The Natural Garden Coach

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The potting bench


Have you ever wondered about those glossy pictures in the garden mags that show a beautifully maintained potting bench? You know, the type that Martha S. might have with it's matching rows of pots and clean gardening instruments? They'll have some kind of subdued paint job and all kinds of nifty hooks and nooks. Some of them look so clean you could eat out there.

Well, in my little corner of my gardening world, I've never seen one like that for real. Of course I'll admit that I've also not been privvy to too many of my friends' potting benches either. I guess it's not something we show off proudly, like we would our camellias or coneflowers.

Here's a little snapshot of a real potting bench (mine). It's made out of the remains of a loft bed that my husband made before we got married 3 decades ago(!!). Hey, it still works and it's sturdy as can be. One thing that distinguishes my bench from those I see in the magazines is the fact that I have products that I use in my garden. Doesn't every gardener?

Anyway, thought I'd throw a little reality out there. Especially since there's not much else going on in my gardening world right now. :-)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Summa time and the living is...

...hot. Hot, hot, hot. This is the time of year when I can barely get myself out into the garden. Nothing satisfies. It's too hot to think. I can't even imagine how I managed to live in Austin without air-conditioning (or how the pioneers before us did). Of course, I was young and there was always Barton Springs pool. But no relief of that sort where I live now. However, my cicada friend in this photo managed to find my little water feature and literally hung out near it for a while. Cicadas are a perfect metaphor for how to deal with this weather - go into a deep meditation and hum. It'll be over before we know it. Maybe I need to start chanting... :-)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gorgeous, golden tomatoes


Since I mentioned in my last post the tomatoes that I "adore", I thought I'd post some photos of what they look like. These are 'Sun Gold' cherry tomatoes and they are incredibly sweet. And best of all, they keep on going through the heat. Last year I had tomatoes from spring through fall, all from one plant. I hope to repeat that this year. One thing I've had to do however, is cut it back after it starts popping over the top of my tomato cage. If I don't, the stems get too heavy and break. I've done this once this year already but I'll need to do it again, very soon. It's just so hard to sacrifice those blooms though...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time for a rant


Okay, it's time for a rant (me getting into blogging was inspired by the ranters on Garden Rant). Yesterday I read an article in the NYT about people too busy to garden or even go to the farmers' market, who are hiring folks to both install and maintain a vegetable garden in their backyard. I think it's a ridiculous concept, especially when someone was quoted as saying "it's the highest form of luxury". But there was something else about it that was bugging me although I couldn't pin my thoughts about it exactly.

So today my yoga instructor gave me an old magazine that she said I might enjoy (July 2007 edition of Shambhala Sun). There's an interview with Barbara Kingsolver about her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In it she talks about the idea that in the U.S. we believe that hard work and anything to do with rural life and dirt is beneath us. And then she spoke about Gandhi and I realized she hit on exactly what was bugging me about "luxury vegetable gardens". I hope it's okay if I quote her:

"Recently I read the principles that Gandhi followed for right living and I discovered the word sharirshrama, which means "bread work", and my heart just settled into place, because that is exactly how to explain it. No matter how important Gandhi became in the world, he never considered himself too important, too old, or too pressed by duty to neglect his work of spinning
thread for an hour or more every day. Spinning thread was his bread work, and my bread work is the work of making my food. It's why I feel both eager and devout when I hoe the ground or pull weeds, and I don't ever want to think of myself as too important to do those things. Bread work is what makes us both human and holy."

Gardening can be holy. And vegetable gardening is a lot of work, which is why I choose my farmers' market over my backyard (except for my wee "Sungold" tomatoes which I adore and jalepenos for my husband). But now this whole locavore movement is becoming so commercialized. In fact, I just got an email from a major retailer touting their "farmers' market" kitchenware. When will it end? What will the next trend be? I'll admit I'm a locavore but now apparently so is everyone else!

So to soothe my soul, I'm including a picture of chickens. I don't have any but Boggy Creek Farm does and that's where I took this picture. Chickens make me smile.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

One of my favorite things





A farmers' market. I'll seek them out when I'm visiting other cities. We recently got one up and running in my small town. Apparently there had been one in the early 80's but none since. I believe there was pent-up demand for it though. As a volunteer there I see the same people each week. It's become a great place for the community to mingle. And the farmers have this wonderful outlet and connection to the consumers. How did we function before without one??

Weekend ramblings

Hot, hot, hot. And let's not even discuss the humidity. And where is the rain? We got a nice little shower Friday evening but not enough to quench the plant life (if we were lucky, an 1/8th of an inch). It did manage to drop the temps for a while though. But other parts of our area got nothing.

