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Emptying the Greenhouse

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Oh, the greenhouse was crammed. And the weather predictions were for upper 80's and low 90's over the weekend. Yiiikes. I was not about to allow all the plants I'd been growing all winter to be fried. Ever since the fan broke in my greenhouse, I've been trying to get it emptied and planted out before it gets really hot. I hated the drone of that fan anyway, and if it's hot enough for it to be running, it's too hot for the plants. At least that was my rationale for not having somebody come out to install a new fan. So I had the devil chasing me to get the Pod emptied before the big heat hit.

I have to say I was as pleased with my plants this year as any. I was a good girl and pinched back the geraniums instead of letting them all get huge. I toughened my stance on bringing in big huge pots of flowers from the yard. It would only be cuttings this year. And I didn't go nuts--just one or two cuttings of each.

One difference this year from others is that I switched from giving liquid fertilizer (Peter's, dissolved in water) to Osmocote, which is fertilizer bound up in round, time-release pellets. You mix it into the soil and it does its work steadily and slowly as the months go by. What a difference. Instead of the huge spurts of top-heavy growth, I got slow, steady, sturdy growth in my plants.

Gartenmeister fuschia, the first time I've grown a decent specimen indoors. Yay!

Heliotrope, which smells like cherry pie. It's now out in the flower border. Rabbits don't like it. Yay again.

The poet's jasmine loves Osmocote. It was looking sickly and yellow, and Osmocote and some pyrethrins brought it back from Red Spider Miteland. It has a heavy, musky scent all its own. I crave it. And it blooms year 'round. What a dinkum plantie.

These are the geraniums I can't live without: star geraniums in red and hot pink, little bitty Grey Sprite, Occold Shield with its chestnut-splotched chartreuse leaves, Vancouver Centennial with its chestnut star-shaped leaves edged in chartreuse; Rosina Read in pink, Wilhelm Langguth with its white-bordered leaves, Frank Headley with its ridiculously white leaves and salmon flowers. The list goes on. At one time I had 28 varieties of miniature and dwarf and fancy-leaved gerania. They are my weakness. Well, one of my weaknesses. People of passion have many weaknesses.

But now it was time for them to go back out in the big world.
And so I planted them in nine planters and five baskets, all to keep them out of the reach of wabbits. Wabbits are huge geranium fans. They like them so much they chew them into tiny bits, leaving a neat pile of leaves and stem chunks where once there was a plant. Leaving me jumping up and down, firing my sixguns fruitlessly in the air like Yosemite Sam.

So what's a geranium freak to do? Why, elevate them, of course. You're never going to get rid of rabbits. The really precious plants go in hanging baskets, and the rest in planters, which are themselves elevated to about 18 inches, which is high enough to deter all but climbing rabbits (and they sometimes do climb to get to them). RRRRRR. Chet Baker. Where are you when they are doing that?
Sleeping? Cooling my tummeh in the green grass? I do not know. Rabbits are crafty. They do it at night, when I am asleep in my Jedd Bed. That's what I think. You cannot blame me for what the bunnehs do, Mether.

Here is my HotPot, with a red star geranium (so called because the leaves and flowers are like pointy stars), Occold Shield, and Vancouver Centennial. I put it next to the cool Bird Spa, and get photos of warblers in the crazy foliage. By September, Vancouver Centennial will look like a chestnut and chartreuse waterfall over the whole pot.
And here's the Cool Pot in the shade of a birch, with Gartenmeister fuchsia and a pink and purple fuchsia I love. Other than having to spray them with pyrethrins or insecticidal soap every couple of days for whitefly, I like growing fuchsias. Once they go outside, I don't have to spray them any more, nor do I want to, because the hummingbirds are visiting then.

You can see the elevational element in all my plantings. Of necessity. I'd love to have planters right on the ground, but then there would be no plants in them. And forget planting geraniums right in the ground around here. Gone, overnight. Good thing I like planting in containers, huh?

Mary Alice, my giant hibiscus tree, was made into a standard by rabbits, who ate every bit of foliage they could reach.
She's too tall now for rabbits, and the spicebush swallowtails love her so much.
I'm forever carving away at this miniature Ficus benjamina "Too Little." It's waist high to me now, and it's easier to keep the scale under control on a small tree. Still and all, scale and ficus go together like white and rice. They're awfully sticky plants, with all the scale pee dropping from them. Bleh. Still, it makes a very nice miniature tree. I guess it qualifies as a tropical bonsai at this point.

