Thursday, April 29, 2010


Anyone can tell you, and everyone will tell you, that attempting to reason with a small child is a lost cause, a road to madness.

Except it's not true.

So far, my findings (based on a sample size of one child) are that as early as 18 months, explaining the logic behind parental decisions does make a difference. Not that it always gains compliance or averts a tantrum, but at least half the time it helps. And it probably makes me a better parent - if I'm focused on explaining why we need to brush our teeth, it keeps me calmer than the escalating cycle of "say aahh, please... open your mouth... open your mouth now... DAMMIT KID OPEN YOUR MOUTH!" Also, if I can't explain my reasons, sometimes it's because there's no good reason to be found.

I have a feeling that this approach to parenting will yield an amusing/maddening echo in another year or two, when she can turn it around and give me logical reasons for doing what she wants rather than what I want her to do. If she learns to out-logic me, I'll be in trouble.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

As promised: pictures!

Don't get too excited; this whole posting of photos thing is not going to happen often.

With that disclaimer, I know I've been all about the garden lately, but for those of you who like toddlers more than plants, I'll start with a few photos of Annika, taken by her grandpa Khavin:

And some more of Annika, taken by me:

This is our new tree - a dwarf Hinoki cypress 'Fernspray Gold.' It's in a cedar planter, occupying a spot where a small rhododendron had declined and finally died this spring. It will eventually get about 6 feet tall; maybe less if it stays in a container.
On either side are smaller pots with an assortment of foliage-interest plants: purple-leaved ornamental sweet potatoes, "fiber optic" grass, creeping jenny, clover, dracaena and asparagus fern.

Below is raised bed #1, and from left to right it contains: 'european mesclun mix' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, parsnips (the ones you can barely see), baby bok choi, spinach, and crimson bunching onions.

Here's that same bed when it was first set up, almost exactly one month before the above photo was taken. Set up: 3/24; above photo, 4/23. Hmm, those dates have symmetry. Cool.

Here's the first salad harvested from that mesclun mix. Yummy, although a little spicier than I usually like my salads to be. Also, it annoys me that I don't know what all the different types of leafy-green things are. Will have to start buying single-variety salad greens until I figure out what I like.

Here's a closer look at those baby bok choi... so adorable!

Meanwhile, in the basement under lights, tomato seedlings have gotten big enough that I don't think they're exactly seedlings anymore. They need to hang on for another week, and then they'll get to go outside.

Outside of the veggie garden, flowers are blooming... here's the bleeding heart that I planted last year.

Here's the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) that I'm so delighted to see bloom, because this is its 3rd year here and the first flower it has produced.

In the same shaded area as the iris, a fern (whose name I have forgotten) has emerged:

The lily shoots that I was so excited to see. When I found them, they weren't this big; they were mere nubbins nestled among the weeds.

These 'Starry Night' violas died back last year, but not before they left babies behind. Here's one of the youngins, carrying bravely on. And admittedly, clashing something wicked with the tulip just behind it.

My favorite of the three kinds of tulips we inherited with the house - a vibrant pink.

A passalong from my mother: foamflower, a woodland native.

That's all for now. More pictures... uh... when I get around to it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pleasant surprises

I think one of the things that is most addictive about gardening is the blend of the predictable and unpredictable. I can pretty well rely on daffodils coming up and blooming every spring; on the yew near our front door trying to grow big enough to block the path and my half-heartedly pruning it back, on maple seedlings coming up everywhere (including the gutters if said gutters weren't recently cleaned); and on some of the plants I bought in previous years having sadly departed.

My expectations are set fairly low when it comes to perennials actually being perennial. This probably has a lot to do with my first attempt at a garden in our yard: back by the shed, there's a very shaded spot in which I envisioned a mostly-native woodland garden - lush ferns, spring ephemerals, hostas and so on. What I failed to realize is that woodland soil is not what we have in that spot. Instead of a rich leaf-litter-derived humus, we have thick orangish clay back there, drained of nutrients (and moisture, in summer) by the shallow roots of trees. Now, I did amend the soil when I first started planting things back there, but not nearly enough. The net result is that 2/3 of the things I put there haven't made it, and of the ones that have lived, some of them are just hanging on rather than thriving and blooming.

But last fall after most of the plants were dormant, I put a thick layer of leaf mold and compost over the area, and by now it has mostly been broken down and worm-eaten into the soil. The plants that are left appreciate it, and for the first time since it was put there in 2008, the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) has a flower bud - I'm finally going to see what it looks like in bloom.

Elsewhere in the garden, I thought I'd lost the native Turk's Cap lily I planted last year because I didn't see anything there when the oriental lilies were already 2 or 3 inches tall. But in the process of weeding, I found that for one thing, I'd been looking in the wrong spot, and for another, it simply was later to emerge: as I was pulling out wild strawberry and wild garlic, I found not one but six (!) stubby little lily shoots coming up.

