Thursday, June 26, 2008

Think Positively!

I've known from the start that I may have bitten off more than I can chew...

I love to paint. I've painted just about every room inside my house. I decided to paint the outside of my house. For now, I'm painting the parts I can reach. I'm afraid of heights. What happens when I finish the low bits and need to get to the high? Meanwhile, the yellow fits in much better with my gardens than that dreary blue gray. Even if I can only paint the lower part, it will be a perfect backdrop for the lustrife in the opposite garden.

Today I got one of my favorite plants for free...

It doesn't matter that I had to spend $500 to accumulate the points for my $25 of free merchandise.

I may have killed another of my favorite plants today...

The globe thistle was so small that I didn't realize what it was when I plunked down the shovel to make room for the new mango potentilla. There were so many little plants that I was able to split them up so they will take up more space in my garden. I've also moved them to a much better spot to highlight their unique beauty. I think they will be gorgeous when they do get big (assuming that they survive their trauma.)

An animal has been getting into my garbage every night...

He is either visiting between the time my husband leaves in the morning and the time I leave in the morning. OR, my husband ignores the mess as he leaves for work. How can there be a positive light to this? I am pretending it is the latter...and therefore my husband owes me. I think that I'll go out and get more plants in exchange for my clean up duty. (My best friend taught me to think that way...Gee. I hope that Kevin doesn't read this! I guess that I hope my friend's husband doesn't read this either, but he probably knows already. I'm new to this positive way of thinking!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What to Do with a Gazebo

My home came with a gazebo. It sits along the edge of the woods and one is berated by mosquitos when paying it a visit. I wouldn't have chosen it as a garden element myself. Reminiscent of an old town bandstand, the gazebo is much smaller. It's not a comfy place to sit thanks to the bugs and lack of seating. The structure blended in with the woods and was easy to ignore. However, inspiration hit this summer and I am rethinking this gift in my backyard.

The first thing I decided to do was paint the structure white. Armed with bug spray and citronella I have spent about a total of four days in the woods power washing, painting, using wood filler, sanding and repainting. All of this has been between violent rain events. We have had incredible storms here in New England for the past week. (We've had incredible lightning, heavy rains and hail.)

The original owner of this house showed it with window boxes of annuals hanging from the rails of the gazebo. I am generally unimpressed with annuals. See my rants in this blog.) I also thought the white plastic boxes hanging off the dilapidated wooden structure with rusted wire looked, well...kind of tacky. Luckily, this year I have been learning a lot about shade plants. I am building my daughter a shade garden around the other side of our house. I hope to make this a garden with duplicate plantings of hydrangea, bleeding heart, hostas, jacob's ladder, holly and other plants that can tolerate the lack of light. I'll get in the color without the cheap window boxes.

The white is located toward the top of my hill that is visible from my driveway. The eye gets pulled right to the structure when one exits the car. Now I just need to get rid of the mosquitos and we'll be all set. (Do bug zappers really work? What about plants that discourage insects or some kind of sound gadget?)

Here are the top ten ways to make use of my new gazebo:

10. Create a sitting area. Perhaps making some kind of built in bench seating.
9. Use it as a woodland office hideout
8. Pipe music out here and use it as a place to relax
7. Put a mini fridge here to hold juice boxes and other drinks so the kids can get out of the sun when playing
6.Keep a yoga mat out here for another kind of quiet time
5. Hang holiday lights on the structure
4. Put a brick deck in front of the structure for a larger inviting sitting area for visitors
3. Put in a pond to the right of the structure and use it as a sitting area for perfect garden portraits
2. Use it as a pre-staging area for plants, potting and other garden activities
1. Purchase silky fabric that can be hung from the rafters during parties and dress up times. I figure this would be a great stage for the budding thespians and dancers in my daughter's circle of friends. As soon as the paint is dry we are going to bring down the box of dress up clothes and set up a dress up playdate!

Friday, June 20, 2008


I've been tagged by Daphne's Dandelions, located in the Commonwealth just to the south of me -- Massachusetts. The rules are as follows:

  • Link to the person who tagged you.
  • Post the rules on the blog.
  • Write six random things about yourself.
  • Tag six people at the end of your post.
  • Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
So, here are my random things:

1. My favorite movie is My Fair Lady and I adore Audrey Hepburn. I love the colors, costumes, music and dancing in the musical. I love the Audrey Hepburn look. I love her accent. I love her acting. I love how she seemed to be such a good person. I also love Cary Grant, but I think that is solely because of his looks. All in all, I prefer the stars from the "olden days." I also adore Grace Kelly and Fred Astaire. One of my extremely close friends can pull off the Audrey Hepburn clothes and I am jealous of her for that. My body type runs more along the lines of Marilyn Monroe in her famous white dress...not that that is a bad thing. But I do so love the Audrey Hepburn wardrobe.