Phoebe got this jade tree as a tiny cutting from her first grade teacher, Mr. Jennings. Marty's gone now, cut down in his prime by cancer, but Marty the jade tree, and our loving memories of him, live on. He was an amazing teacher, a loving disciplinarian, and he taught those first graders to read in nothing flat.

That's an awful big jade tree, six years later. Chet can stand in Marty's shade.

Speaking of trees, I've trained a little gardenia into a great big standard with a braided trunk.
Every stem tip has a flower bud. It killed me to keep pinching it back to keep its nice round shape, and it ticked the plant off to have its new growth continually pinched off, and I knew as I did it I was preventing the possibility of flowers, and I haven't smelt a gardenia flower since way last summer, but... when this thing finally bursts into bloom after a year of pinching and training it will all be worth it. Woo!

Meanwhile, the bonsais are all potted up and leafing out beautifully. I gave them a huge root pruning this spring, which always gets them going strong.

My favorite. Or one of them. A Japanese maple, perfect subject for bonsai. This one, in the pot 25 years. A coon knocked it off the deck and split its trunk in 1993. I thought it would die, but I taped it together with electrician's tape and hoped for the best. This is the glorious result. I suppose I owe that coon.

The tree comes up to about mid-thigh on me, just FYI.

The bleeding heart has expanded beautifully. Bill indulged in some little solar lamps that delight us all out of proportion to their cost. We love to sit out in lawnchairs and watch them come on, just as the whip-poor-wills start to sing. Nepeta "Walker's Low" and King Alfred daffies. Too bad I don't have cats, that catnip is rampant. (But I don't miss them ).

I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of my gardens, container and otherwise. They make me feel alive.

Morel Madness

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There are two white morels in the photo. Can you find them?

It's MOREL TIME. Yes, I am shouting. I love MOREL TIME. I will say that, with the weather going from Februaryine conditions to Augustine in the space of 24 hours, it's a little tough on the morels. Bill and I went out twice a day, checking our honeyspots, looking, looking, finding nothing. And then I was riding the lawnmower, just pootling along, when I saw three wrinkled beings lined up right along our driveway. AGGH! Morels.

Here I am in the thrill of discovery. The tattoo on my arm is temporary. It is a muscle car with flames shooting out its butt, which I applied to my skin as inspiration, because I needed to empty the greenhouse and plant the vegetable garden in three days. Which I did. As you can tell from my stunning farmer by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

Not only did I empty the greenhouse, but I potted five large hanging baskets and nine planters, dug out and distributed reechy compost to all my garden beds, weeded several beds, rototilled the garden, planted the beans, glads, and tuberoses, and mowed the lawn. It was a heck of a weekend. Pretty much perfect by Zick standards, except that Bill wasn't here to share the joy.

On Saturday afternoon, when the lawn was mowed, I called to Phoebe to come join me in a search for more morels. We decided to hit new ground, near where I'd found the trio of monsters pictured above.

Phoebe finds her first one. The twig across her face doesn't hide her excitement.
At this point I should say that we found two different species of morels. The white, or yellow morel Morchella esculenta is the most highly prized for its taste and texture. The two fabulously wrinkled, paler specimens at the top are white morels. They look more like a proper mushroom to me.

All the rest with the smaller brown caps are half-free morels, Morchella semilibera. They're perfectly good to eat and taste wonderful, but they don't hold up quite as well to cooking as does M. esculenta, being sort of gauzy and less substantial in texture. They're called half-free morels because the cap is attached to the stem halfway up, leaving the cap hanging down over the stem for half its length. White morels' caps are attached to the stem at the base. Both edible species have a hollow stem, which is the diagnostic characteristic that tells you they are safe to eat. If you find a morel that, on cross section, has a stem filled with white fuzzy hyphae, you've probably got Verpa bohemica, the False Morel, which you DO NOT want to eat.

Here is the yummy half-free morel, with its hollow stem, and cap connected halfway up. The stem has white pimples on the inside, but not cottony fibers:

And here is Verpa bohemica, the False Morel, with its stem full of white cottony hyphae, its cap hanging free and attached only at the very top, and its nasty poisonousness. Don't eat this one.

These photos lifted from Northern Country Morels, a wonderful web site full of wisdom and warnings.

Remember: There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

One of the half-free morel's common names is "peckerhead," and so are they called on Indigo Hill.
Phoebe gave me permission to use this picture of her holding a large half-free morel. Yes, she is her mother's daughter (and her father's daughter) through and through. Which is to say, irreverant and pleasantly evil, even at twelve. Heck, she was that way at three.