The two monardas I've planted have come back and are just waiting for warmer weather to make them grow big. The lavendar has some new sprigs of green, though not very many - it's probably in a location too wet for it. Physostegia seems to have self-sown, or spread underground, or both, and is coming up all over the place (I discovered after I bought it that it has this tendency). Intriguingly, the Dusty Miller that is supposedly an annual managed to survive the wicked winter, and is making new growth. I had no idea it could do that; I'm glad I didn't pull it out to "tidy up" at the end of the season last year.

I promise, I promise, I'll try to get some photos taken and put them here soon!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gardens and therapy, psychology, fiction...

At May Dreams, Carol recently wrote about the overlapping ways in which gardening is therapeutic, and sometimes also the reason we gardeners need therapy.

I tried to explain the other day to my non-gardening husband why I feel the urge to dig in the dirt, to plant and weed and trim and water. And why I want a big rainwater storage tank that will be horrifically ugly until I cover it with vines or screen it with bamboo or lattice, and why I want to bother with growing food in the first place, when it's so much easier (and often cheaper) to just buy it, and why I have a lot of trouble preventing myself from buying random assortments of plants and putting them where I think they might grow well, rather that with any particular aesthetic goal or restraint. Alas, I'm not sure there's any way to have these things make sense to a non-gardener... but fortunately, he demonstrates great patience and forbearance nonetheless!

With Sparkling Squirrel, I pondered why it is that gardening is rarely a central theme of novels - maybe because it's so rich with opportunities for metaphor that it seems too easy?

Reading about the Square Foot style of vegetable gardening, I realized that the most important thing that's "different" about it is not a different shape of plot, but that it takes some of the quirks of human nature into account, in addition to having plenty to say about Mother Nature. Specifically, the benefits of placing limits on the size of the garden, and the number of seeds planted at any one time: people love to till up a big plot of earth in the spring, but keeping it weeded and watered gets to be an overwhelming task. People sprinkle a whole packet of seeds along a row, with every intention to thin the seedlings - but it goes against the grain to yank up those adorable little sprouts, so we tell ourselves we'll do it later. Acknowledging these tendencies and planning around them instead of trying to ignore or dismiss them is very wise, I think.

Almost all my reading (and thinking) lately has centered around gardening, can you tell?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random garden notes

Tomato seedlings: both varieties started 3/20 have just begun to put out true leaves. They took 5-6 days to germinate but have grown fast since then.
Wonderberry: nothing yet, even though it supposedly wants the same conditions as tomatoes
Strawberry: only 2 containers have sprouts, out of 12! I didn't think strawberries should be so difficult. Planted 3/20
Mesclun mix sown in garden: beginning to sprout, though weather has mostly been chilly since planting so not much is happening.
Onion: little threadlings outside appear not bothered by cold, though not exactly growing fast either
Hardy Geranium: variety #1 is growing like mad, variety #2 is just starting
Rose Campion: first batch is doing fine, second is coming up
Thyme: sprouted recently, took about 10 days to do so
Tiarella cordifolia: nothing. maybe it needs cold stratification? if it doesn't sprout soon, I'll put it in the garden next to the original plant.
Lavendar: nothing, harrumph. might need more warmth.

Crocuses are done blooming, about 2/3 of daffodils are blooming, iris and daylily are sprouting, hosta is starting to sprout, sedum has adorable rosettes of new leaves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Fever

It's finally warm here, and this has prompted the annual re-emergence of my obsession with gardening. Daffodil buds are visible a few inches above the soil, crocuses are blooming (not in our cool shady yard, yet, but in warm spots around the area), and I peeked under the dead leaves of last year's irises to discover new green shoots just starting to poke out. The wild stonecrop that I brought home from a visit to Sparkling Squirrel last summer is happily growing in its container - I didn't know how tough that little plant is, but it survived a too-rainy summer and a cold snowy winter and is already green and content-looking.

This year is the year I will finally have raised beds for vegetables. We're starting with 2 beds, 3' x 6' each, and I already bought more seeds of more different kinds of plants than I can possibly grow in that amount of space. With my husband's help, I set up lights in the basement to start seeds last weekend, and just a few days later I already have a salad green mix sprouted, some onion seedlings up (I should have started them earlier, but oh well - I'll know that for next year), and of the seeds I collected last year, the Geranium maculatum seeds are germinating already. I also have lavendar seeds, rose campion, cinquefoil, and seeds from several interesting unidentified plants from the Penn gardens.

I haven't settled yet on a method of keeping records of my gardening activities. There's something satisfying about writing things down by hand, but there are definite advantages to electronic recordkeeping: searchability, ease of including photos, etc. What do you think - gardening-tagged posts on this blog? A separate blog? Or is reading someone else's garden notes and non-artistic photos even more boring than having to look at someone else's vacation pictures?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Broccoli Rabe

I've tried the above vegetable a handful of times, and never liked it - too bitter. But Eating Well featured broccoli rabe as the vegetable star of the latest issue, and included tips for toning down the bitterness. Namely: blanch it, and balance it with other flavors. The broccoli rabe and orzo salad with lemon and feta was very good. I wonder, though - was it only the prep technique that made it likeable, or is it that my palate has grown more tolerant of bitter flavors since I last tried it? Many of the things I like these days (coffee, strong beer, very-dark chocolate) are bitter, so it could be both.