Archive for July, 2011

The bag of potatoes artfully dumped on the front lawn. You can tell it's June because the grass is green.

I grow a lot of my own produce.  But for whatever reason, I don’t grow lettuce anymore.  That seems really weird to me because back when I took my own produce to the farmer’s market, I sold a lot of salad mixes.

So, most Saturdays I try to make it to the Goshen Farmer’s Market.  I stop by the Sustainable Greens booth and get either baby spinach, tatsoi, or spicy salad mix.  All of them are fantastic, but I could eat a whole bag of spinach or tatsoi by myself.

Last fall, while making our farmer’s market rounds, we noticed a box of free fingerling potatoes.  The sign said that they weren’t really good for eating, but that they would be good seed potatoes for next spring.

I do raise potatoes.  Last year, we didn’t raise nearly enough.

So we took home a small bag of our better than bargain potatoes, and put them in the bottom of the pantry, and didn’t give them another thought until spring.

When we took them out, we had a crazy sculpture of growths.

I can’t believe that I forgot to share these photos of the potatoes before we planted them.  We got about an hours worth of chuckles out of artfully posing potatoes with mad eyes.

This is better than any sculpture I've seen lately.

Jeremy either pretending to smoke a pipe, or actually trying to clear his sinus cavities.

This dramatic image is brought to you by Bullwinkle.

This one is so long it goes out of focus. Could I crank up the drama anymore?

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Good-bye Stupid Crooked House

Today was the last day that I stood in my childhood bedroom.  Well, not the bedroom of my entire childhood, just the icky years of 6-8th grade, and the pretty fun high school years.

When my parents bought the house, I didn’t really like it.  I was pulling for a house in the country with a couple of acres for a horse.  My mom liked an older house on a lake.

I called this house the crooked house.  For whatever reason, when I looked from the family room into the dining room, it seemed crooked to me.  I was the only one that saw it.   It didn’t look too crooked today.

It must have settled.

Help, I Need Somebody

My parents are in the process of moving from a town north of Detroit to Northern Indiana to be closer to their favorite child, Jenny.  (Sorry bro.)

Over the years, my parents have helped me out a ton.  I could always count on them to help me move, start a new flower bed, help re-drywall a ceiling, and loan me money for a car.

It’s my turn to help pay some of that back.

I have to admit, I’ve been a pretty bad daughter.  But, they haven’t needed a whole lot of help until now either.

They need help-and by help I mean in an “everyone needs to pitch in kind of way,” not a “they’re old and feeble” kind of way.

This summer, I went up a couple of times to help mom clean the basement, pack up a bit, and get starts of all of her favorite flowers.

World’s Bestest Daughter

Today, my daughter and I drove up with my mom and back down again with a truckload of miscellaneous stuff that didn’t fit into the rental last weekend.  We were in the car for ten hours.  I must have been Fred Flintstone, because my feet are sure tired.

Bean is nine, and kind of sort of an only child.  She was an only child until she was six, and got step-siblings when she was eight.  She is still an only child every other week, and man can this kid entertain herself. She spends hours reading, drawing, or just playing in the dirt building cities.

Not once did she complain on the trip. (I know how lucky I am.)  She knew she was there to keep me company and she kept herself entertained with books on tape, Muppetcast, and books to read.  She even wrote a story about a man-eating caterpillar.

While mom and I packed up the truck, she entertained herself under a tree playing with pine needles and pretending they were people.  I took a couple of minutes to make her a flower doll to spice things up a bit.

Scary Slugs with Gigantic Eyeballs

The best part of the day was when I asked her to bring around some small gardening stakes.  She came running back up front without the stakes.

“Mom, what kind of slug-like thing has eyes?” she asked in a shaky voice.

“Slugs have eyes sweetie.  They’re just on eyestalks,” I said.

“There is a slug back there that has eyes, and no eyestalks or antennae.  It kind of scared me.”

We went back to see what it was.

It was crawling across the grass.  At first I thought it was a baby mole or something, but the eyes were too weird for that.

Upon closer inspection, it was a caterpillar, and the eyes were just fake outs for scaring away little girls.

Bean named him Moley.

We put him in a box to bring him home to research.

It is a Papilio canadensis or Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.  Usually the caterpillars are green.  Once I found a black hornworm.  I wonder if they have anything to do with one another.

This is Moley.


And someday he will look like this:

Photo by manual crank, Flickr

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This weekend is the start of the Elkhart County Fair in Goshen, Indiana.  I’ve always loved county fairs.  Elkhart County has one of the biggest county fairs in the nation.

Last year, I took lots of photos to the fair and earned third place for this photo of horses nipping at one another.  Last year we got a lot of enjoyment out of watching these horses.  Hot sun or heavy rain, these three horses stood in the corner by the road watching the world go by.  On this visit, the one that was nipping wanted to be the center of attention.  If you look really closely, you can see the third horse in the background rolling its eyes.