Farther out our orchard, near the rotting apple stumps, we found a sweet spot full of delicioius white morels.

A tiger swallowtail, meet companion to the morel hunter. Look for them when the tigers are first flying in spring, when the fiddleheads push up from the earth.

Thanks for coming morel hunting with by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

We love you all, but this is about as close as you're going to get to our happy hunting grounds. Morels bring out the bad, possessive and evil in us.

Ovenbird in My House

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meet Piglet.

I got a phone call from my dear friend Leslie, who comments as NatureMama, and blogs here. We go way back--Leslie came here as a biology student at Marietta College on a field trip, and in a way she never left. I saw how she dug the place, and took her aside after the field trip and said, "Any time you just need some woods and fields and quiet, come out here. You don't have to call first, just come out." And she did. We discovered things. She found a brown thrasher nest in our forsythia bush, one I'd walked by for two weeks! Once a bobcat leapt in front of her car as she drove home after a late babysitting gig. In our driveway! Phoebe was a babe then, and Liam wasn't even started when we met, and after he arrived, Leslie used to come out once a week and give me a day of Self while she doted on the kids. It was needed. Moms need Self every now and then. Right, Les? She always says she feels like she's coming home when she walks in the door. It feels like that to me, too.

Anyway, Leslie had gotten a call, being a person who knows what to do, from her friend who runs We Love Pets in Marietta, a nice kind of pet store that sells sustainable pets, and doesn't have nasty puppy-mill puppy displays and stocks Royal Canin Mini Special 27, Chet's particular brand of fancy chowchow, which gives him such a radiant coat and bright eyes. An ovenbird had flown in the store and injured itself trying to get back out. This is a little weird, since We Love Pets is in the middle of a shopping center, but migration is weird for birds and they get turned around and cornfused sometimes. Leslie and the manager caught the ovenbird and Les was concerned because one of its wings was hanging very low. Although it could fly well, the bird couldn't seem to gain much altitude either. Double uh-oh. So she called the Science Chimp, and got in the car to bring the bird (and her three little ones, sleeping in the car) to Zick's Bird Hostel.

I set up a cage and put it on the stone fireplace in the living room, and surrounded it with potted plants so the bird would feel sheltered and protected. I put a dish of water in there, and another with 25 mealworms in it and they were all gone within two hours. I called the ovenbird Piglet, and the name stuck. The next day she ate 70 mealworms and some pillbugs and earthworms too. Yikes. Piglet indeed. My little mealworm farm sure comes in handy!

I knew Piglet had to be tired, because she'd been in the store for awhile panicking, and was probably nearing the end of her spring migration, having flown from Central America. So I figured that was most of her problem, and lots of food, quiet and a smallish cage could fix that. I also thought she might have hit a window or otherwise hurt herself, so I decided to keep an eye on that low-hanging wing. When it returned to a normal position, I'd release her. I'm not the most sophisticated of bird rehabilitators, but my hunches tend to be good.

Piglet was in constant motion whenever I was watching her, but she'd strike a pose to eyeball me, so all my unblurred photos of her look just the same.And then there's this pose:
Sorry about that, but I didn't want to use flash to freeze the motion of this shy forest creature--she was stressed enough. I was standing 15' away using a 300 mm. telephoto in my living room! Feed 'em and leave 'em alone, that's the credo.

By the end of three days, Piglet's low-hanging wing was in a normal position, and she was bright and eager and crazy, and I knew it was time to release her. The weather had warmed up at long last, nights were in the 50's instead of the 30's, and it was time. Even if she needed some additional time to heal, she could make a perfectly good living in our woods eating the things ovenbirds are supposed to eat, not a diet of straight mealworms! The kids said good-bye to her before they left for school, and I took her cage out on the back deck and opened the door.

She darted out, climbed 25 feet in the air at a 45 degree angle, zigged left, zagged right, and swooped down into the woods by the Spring Trail. There, she landed on a small log and walked its length, switching her tail and chipping. That swift climb into the blue sky, the swift zigs and zags, did my heart a world of good. Piglet was going to make it.

I hope she stays here with our ovenbirds (I can hear one singing as I write), but now she's free to fly wherever she wants, and she has the wings to go.

Drowning in Flowers

Monday, April 27, 2009

The hawthorn hedge is snowing white petals.