2. I love Baroque music and my favorite song is Pachelbel's "Canon in D." I have a CD that is solely Canon in D played over and over again in different styles. The ring tone on my last phone was Canon in D, but I was unable to get the same ring tone for my new phone. I am terribly disappointed.

3. I am addicted to books. I own more than I can read and buy more whenever I can. I go to the library at least once a week and to the bookstore at least once a week. I have also helped my daughter develop a book addiction. We can spend hours together in a bookstore. When having conversations about any variety of subjects, I often find myself saying "Wait! I have a book about that!" Last holiday season I found myself at the lone book table in the midst of a craft fair. I had attended the event with my friend Regina. After admiring the handmade wares, she came to find me. I heard her behind me saying, "Melissa! Step away from the books!"

4. One of my earliest childhood memories is of my nursery school graduation. (This hit me last week after attending my daughter's nursery school graduation.) I remember wearing a fairy crown, standing on a stage in the woods singing little bunny foo foo, and crying for my mom when I saw a clown. I also remember my first "boyfriend" whom I met in nursery school. We then went on to attend different public elementary schools, until about 4th grade when he transferred to mine. I remember excitedly going up to him and saying "Hi Scott! Do you remember me from nursery school?" He looked at me like I had three heads.

5. During college, the dorm where I resided for four years was known as "the party dorm of New England." This is especially funny because my freshman year I was given the "most likely to be sober" award by my RA. If the award were given my other three years, I probably would have won three more years in a row. At my 21st birthday party, I went out to dinner with my friends. For some reason, none of them felt like drinking that night and none would give me advice about what to drink. So, I ended up ordering a Midori because I remembered my mom drinking that when I was a kid. My favorite drinks now are gin and tonic or anything with rum in it.

6. I adore Snoopy. Snoopy and Audrey Hepburn are in fact tied for my favorite superstars. But Snoopy wins hands down for coolness. He's kind, loyal, clever, witty, and cute. He gives me the warm fuzzies. In the 90s, my husband and I attended an exhibit that honored Charles Schultz at the Norman Rockwell Museum. It was one of the best things I've ever done.

Here are the six I tag:
Buddha Mom at Mother Earth
Lisa at Dream Big, Live Large, My Artful Life
Kate from My Garden I Dream
Linda from A Visible Voice
Victoria at Victoria's Backyard
Matt and Jen at Our First Garden

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shaker Gardens Revisited

I returned to Shaker Village yesterday. In my first Shaker Village post, Victoria from Victoria's Backyard commented that she visited Canterbury Shaker Village a few years back. I figured if an Englishwoman enjoyed it, perhaps my Canadian cousin visiting from out of town would too. Thanks Victoria!

You know when you do not see a child for awhile how you are struck by how much they have grown? That's how I felt returning to Shaker Village one month later. Flowers are in full bloom and vegetable gardens are no longer bare.

My gardens have grown this season with me watching them every day. I am excited for their bloom, but only when I saw how far someone else's gardens have come in a season did I realize just exactly what a difference one month can make. Nature is amazing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


One of my Canadian cousins is visiting from BC. I've only met her in person once in my life. It was at my sister's wedding, where I got to spend 4 hours with her and share her with the rest of the family. So this is a special treat - just Lara and me, getting to know one another.

It is also a special time because my gardens are really starting to bloom. The fairy roses have one bloom. The potentilla has one sticking straight up. The foxglove have opened...Soon the garden will be in beautiful full bloom. The end of June is when the anticipation I've been building since last November is finally realized. We had our first two strawberries of the season this morning. There is still no sign of bloom on the St. Johnswort, the thistle, the tickseed, the butterfly bush, the helenium... But they're coming.

I plan to take my cousin and her husband on a day trip today. Finally getting to spend time with this girl, who is beautiful inside and out, has come at the perfect time for me. Her wonderful spirit is uplifting. Lara was my pen pal when she was young and I was in high school and college. I now get to meet the twenty-something young lady studying to be a doctor as she is coming into her own.

The end result, the full bloom, the eventual meeting, always remind me that the wait and anticipation were worth it.

Monday, June 16, 2008


We have had a good amount of rain on the tail end of this spring. Luckily we have not had the flooding we have had in past recent years. The weeds have really set in, but the soft soil made them easy to remove. The rains have even done me a favor by washing the heavy pollen of the season from my windshield.