For third place I won $2!

The fair hasn’t opened yet, but this morning I got a voice mail from someone at the fair.  I was afraid she was going to tell me that the hot and humidity melted my photos, or that I was disqualified.  Instead the news was good.

I won Best of Show!

Woot.  Woot.  Woo.

I felt like I was in fourth grade again earning a champion ribbon in 4-H.

This is the photo that won.

Either you love this photo or you hate it.  I don’t think there is really any in between.  I took this photo to school and hung it behind my desk, and two of my students told me to take it down because it was spooky.  I believe it was my mother that said that it has a “Children of the Corn” look to it.

Of course, I am in the loving it camp.

This is a photo of my daughter.  She wasn’t sad in the photo, just waiting for me to adjust lights and get her posed.  I caught her off guard and took the photo.  There is no fake smile, just a window into her soul through the eyes.  I think she looks beautiful in this photo as just herself.

I really debated a lot about which photo to take.  This was my other choice, shot on the same day.  Both of them are nicely composed, and have good lighting, but I kept coming back to the winner.

This time I went with my gut.  Photographers were judging, not a bunch of grandmas that want fake smiles, and nicely posed photographs.  I love this photo and I wanted to share it, and see how it did.

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When I tell people that I love to grow roses, they often gasp and say, “I can’t grow roses, they’re too fussy and difficult”.  Well, that can be true for certain tea roses that need babying, but most roses are extremely hardy, easy to grow, will sit on oodles of bloom most of the summer.

When I first started gardening, I do what most beginners do, I went out and bought a tea rose.  You find them at every nursery, and even big box stores.  The photos on the little identification tags remind us of the flowers we get at Valentine Day or our birthdays. These are not necessarily the easiest to grow.  In fact, the cheap roses that we often start with will be disappointing in almost every case.

My first rose was Chicago Peace.  It was pretty, but I didn’t think much more about roses until I moved into a higher crime neighborhood.  My mother-in-law at the time, offered to buy me some flowers for my birthday.  I decided that I wanted something big, bushy, and full of thorns to plant by the fence and back porch to deter creepers.  I chose several shrub roses for the task.

Geoff Hamilton (R): A David Austin, pink old English, has lots and lots of petals

Photo from Heirloomroses.com

Graham Thomas (R): A David Austin, yellow old English also has lots of petals

Photo from Heirloomroses.com

Bonica: small pink roses cover this shrub rose

photo from Heirloomroses.com

Iceberg rose, showy for most of the summer

The iceberg shrub rose is one of my very favorite roses in the whole wide world. It does okay in the shade, blooms all summer long and is bushy. I have gotten one for every house I've lived in.

The only one of the roses that I still have is an iceberg rose.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the David Austin roses anymore.  They are spectacular. (note to husband: this would make a good birthday present next year!)

When we bought our house two years ago, my favorite own root rose company was going out of business, and I purchased ten or so own root roses.  Most of them were climbers and ramblers.  I planted a couple around the house, but most of them are on the hill down to the walk out basement.  I’m hoping they will cover up the hill to help with erosion, and provide lots of beauty.

Here are some of the roses that I currently enjoy, that are easy to maintain.

Fairy climbing, a crazy climber full of blooms

photo from pzrlibrary.com

These two white roses may just be taking the favorite spot from Iceberg, they are doing fabulously.

White Meideland ground cover rose

photo ©Jenny Frech 2011

E.B. LeGrice (TM) shrub/short climber

©Jenny Frech 2011

Carefree Delight, I was a snob about this rose at first because you can find them everywhere.  It’s for a reason.  This thing grows like crazy and blooms the entire summer.  If you are worried about your green thumb, try this rose first!

photo from The Tree Farm

These roses are amazing.  I never knew how easy it could be to grow them.  All that’s required is some decent soil, full sun (although the iceberg can tolerate some partial shade.)  Pruning is a snap, just dead head them when they’re finished blooming at the nearest leaf node.

I do have a few musts though if you are trying to grow them for the first time.

  • Always buy roses from a reputable company.

It will cost you more, but in the long run you will have a faster growing plant with nicer blooms, that won’t die over the winter.  The cheapies that you can buy for $3 in a bargain bin at the box store probably will bring fungus, virus, or disease with them.  Reputable companies sell plants that are virus free.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a mail order company to recommend to you, since mine went out of business.  Try Davesgarden.com for reviews of a company you would like to purchase from.  Jackson Perkins and David Austin roses have always worked wonderfully for me from nicer greenhouses.  Expect to pay $20-$40 for a nice rose at a greenhouse (or wait until the end of June when they go on sale).

  • Check the zone, especially if you are buying online.

There are many gorgeous roses that I lust over, but they can only be grown in the south.  You might be able to cheat a little if the rose is protected, but don’t come crying to me when it dies in a harsh winter.

  • Look carefully at the leaves before purchasing.

