Monthly Archives: September 2010

Rain, at last!

By | My Garden | No Comments

Taken with iPhone at the Baltimore Aquarium

So I was spreading mulch on the garden and there were all these frogs and then there was this OTHER frog, and I thought, gee, that’s awfully brightly colored–

Okay, no, I did not find poison dart frogs in my mulch. I took this shot at the Baltimore aquarium on my recent book tour (and I am impressed again at the iPhone!) and just wanted to show it off.

Although I suspect if you asked my readers who was most likely to encounter a poison dart frog in their mulch…

Anyway, after over a month of rainlessness, we are finally getting a good solid downpour.  I suspect that this is because I spent awhile this morning watering, thereby attracting the rain gods, who are notoriously susceptible to sympathetic magic. Not that I mind–we need the rain, there’s a lot I DIDN’T water (the prairie planting doesn’t get watered, and a lot of the backyard I hadn’t gotten around to–and I really just wanted to spend some time in my yard after being away.

I put a soaker hose in the big new bed (aka The Bed That Manga Built) to test it out–lots of gardeners rhapsodize over the soaker hose as the only way to water, and having ascribed to the “Let it rain, or splash it with the hose occasionally” method, I figured I’d test it out for science. We’ll see.

I need more hyssop for the big bed. One side I’m just going to do in solid hyssop (Agastache species) and I need to transplant some of the more crowded plants from the existing bed. All projects for next week…probably late next week, because we’re supposed to get three days of rain.  Which lord knows, we need.

And another one!

By | Animals, My Garden | 2 Comments

Who is that mystery frog? iPhone photo

I have no idea what species this little guy is. He was also about the size of a quarter, but doesn’t match any of the photos in my Frogs & Toads of North Carolina website of choice closely enough to make an ID for sure.  (very small bronze frog? Maybe?) He was exactly the color of the dirt, and I would never have spotted him if he hadn’t moved.

Eventually I just mulched around him, leaving a square inch unmulched so as not to trouble him. He pressed himself into the dirt and glared at me.

Any herpetologists in the audience who can name him, I’d be delighted to know what he is!

Pickerel Frog

By | Animals, Stuff In My Yard | 3 Comments

Photo taken with iPhone

Well, look at you!

This handsome little fellow hopped out from under one of my bags of topsoil, and I managed to snap a few photos. (He was happy to just hang out on the dirt for awhile, perhaps hoping that I would go away.) I believe he’s a pickerel frog–he’s a little bigger than a quarter, and has squarer spots than a leopard frog. According to the internet, he eats a whole bunch of different bugs, and we’re at the southern end of his range. Happily, his species is not suffering serious declines at the moment, unlike the majority of amphibians, so as long as I keep bringing in the bugs and don’t slather pesticides around, Pickerel Bob should be a common visitor to the yard.

Dirt, dirt, and more dirt. Also, dirt.

By | Insects, My Garden | 2 Comments

I occasionally stop and think that it’s a damn good thing I have no sense of how large most of my grandiose schemes are, or I would never ever do them. Fortunately, by the time I realize how over my head I am, I’m halfway done, and I HAVE to finish. (See: Digger, red living room, Dragonbreath series, other garden bed…)

The new bed has taken a lot of dirt. I go to Lowes, I get a dozen bags of manure and topsoil, I bring it back, I dump it out, and then I wonder how something that took so much effort to haul and lift and lug and dump produces so small a patch of plantable ground.

Still, it’s nearly done. I’ve been putting in between one and two hours a day on the project, and it should hopefully be finished by Wednesday, which is good because I fly out on Thursday for a panel in Daytona on Friday, and then they fly me to Baltimore for another panel on Saturday. (I frequently question whether my presence for a single hour is really interesting enough to justify planes and hotel rooms and all that. But then again, Penguin’s paying for it, so I’m happy to go where they tell me.)

Someone who, y’know, was of a get-this-done-now mindset could do this in a weekend. I, however, work on the method of What Ursula Can Do Before She Gets Exhausted Or Bored, which involves small loads and frequent switching of jobs. So I rake up some leaves and dump them, then put on a little manure, then lay out a little more manga or spread a little mulch, and eventually the bed takes shape.

One neat thing about my slow and puttering method of bed construction–the butterflies are going CRAZY. The unmulched sections of composted cow manure attract dozens of butterflies, which are sipping the moisture or feeding or something.  Whenever I walk out there, a small cloud is swirling over the bed.  I can’t ID half the species–there’s skippers and admirals and red-spotted purples, but there’s also the chartreuse things and the bright yellow things and the teeny little black and orange things and the wee miniscule blue-gray things. So eventually I give up and just enjoy standing in a cloud of butterflies, like a Disney heroine gone wrong.