Finally, I'm seeing some butterflies. Okay, maybe one butterfly and one moth, but it's something. I think this is a Spicebush Swallowtail but it could be a Black one. I'm no expert but if you are, click on the photos for a closer look and let me know.

I never realized that the Verbena bonariensis would be such a wildlife attractant. Besides the butterflies, the bees (both bumble and honey) and the hummingbirds really like it. This is my first season for this plant and it looks like a keeper. The other big bee and hummingbird attractant in my garden is Salvia 'Black and Blue'. They like the other salvias but this is their favorite.

This time of year I do nothing but maintenance. Ensure the plants get watered and maybe a little deadheading. And maybe the occasional fertilizer (organic of course) if I remember. But it's too darn hot for any major gardening activities. I am considering buying a couple of good looking trees I saw at the nursery the other day (I like to see what's up there even if I'm not planning on buying). Am I crazy to plant a tree in this weather? You betcha. But then again, would it be happier in the ground where I could baby it or sitting at the nursery getting too much or too little water until the fall? Hmm...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Of birds and bees and other natural things...


All this wildlife in my backyard has got me thinking about what I like about gardening and why people garden in general. If you are like me, a big reason for gardening is just to commune with nature. To create a welcoming place for the other creatures we share the planet with. To have an excuse to get outdoors (when the heat and humidity is blasting away, it's easy to hole up in the air conditioning).

When we first moved to this house and yard, the backyard was pretty much a large expanse of nothing. There were a line of trees and bushes towards the very back of the lot and a small garden near the old deck with daylilies and daffodils (and lots of weeds). What wildlife I saw was way up in the trees. I used to get my binocs out and scan for anything interesting.

But now that I have a "proper" garden, the wildlife is everywhere. I've got birdfeeders, a birdbath (or beebath), a bubbling water pot that's favored by the mourning doves, a hummingbird feeder, a woodpile that's favored by the lizards and wrens, and lots of plants that I'm hoping will draw the butterflies and hummingbirds. The salvias and Verbena bonariensis have been drawing the hummingbirds but I'm increasingly frustrated with the lack of butterflies. I plant lantana and pentas for their nectar and dill and parsley as larval habitat but I still don't get many. No larvae at all. My hypothesis is that no one else in the neighborhood has a flower garden so they just don't hang around here. I know they're down a few blocks at the local nursery but I can't seem to entice them to travel far. So I guess my next big crusade should be to get more folks in the 'hood into flowers favored by butterflies (azaleas don't count).

Here's a little pic of some Carolina wrens making a nest in my lantern in May.

Beebath update

Leave it to the bluejays - I saw one this morning trying to get some water and when a bee bothered it, it just snapped it up and flew away with it in its beak. Maybe I need more bluejays (for those of you who don't live in the south, most people down here really don't need MORE bluejays!).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My beebath

Seems my birdbath has turned into a beebath. Or maybe a bee drinking well. Hopefully you can see the little critters here. They have been downright testy when the birds come to drink or splash around. In fact, I've seen several birds get chased away. Some birds, like the robins, will try to snap at them but they always lose out. This has been a problem since I put it out a couple years ago but only in summer. I'm assuming they're desperate for water but why? Am I the only one with a water source in the neighborhood??

A little bit about my garden


I've been gardening for several decades now, the vast majority of that time in central Texas (Austin, woohoo!!). But now I'm here in north Louisiana and believe me, it's a bit different. I used to call gardening in Austin "macho gardening". You know, you had to put up with zillions of bugs, little soil, droughts, floods, freezes, non-stop 100 degree days, etc. I no longer consider it macho gardening, now that I've been to Botswana and seen a garden that had to contend with wayward elephants. But that's another story.

Anyway, gardening in north Louisiana is different for me. For one thing, we get close to twice as much annual rainfall here than in Austin. For another, we have soil!! Well it may not be the best, but it's something.
In this garden, which is only 2.5 years old now, I get to indulge in a few plants that I never would have considered previously. Plants that are a bit more delicate and not tough as nails. In the past, I would diligently search out native plants. There's a big demand for them in Austin but it's almost impossible to find them here. So I'm learning to work with what I've got.

Since I was new to the area, my confidence in designing a new garden was not very high. I didn't know what would survive or even what materials (you know, the hardscaping) were the norm here. Through my husband's connections at the university here I met a landscape architect. She's since become a good friend and she designed the hardscaping and the general "spirit" of the place. I'll blog more about the process of getting through the initial installation another time. (It was an "interesting" ordeal.)

So that's it for now. Here's a couple pics of a few flowers from my garden.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 1 in the blogosphere




It's about time... Time I joined everyone else who thinks they have something to say. Yes, time to start letting the world know my personal opinions about my garden, the act of gardening, my gardening likes and dislikes, and maybe a few other things too.

But give me some time to figure how to get this whole thing off and going...