Category Archives: Day-to-Day


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It’s spring! It’s spring! Did I mention it was spring!?

I got back from Arizona and suddenly spring is everywhere. There are buds on the elderberry and the hydrangea and the dogwood. The trillium are sudden coming up! (They hadn’t even poked above ground before I left.) The eastern waterleaf is out and the Christmas fern and various mountain mints are appearing in places where I will probably someday regret planting them. Did I mention the trillium!?

My trout lilies bloomed and my toothwort and Jacob’s ladder are going nuts and the raspberry is budding and a deer ate the top off my red buckeye but it’s still got another set of buds and the roses are putting out dark red leaves and the cherry blossomed and I SAW A BEE!

My heart may not be able to take much more of this. Sometimes I wonder if gardening is just a random hobby I will someday tire of, and then I wander around making “Urrrk!” noises like I’ve been kicked whenever I see a new plant come up, and I think it’s probably not gonna happen.

And the mourning cloak is out! Doing his little patrols! And I saw an Eastern Comma butterfly! And pulled a tick off myself!

Okay, that last wasn’t quite so exciting. But still.


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Today in the garden, an indigo bunting took a bath in the puddle that formed from the run-off of the broken soaker hose, which is supposed to be saving water and kind of isn’t, and I ought to fix it because I’m not sure how much good it is doing, except that it leaves puddles that are immediately swarmed by our neighbor Wade’s honeybees and by puddling butterflies, and in this case, by a male indigo bunting.

Wade swears the bees have lots of water and he constantly puts out pans for them and they just ignore it. He thinks they like our water better. I am okay with this.

When they can’t get broken soaker hose, they have taken to mobbing the bog garden pot, with its rather bedraggled pitcher plants that I thought were dead but are somehow slogging back to life from a root ball slightly smaller than a quarter. I would really like to refill the bog garden because it will dry out soon and the lady’s tresses are not looking happy, but it is wall to wall swarming honeybees and I do not want to drown them or make them angry at the person with the hose.

Today the pasture rose bloomed, perfect little single pink flowers with clusters of golden stamens. It’s beautiful. It’s far too aggressive for the spot it’s in, but it’s a bit late now to do anything, absent a truck and a winch. Someday it will eat the rain barrel.

And the yucca fell over. I didn’t know that yucca flower stems got heavy enough to fall over and take the yucca halfway out of the ground with it, but apparently they do. I don’t have any stakes, so I jammed the cultivator into the ground up to the top of the tines and tied the flower stem to it. It is the third least elegant solution in the garden, the second being the hardy Russian pomegranate that I bungee-corded to an arbor to try and correct the lean, and the worst being the fig tree which put out a really heavy trunk that wanted to fall over, so I used the big metal pole that I was supposed to mount a birdhouse on and an Ace bandage and we got an amazing crop of figs last year and that’s the important thing.

 Also, I bought a poem from a woman selling poems at the Farmer’s Market today.

Hot Green World

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Spring, after wandering around aimlessly and hiding behind winter for some weeks, just landed on the garden like a ton of bricks.

We had two eighty-degree days and then it rained all night. I woke up this morning, looked out the window, and the world was GREEN.

Not just any green, of course. That hot, new-leaf green, the kind that makes you wonder why green is ever considered a cool color, a blazing green of unutterable greenness. They do not make greens like this at any other time.

The hickories are the greenest offenders, but the maples and sweetgums are working hard to catch up.

Everything in the garden just exploded. It may not have been overnight, but it was close. Plants that were a small basal rosette for weeks are suddenly a foot tall with flower spikes. The foamflower went from “dormancy” to “LOOK AT ME I HAVE FLOWERS LOOK AT MY FLOWERS I AM AWESOME” at a dead run. I spend over an hour a day roaming around the yard, and I STILL find new plants out of the blue that I didn’t see the day before. (Logic says that I must have overlooked them, but they’re also going at the speed of a galloping racehorse.)

You drive down the road and the trees are every shade from chartreuse to dark pine. My cherry tree has lost all its flowers and is now covered in green. The native plum is doing the same. Plants that I never expected to survive are throwing flowers. (Columbine! I have a columbine! I have NEVER successfully overwintered a columbine, and every time somebody said “But they’re practically weeds!” it was a dagger in my gardening heart. And there it is!)