Manga Mulch

By | My Garden | 3 Comments

So Niche Gardens is having a 50% off sale through Saturday, and not being made of stone, my credit card and I went to go stock up.

And by “went” I mean that the wind of my passing tore leaves from the trees and I arrived wild-eyed and foaming and crying “WHERE ARE THE CHEAP PLANTS?!”

Ahem. Dignity. I has it.

See, I’d been planning on putting in a huge new bed this fall, even bigger than the existing one, thereby turning the front yard into a meandering grassy path through the garden rather than a yard with a big island bed in it. (Yes. Kevin loves me. And hates mowing, in more or less equal measure.) And I knew it would take sweat and labor and a lot of dirt, but the really spendy bit was gonna be the plants. But 50% off at Niche! *flail*

So now I have all the stuff for my bed. I just needed the bed.

So, I got out the edging and laid out the outline…

The perspective makes this look more insanely ambitious than it really is. Don't get me wrong, it's still crazy, just not QUITE so crazy.

Sheet mulching, aka “lasagna gardening,” the technique I’m using, is pretty much the idiot proof method of building a bed. You lay down a layer of newspaper, and then you throw any old crap you have lying around on it–dirt, manure, grass clippings, dead leaves, compost, whatever–and then you toss a layer of topsoil on it and a layer of mulch and say “You are now a bed!”

Ideally you then let it cook over the winter, but you can plant immediate if so desired. It’s best to do it in fall, but seriously–idiot proof. Also ideally there’s a proper proportion of green-to-brown material for people who like to obsess about the nitrogen cycle, but again, if there isn’t, stuff will still grow, and it will likely grow well.

Dirt I can get and leaves and grass I have and most of the fall chopping I can toss on as well and I needed to pick up some bags of manure anyway. What I didn’t have was newspaper, which is kinda helpful in keeping the bed from getting overrun by bermudagrass and so forth.

Enter Kevin, and eight boxes of elderly Japanese-language Shonen Jump. Somebody had given him a manga collection, and he had sold what he could, given away what he could, and was left with these boxes, at least one of which you’ve seen recycled into art.

And I must say, spending a warm late summer evening sitting out in the garden, tearing pages out of manga by the handful, is not unpleasant. I got about half the bed done before the mosquitoes drove me indoors. Lord knows what will grow from such a base, but hey, there are worse forms of recycling.

(No, I am not much concerned about possible traces of heavy metals in the inks used to print. A) it’s a flower bed, B) I have both eaten Twinkies and mixed dry powdered glazes in ceramics, which are nothing BUT heavy metals, and C) I think people’s brains have kinda fallen out on the whole trace contaminates of heavy metals thing, since we are constantly exposed to stupidly toxic stuff all the time. When you have fixed the problems with fish, acid rain, and Chinese paint-jobs, THEN I will worry about my eggplants sucking trace amounts of lead from Bobobobo’s printed pores. Not before.)

This weekend–more manga! And perhaps manure!

Rags and Tatters

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | One Comment

Another quick iPhone shot in the garden!

The garden is at arguably its least attractive phase at the moment. If I were a garden club sort of gardener, I could spruce it up significantly by getting out there and deadheading and pruning and perhaps plugging mums into the holes, but I’m a wildlife gardener, so it doesn’t happen. The black-eyed susans and the coneflower are withered black balls on dried stalks, but they bring in the goldfinches, the zinnias have become a leggy tangle crawling across the lawn, but they’re covered in tiger swallowtails and occasional monarchs, and the milkweed hosts an absurd riot of beetles, aphids, and assassin bugs, even though they’re pretty much just stems.

I swear to god, next year the swamp sunflowers get a plant cage to try and keep them in one mass, but the hummingbirds like it, despite its fallen form. I spotted a camouflaged looper on one, an inchworm that covers itself in flower petals or bits of leaf. Wouldn’t have ID’d it at all, but there was an article over at Wildlife Gardens that mentioned it, and I was delighted to find one the very next day.

I did do a little pruning–I’ve got no desire to see the blue vervain set seed, so I cut it back severely, and I cleared a couple of the densest tangles and discovered surprising treasures underneath–hey, look! Texas firecracker plant! I forgot I planted that, and here it is under the zinnias, trucking along despite the shade! And dude! The Texas ageratum is kickin’ ass under the goldenrod!–and hacked a bit more on The Silk Tree That Will Not Die. And I deadheaded the pink catmint, which is one of the seriously awesome plant finds I made at Niche Gardens this year–non-native, alas, but catmint is one of those fabulous uncomplaining plants that just sits there and produces nectar and toughs it out through any weather, and it’s welcome in any garden of mine. And the pink kind’ll take part shade. I can ask no more of a plant.

In another month, it may cool enough to finally get cracking on the big flowerbed installation that I have planned for this fall. (Hopefully by then, I will finally have finished re-painting the living room…)