Why is it that, just when everything starts to go nuts outside, my orchids inside do too? Couldn't I get a little flower love in January and February? Nope, it all comes at once. I hardly know what to do.

The last daffodils are fading outside. Only late pink Salome and a few King Alfreds and smaller narcissus are still hanging on. I wanted to share some photos of our daffodils this year, because never has there been a finer year for bulbs in southern Ohio. The flowers are huge and abundant, the leaves tall and long. The growing conditions last year suited them just fine, I suspect.

My mother-in-law Elsa Thompson, Publisher Emeritus of Bird Watcher's Digest, is a great gardener, and a respecter of old things, fine things. She has an extraordinary eye for beauty.
She's also a fabulous cook, and sets a mean Easter table.For years, the big house right across the alley from the Thompsons was owned by two elderly sisters who grew beautiful flowers. When the sisters died, the house was sold, and Elsa was horrified to see the new homeowner ripping out the ladies' daffodils--in full bloom--and throwing them out into the alley.

For some people, nothing, or concrete, suits them better than beauty. I don't pretend to understand them, but they're generally the ones with the overactive weedwhackers, the chemical lawns and the perfectly trimmed ball-shaped shrubs. The ones who consider birds sort of a nuisance, like blooming daffodils. My friend Rob put up a bluebird box in a woman's Connecticut backyard. The bluebirds nested successfully, but when the babies came out and sat on the deck railing, she asked Rob to take the box down so the bluebirds wouldn't nest again. Why? The bluebirds were pooping on her railing, and that made her mad, because she had to go out and hose it off every day. Well, he took the box down, because nobody who can think that way deserves bluebirds on their deck railing. These are the folks who are missing out on all the best things in life. As my father would say in his most pious voice, "They are more to be pitied than censured."

Elsa hurried out and gathered the dying bulbs and put them in shopping bags, and being out of room in her own garden, she gave them to Bill and me for our farm. "I know these don't look like much now, but they're very special daffodils--all fancy kinds. You'll love them." I looked at the withered leaves and wondered if they'd survive the insult, having been dug up in the height of bloom. Bill dug a long trench and we dropped the bulbs in and covered them over and watered them. That was about ten years ago.

They lived.And they are loved.

Liam is not to be pitied; he eats a ripe pear, up to his eyeballs in flowers, and loving it in an offhand, nine-year-old boy way. He's always been surrounded by flowers.

Speaking of flower rescue, I found this exquisite creature at a big box store in February. I had to get it out of there. And I got one for Elsa, too. They're both blooming their heads off for us, even putting out more buds from the tips! Orchids know when they're appreciated.

Psychopsis mendenhall
"Hildos" is working on its tenth flower since last June. That's an average of one a month, all year long, all off the same 3' tall stalk. You have to love an orchid like that. And I do, I do.
Party on wit yo bad self, little Kabuki lobster clown dude.

Laeliocattleya Firedance "Patricia" is unequivocal about her color.
As is my elegant huge purple Phalaenopsis, one of the first orchids I ever got, as a tiny baby from Shila.
I love the intricate ones.
Back in the bedroom, everything's going nuts, as usual in April.
While outside, the hot wind is whipping lilac flowers open. This enormous lilac is another heirloom from Bill's family, via Elsa. It's 15 feet tall now, planted right outside my studio windows, and the room is full of the perfume of lilacs. I told you she knows the good stuff.

I'm overloading. If only I could parcel it out from November to March. Just drowning in flowers.

The Well-tempered Dog

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phoebe manages to grab Mr. Smiley and again holds it over her head. There is a pattern to The Games.

He is a thing of beauty in flight.

On his last leap, he snags the toy. Victory!

You have to let me rip it up now, Phoebe. I have earned this toy.

If it belongs to anybody, it belongs to me, Chet Baker. I have worked for it. And I know you are going to take it away from me again. You are a rotten person, Phoebe, even if you are my sister.

Mether is a rotten person too, for laughing at my distress. Besides, I am not ripping Mr. Smiley up right now. I am keeping him safe.

Well, Chet Baker, I am afraid the game is over. You could choke on bits of Mr. Smiley, and it is time for you to chew a Nylabone. No matter how much you roo or how cute you are, you won't get Mr. Smiley to destroy.
What makes you think that I want that old bone?

I think you will play with it, Chet Baker, because we love you and want you to be safe.

Well, when you put it that way, I can see your point. I am too old to choke on things, but I will accept your chicken-flavored Nylabone. That was a very good game. And I love you, too.

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