Also, Operation Jewelweed appears to have been a smashing success. And by smashing, I mean “the way Godzilla smashes Tokyo.” Hmm.

There are over twenty frogs in the pond. I think the salamander eggs either hatched or were eaten or have been covered by algae or something. The cricket frogs fling themselves out from underfoot with every step.

Tomorrow I’ll have to plant out cucumbers and melons, because I don’t think we’re getting much of a spring this year. I suspect we will be propelled directly into summer without stopping. Some of the beans are up. I planted out pitcher plant seeds, which were promptly drowned by the rain, so…maybe not. But we’ll see.

It is glorious out. I can hardly stand to stay inside, and if I didn’t have books to write, I don’t know if I would.

Starting the year with the Old Farmer

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I got the farmer’s almanac calendar this year, to replace 365 days of Songbirds, and having put it up today (a day early, fine) I have already learned several exciting things. And the writing is positively lyrical. There is a note informing me that

At New Year’s tide

The days lengthen a cock’s stride.

and on the 26th, the cryptic phrase:

Full Wolf Moon

The full moon eats clouds.

Then it segues into how Ben Franklin introduced kohlrabi to America. I have never actually read the Old Farmer’s Almanac, but I am starting to think that I have been missing out all these years, if this is the sort of thing you get!

(I am also irresistibly reminded of the Flathead Calendar from the Zork Zero packaging, which included such delights as “Pac Moon.” The number of people who get that reference are vanishingly small, but a surprising percentage, I would wager, read this blog.)

Bloody Great Asters

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Well, we had a hard rain and knocked the giant willowleaf asters flat. I don’t know why anybody wants a six-foot-tall aster anyway, except that I apparently do. Show me a native plant that gets eight feet tall and I will hand you my wallet, grab the pot, and run giggling down the street.

It’s a bit of a problem, I grant you.

This one was grown up against the back of the garage, a big blank white wall that should have been a perfect canvas for the aster, except that the aster decided to hell with it. Very tall plant stakes, it turns out, can be torn out of the ground by a sufficiently determined aster.

The flowers are lovely. The bees like them.

Great tall wands, covered in nickel sized flowers. You could say “forms an attractive vase shape” if you were the sort of garden writer that delights in deceiving your fellow man while still somehow telling the exact truth.

And the rain forms such marvelous little glass beads all over the flowers. You’d have one of those epiphanies about the glory of nature if you weren’t trying to drag the stems off the fig tree and the giant salvia that was behaving quite well and standing up just like it should until a bloody great aster fell on it.

At times like this, I must remind myself that I live in a very beautiful place. Despite my—and the aster’s—best efforts.

(View over the back fence. Looking away from the aster.)

Grey Days and Scarlet Sage

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It’s a grey day in the garden, and it’s beautiful.

Why this particular grey day is beautiful, and the last handful just made me want to sleep for a week, I will leave for the reader—either you know the difference in greys or you don’t, and there’s not much point in explaining it. Possibly it has to do with the thunderstorm that is wandering around, scraping ions together. I don’t know, I just work here.

I got up and drank coffee and had some oatmeal and went outside and said “Crap, it’s cold!” and decided that I absolutely positively had to get the last two Aristolochia vines in the ground today, since those are A) not cheap and B) not common, even though once you get one firmly established it’s approximately as delicate as a cinderblock.  (Also known as Hairy Dutchman’s Pipe. Larval host for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. We hatched one solitary butterfly out on my one vine this summer, and I am bound and determined, if the swallowtails are here, to give them as many meals as I can manage. Also I’m hoping it’ll cover the fence.)

What with one thing and another, though, I spent upwards of an hour puttering around, planted a Japanese roof iris (not native, obviously, but a glorious foliage plant and apparently made of iron.) planted a discount pansy that had been sitting around for awhile, and finally potted up a Mammilaria cactus. (Yes. Exactly why you think.) The cactus has been sitting there being ignored in its plastic pot for five months, healthy as a horse, and now that I have finally put it in dirt, I expect it to die instantly and with extreme prejudice.

I also divided the southern stonecrop. There are a few—very few—sedums native to my neck of the woods, and I have all three. So far the Sedum nevii has done fairly well (although looking at photos, I am becoming less and less certain that what I have is actually S. nevii and not something mislabeled.) S. ternatum, woodland stonecrop, is quite marvelous in the shade, and the jury is still out on my newly acquired S. glaucophyllum, which has only been in the ground for a month.