Do not buy a plant that has black spots on its leaves.  You will be bringing trouble home with you.

  • If you have a choice, buy a “own root rose”.

Most roses that you buy at the store are grafted to a more vigorous root.  If you’re plant dies back to the root, you will end up with a boring old red rose, instead of the one you purchased.

  • Decide what plant will work best for the space you want to plant a rose.

Roses vary greatly in space requirements from a miniature that probably only needs about 1-2 sq. feet to a rambler that will take over the side of your garage.  I seldom buy tea roses, but when I do, I plant other mingling type flowers with them so I don’t have to look at their spindly canes.  Shrub roses will fit the bill in most cases.

  • Climbing roses don’t really climb, at least not like a clematis.

You have to train the canes.  I have a trellis for mine, but you can also use things like fishing wire to keep it propped up.  Climbing roses also work well on a hill.

Whatever you do, do not purchase or transplant Rosa multiflora.  Brought in as a hedge, it is now an invasive species.  You can find it on roadsides and in wooded areas and it chokes out native species.

DO NOT purchase or transplant this rose, Rosa Multiflora. It is an invasive species. photo USDA

My apologies if this makes you want to run out and plant a rose in the middle of July.  The heat of July is a terrible part of summer to think about roses, but they were on my mind while I was trimming them up the other day.  So think about roses today, but make a list for roses to plant this fall or early next spring.

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To me planting flowers and playing in the garden is like painting. The flowers are my paints. But the paints are magic and appear only for a limited time.

I consider color, height, texture, and blooming times, like a painter considers the brush to use. I read somewhere that flowers should be like fireworks. They don’t all have to be blooming at the same time. But, there should be a focus in the garden.

I plan where the flowers are going, they don’t always bloom in synch or they get too tall or too short.
I get unexpected results.

Some are just really bad, ugly mistakes.

Some are delightful.

I love these deep red standard size snap dragons. There are about 24" high and came back from last year's roots which really surprised me. I think I had a couple of babies that came up from seed. I have them with a white Meidiland ground cover rose and also E.B. LeGrice (TM).

Pinks and lavendar. Both were outrageous this year, like blankets of flowers. the photo doesn't really do them justice.

Orangy-Peachy midsize snap dragons with larkspur. You can't see it in this photo, but I also have orange violas with these. It's very cute.

These are very small roses, about the size of a quarter. I don't know the name of them, but I love the deep pink. It is supposed to be a climber. Here they are with feverfew, which can be a reseeding nightmare. But it does look great under rose bushes and it's relatively easy to pull.

Same rose bush shown with lamb's ear. My lamb's ear was very pretty this year. This combo looked old fashioned.

Short yellow daylillies (I'm thinking Stella Doras) with purple verbena. This is the type that is more willowy and it stands about 12-18" tall. I like it because it reseeds.

I LOVE Bee Balm. It comes in all colors, but the tall red is my absolute favorite. It is big, bold, and striking. Here it is shown with a Jackamani clematis, but it also looks really cool with red hot poker in front of it.

And one combination that makes me want to lose my lunch…

I hate this combo. This is a beautiful daylilly. Daylillies are not my favorite, but I can appreciate them-just not with baby's breath. Ick! Ick! Ick! I separated these two.

Please share your favorite combinations in the comment section with a link to your photo.

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My facebook friends are all probably sick of hearing me blabbering on and on about all of the cool birds in my backyard this year.

I just can’t help myself.

These birds are great.

Earlier in the summer, we had tree swallows and bluebirds duking it out for nesting boxes, so I added a couple of new ones.  Ultimately, Two families of tree swallows raised their babies.  Last week, both boxes fledged. A total of 8 of 12 babies lived to their fledge date.

Apparently, there is very little learning curve for flying if you are born a tree swallow. The babies, on their first day of freedom, swooped by my head so close, I thought for sure they were going to take it off.  One bird swooped me at least a half of a dozen times.  I jingled my keys at it, and ran back inside. I suppose that’s great fun if you are a teenager bird.

Last week, we had a baby robin on the front porch. It wasn’t quite ready to leave the nest. He squaked and squaked, but refused any worms that I tried to feed him.

I believe, although I never actually saw the nest, that we had a meadowlark nest and chicks. Meadowlarks nest on the ground. Every time I walked near one of the bluebird boxes, a large bird would fly out of the tall grass. At one point in the summer, there were a couple of newly fledged birds hanging out in the backyard. I never did get a good look at them, but it wasn’t for trying.

I don’t think our bluebird friends had a successful hatch. Maybe next year will be better.

A few weeks ago, while walking past a very small river birch, I noticed an empty nest; a little while later, a blue egg with brown speckles.  Until finally there were four eggs, and a very diligient father perched in a nearby tree to guard the nest.  Yesterday, the first of the eggs hatched.  This morning, the second.  I took a little video because the little guys are so ugly they’re cute, and it’s not every day that you get to peer into a nest like this.


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