus) and a Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) from her garden in PA.  The Dicentra is already dangling white hearts.  I wonder if the Acanthus will flourish as well.

Mugwort "Chrysanthemum Weed"
One particular weed has been very persistent at the Arboretum and in the backyard.  It's knick-name is Chrysanthemum Weed because it's foliage resembles Mum foliage, but it doesn't flower like a mum and it develops an obnoxious rhizomous root system.  I did some research, however and it's real name is Mugwort.  It's rumored to have medicinal properties AND to be a bug repellent, so I might go a little easier on it for a while and see if I can't put it to good use this summer. 

The Iris's are in bloom and we are well on our way to Peonies, Rudbeckias (Black-eyed susans), Hydrangea and nice crop of fragrant Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum.)  Best, Shannon's dad sent us a birdhouse that he made!  Some Wrens have built a nest there already and we are very excited that our backyard might be home to some baby birds!!!