I also yanked up some of the Salvia coccinea. Oof. That’s…quite a plant. Native from Texas to South Carolina, which is good enough for my occasionally somewhat lackadaisical form of native gardening (particularly given our recent zone shift, it’d be creeping this way anyhow.) Also known as “blood sage.” It’s supposed to be an annual. Perhaps it will be. There’s a good chance it could be a tender perennial as well. Either way, I expect that I will never be without it again, because it re-seeds like nothing I have ever seen in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous plant, it grows fast, it has blazing scarlet trumpets of a clear, pure, shocking red, and I am perfectly happy to have it on my painfully dry hillside. It was undoubtedly found in the Piedmont Prairie back in the day (at least that stretch of it south of here) so it’s welcome in mine. But holy crap, it’s EVERYWHERE. One plant, and I have probably fifty babies seeded all over the hillside, and I have a grim premonition that those little tiny green leaflets spread across the path there are not going to turn out to be chickweed.

It’s one of those plants where if you chop off a flower stalk and leave it on the ground, you’ll come back and find a line of seedlings started up where it touched the ground. (Agastache foeniculum will do this, too.)  I’m hoping a fair number of the seeds will fail to overwinter, because otherwise I’m going to have the All Blood Sage, All The Time garden.

That’s not as bad as it could be, honestly. While it’s sometimes called “hummingbird sage,” the hummingbirds are fairly neutral on it. The sulphur butterflies think this stuff is the Best Thing Ever, though, as do those native bees who can manage trumpets and lots of tiny little flitty butterflies that I can’t get close enough to identify.

What I will probably end up doing, if they do overwinter, is tear the stuff up now and again and lug it out to the field out front, where nothing much is going on and I have not bothered to do much in the way of planting. I expect the blood sage would probably manage to sink roots in there. I’ll throw some of the A. foeniculum too, and see if it doesn’t take as well, since lord knows, I’ve got plenty of that, too.

Autumn Descends

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | 7 Comments

I went outside yesterday and it was fall.

Pretty much like that. Wham. The day before had been summer, without much question, and today it was fall, and that was the end of the matter.

The air was cool and damp instead of hot and muggy and I looked at the garden and instead of thinking “Oh christ, what a mess!” I looked at it and thought “Oh christ, what a mess, I must fix it right this minute.”

That’s the sign right there.

Our weather went from scorching drought to torrential rain. Everything is squelching. The tomatoes couldn’t take take the shift and rotted out. I cleared them out this morning, along with a watermelon that had served its time. (It would likely have produced another melon or two, but we’ve had enough watermelon for awhile, and it was trying to eat the basil.) I had previously taken out the crookneck squash, which would have happily kept going all fall, but again…enough is enough.

The garden looks very bare without them. It’s all peppers and basil and ferocious nasturtiums and Mexican sour cucumbers. And the scarlet runner beans, of course, which ate the deck and the world and which I had to savagely chop back from eating the blueberry bushes.

Brought in a couple of handfuls of jalapeno and Anaheim peppers, which Kevin is slow-drying in the oven. The house smells of peppers, and we have the windows open, so it also smells a bit of leaf mold and you can hear the birds squirping in the trees.

I have decided that one of the native sunflowers needs to go. It’s a gorgeous plant, but it flops like the devil, and it’s on so many little stalks that staking is just an exercise in torment. I shall relocate it to the drainage ditch out front, where it can spread with great enthusiasm and get seven feet tall and fall over and no one will care. I’m thinking chokecherries for the space. It wants something tall and open, but not floppy, and I’ve got a couple of chokecherries in pots back here looking for a home.

There’s a stage of gardening when you’re just thrilled anything will grow, and then there’s the stage after it when you realize that you have the power to uproot a happy plant because it is the WRONG plant for the spot. I am moving—slowly—into that stage. It’s a bit scary.

Moved a couple of loads of mulch. Fought the Japanese stiltgrass. I think that’s the next big scourge here. Successfully ID’d a couple of plants growing wild, however, and am delighted to see more native camphor pluchea (probably descended from my big one) and the native annual partridge pea, which is about the only thing that will grow through the stiltgrass. There’s also something called “beefsteak plant” which is a non-native escaped-from-cultivation plant, aka “Chinese basil.” I am not thrilled with it, but it’s a minor concern besides the stiltgrass. (Scraping the drive and clearing trees from the sides made a big ‘ol stiltgrass bonanza, and it’s completely overgrown the area I was hoping to keep as a wetland. The trees and shrubs are still managing, through, so I’m hoping they’ll make a difference and that I’ll be able to get stuff well established next spring before the stiltgrass gets going.) Still not sure how to manage this.  I’d need a whole team to clear out all the stiltgrass by hand, and we do not do pesticides on a wetland area.

Working on mulching the final path. This fall I will finally get the patio dug, goddamnit. That’ll make a difference. Once it’s in, I can layout the last bed, and start in on ground covers. If I can just get some solid groundcovers down, the weed load drops significantly, and I can make holes for shrubs and perennials. I’m having good luck with a prostrate St. John’s Wort called “Appalachian Sun” that’s native to this neck of the woods. The Meehania croaked anywhere it got any sun at all, but does great in the shade under the hose connection. Green-and-Gold “Eco-Lacquered Spider” continues to be a rock star, and I’ve plunked down enough woolly thyme to make a small herbal mammoth.

I don’t want to get too ambitious in the garden until I get back from my trip next week, but I’m definitely feeling the hey-it’s-another-growing-season-get-your-ass-out-there-and-plant twitch. Starting to worry about the garden being TOO big and being too busy to keep it up, too, but that’s another post and hey, for that, there’s always mulch.




By | Day-to-Day | 7 Comments

Kevin got me a new pair of mud boots, called “Sloggers.” My old Birkenstocks had kinda exploded, and the mud boots are awesome anyhow, given how much mud there is in North Carolina in the spring. (I do not have DIRT paths. Oh no. Dirt is for summer.) The boots have enormous flowers all over them. Kevin got them for me with the understanding that if I wear them in public, he is allowed to call the people at What Not To Wear. I agreed to these terms, as they are fair. The boots are wonderful, but quite, quite hideous. Gardening is a fundamentally frumpadelic-activity, though, and I enjoy them enormously in their place.

The weather continues to be freaky weird. We’re getting down to 18 degrees this weekend. It was 70 a little while ago. I am hoping that this will kill off any ticks that decided to come out, but fear for its effect on my established plants. I’m less worried about the seeds. Most of the seeds I’ve planted out have A) not sprouted yet and B) tolerate frost, and even if they are killed horribly by a hard ground freeze…darn. I’ll have to re-open the seed packet. (Seriously, given the small size of my vegetable gardening ambitions, seeds will generally pass their reliable germination rate long before I am done with a packet. Six scarlet runner beans is madly ambitious of me, and there’s 25 in a pack. I have no idea how anybody gets through 200 heirloom peas.)

Hmm, now that I think of it, a 25 foot soaker hose would be helpful for the one veggie bed before things actually start growing and it gets hard to water…

Transplanted various plants that are supposed to be divided “in early spring, before breaking dormancy.” I think the Dutchman’s pipe might have qualified. Nothing else bothered to even BE dormant. I transplanted it anyway. I’ve already realized that I’m going to have to wait until fall to finally plant my potted blueberries, because they are so covered with buds, (possibly owing to my tentative pruning? Maybe?) that it’d kill me to lose the crop. We’re going to go with that reason, and not the bit where the bed they’re supposed to go into isn’t done because the patio isn’t dug yet because I HAVEN’T DONE IT YET, OKAY?!

I have mulched mightily, though. Well, mushroom-composted mightily, which is sort of mulching. Both veggie beds, a semi-shaded back bed that will soon receive my much abused oakleaf hydrangea, (come to think of it, I need a soaker hose for back there, too…damn, I should just buy a box of those things…) and now I’m starting on the front yard. Except for the bee balm.  If I fertilize the bee balm, they will find that stuff in orbit. The bee balm can suck it.

This year I will finally try strawberry planters, because it is silly that I have never actually done so. The strawberry plants are already out at Lowes, but they ain’t cheap. I’m going to wait and see if the feed store carries any. I have two strawberry planters, one large and one small, and have been reading about tricks with toilet paper tubes to keep the roots of all of them well-watered, but at nearly $3 a plant, I could go out to the pick-your-own place and come home with a bushel for the price of filling in the planters.

This weekend it will be very cold. I will have to wear my Cthulhu hat to mulch in. Darn.

Carpenter Bee on Blueberries

By | Day-to-Day, Insects | 4 Comments

Taken with iPhone

This handsome fellow is—I think—a large carpenter bee of the Xylocopa persuasion.* He is on my blueberries, and there is an excellent chance that he is pollinating them. There is also an excellent chance that he is chewing a hole in the side of each flower to get to the nectar. Since I think his family probably pollinated last year’s crop, I’m not going to begrudge him the holes. I am deeply delighted by my native pollinators and really need to rig up a mason bee house this year…

The bugs are out in force in the garden right now, Mt. Mulch has been reduced dramatically (I think I may actually have it down to about 40% of it’s former glory, although I am seriously running out of things to mulch at this point) the bees are lumbering through the flowers, the little spring butterflies are cavorting amidst the weeds, a birdhouse that I had long since given up on appears to be favored by Carolina chickadees, and no trees have tried to kill me for a couple of days now. Almost everything has broken dormancy, including the milkweed and Joe-Pye-Weed, always slow to emerge, (my American spikenard lives! Woohoo! I had nearly lost hope!) and I’ve pretty much given up on the cannas—think we just got too damn cold this winter. Gonna see if I can find the native canna at Niche Gardens and give it a try.

Time to go lug the laptop to the cafe and get a thousand words done on either Dragonbreath 7 (Fairybreath) or Bread Wizard…

*There is a  chance that she is actually a bumblebee queen, but he’s pretty shiny and not real hairy on the backside, which is supposed to be the telling bit.  As you can tell, my bee ID skills are not great yet.

So I just nearly died!

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And by “nearly” I mean that I was fertilizing my Carolina lupine (a lovely native plant! Recommend it highly!) and heard a splintery creaky noise and looked up and yelled an obscenity and a tree came down about three feet from where I was standing, tore through the trellis I’d put up for the climbing aster (a lovely native plant! Also recommend it highly!) and slammed into the ground.

Approximately thirty seconds earlier, I had been standing directly under it, fertilizing the Celandine poppies (a lovely native plant–oh, never mind…) and had I dawdled a bit or stopped to check for a tick or something, you’d be getting this blog post from the ER (if I moved very quickly) or not at all (if I didn’t.)

It was a dead pine about as thick around as my thigh, and since it’s only slightly windy, I’m thinking the base just plain rotted out and finally gave up the ghost. It was back sufficiently far in the wooded area that we never thought it was a threat to the house. I’d put it at thirty or forty feet tall—probably died in the big ice storm a few years back that took out forty-some trees directly (Kevin said they came down like jackstraws, and you can still see a lot of them downed in the woods) and left others standing but deceased. The main body was still pretty damn solid, though, and if I’d taken it to the head…well, let’s just say there would be reason to be glad that I finished Digger last month. (If I’d had the brains to throw myself sideways, it would be more likely a call to 9-1-1 saying “So there’s this tree on me…” and fortunately Kevin was on his way home, so I wouldn’t have had to gnaw my own leg off or anything. Still, it would have been Very Unpleasant.)

Still, nice to know that apparently it’s not my time!

As I said, we do live in a heavily wooded area, and while the area around the house is cleared–that’s how I garden–there’s just no escaping the fact that dead trees come down occasionally, and if they fall one way, they’ll land in the yard. Every now and then we go out and go “Hey, didn’t there used to be a tree there?” but it’s really never been that big a deal.

So I did what one does in such circumstances, which was to finish fertilizing the rest of the plants while pretending that this was Perfectly Normal and trees nearly fall on me every day, and then I called Kevin and said “So I just nearly died!” and then called my mother and did the same thing. They both took it well. Then Kevin came home and with the help of a hacksaw, cut it down and hauled it to the back of the bed, so now I have a dead tree as the back border in one area (which is actually kinda awesome!) and a moderate addition to the brush pile.

I haven’t gotten the shakes or started crying or anything, so either I really do have ice water in my veins or it’s gonna hit me sometime this evening and it’ll be exciting.

P.S. Missed all the plants, too. Right down the middle of the bed, missed the hardy pomegranate and the paw-paw by inches, cleared the bloodroot by millimeters, and the top broke off directly over a hyssop and didn’t so much as scratch it. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Apparently it really hated that trellis.

P.S.S. Crap, it only just occurred to me—not an April Fool’s joke! I have photos and everything!