This spring, I got to wear my red rain boots with white polka dots a few times I love wearing them out to the compost heap. It makes me feel very storybookish. I traded a pair of pink boots with big daisies on them for these. I am not a pink person -- at least in my personal attire. The pink suited my friend Regina nicely. Plus, the pink pair of boots only came right above the ankle and the red ones go all the way up to mid-calf. These are better for splashing in the puddles with my daughter. ( A fun activity that I think we've done together exactly once!) I love polka dots. My daughter has a pair of ladybug rainboots with antennae and all. We go very nicely together.

Unfortunately, thanks to the rain, I have also not been out into the garden the past couple of days. I am not a rainy day gardener. the few times that I have tried to garden in the rain it has actually been fun. But I must overcome a lot of internal resistance to actually get out there. I am a sunny day person. I hide inside on rainy days. When I think about heading outside in the rain, the first thought that usually comes to mind is "My hair will frizz!" I have very curly hair that I blow straight despite my sister trying for years to convince me to wear it curly. I do not think that I am a vain person in general, except when it comes to my hair. I like the sun. It makes me happy. I enjoy the rain when it is accompanied by thunder and lightning. For me, a rainy day is a chance to catch up on housework. I have a shot of keeping my hair from curling if I just stay inside anyway.

So, the laundry beeper has just gone off twice. I've done three loads today...a great way to spend a rainy day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Birthday Rose

My roses began blooming this week. They are one of my favorite parts of summer. When my summer baby was born, a friend gave me a Longaberger basket with instructions for creating a special mother-daughter tradition. Each year I give my daughter a rose from our garden on her birthday. I hang it to dry and place the dried petals in the basket. These petals are meant to be sprinkled down the aisle on her wedding day. I love that our garden may one day play a part in one of the most important events of her life.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Rose is a Rose?

The award winning 'Julia Child' stands alone. (Well, in this picture it stands next to some baby cleome.)

I've always been the type of gardener to let color and texture guide me. I know the general name of flowers, but not specifics. I think that is about to change.

I have mentioned in the past that I am crazy about roses, but now I believe I am straddling the fanatic stage. I have twelve rose bushes to date. I know that I have two varieties of fairy roses. I also have a 'Persian Yellow'. I picked up the Persian Yellow because the tag said it has a "strong licorice" fragrance. I love licorice so I considered this a sign that this plant was meant for me. (Don't ask what signs I received telling me to get 11 other roses in the past 3 years. They just called to me.) The rest of my roses are unidentified. I'm sure that I have their names in a file somewhere, but what they were called never mattered to me really. Now as my collection grows, I realize that I must learn the names 1. to avoid the danger of having a garden full of fussy roses (as we all know they can be) and 2. So that I don't duplicate my purchases for despite the immense variety of roses, I tend to gravitate towards particular colors and leaf shapes.

The realization that my lack of knowledge is a problem came today while I was researching a plant I admired in another garden. I am now on the hunt for a 'Julia Child' rose. Its yellow blossoms are splendid and I was told that it is very easy to grow. When I looked up the rose on the Weeks roses website I learned that the flowers have a spicy licorice scent. Could this be the yellow rose I recently purchased? I ran outside to see if I left the tag on the flower and luckily I had. The flower is a "Persian Yellow," which with more research I learned is fussier than Julia and blooms only once. 'Julia Child' blooms all summer long. Wow!

Tucked in the recesses of my brain, I knew some roses bloomed longer than others. I know that some of my roses get black spot and others don't succumb to diseases at all. Yet, when I am standing in the garden center in front of a beautiful rose, I get weak kneed. Nothing else matters except the color and fragrance of the rose before me. But I have so many rose choices and it seems that I should learn to choose more wisely before I run out of space...before I miss out on fabulous plants like the 'Julia Child'. I need to learn more about my hobby.

The trouble with my chosen hobby is that there really is so much to know. Besides the the plants themselves, we also must know about soil, bugs, weather, etc. etc. I have a master's degree in another field. It seems like I should acquire one in this arena too to become a really good gardener, even if it is just for a hobby. After ten years of gardening, I still find myself staring blankly at other gardeners if they delve too deeply into latin names.

So how to proceed? I once gardened alone -- without talking with other gardeners except an occasional conversation at a garden center. When I became a garden photographer three years ago, I began talking to the professionals at the garden centers even more. When I decided to write a book about gardening last year, I began to talk to people just like me. I interviewed backyard gardeners who have picked up the lingo over time. One can learn a lot through in-person gardening companionship, online browsing and correspondence, and reading books. I am also considering working toward a master gardener certification.

I've learned recently that a rose is not just a rose. Each has its own personality and it's time for me to get to know them a little better.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How-To Garden Party

photo one - gardeners relaxing on the deck
photo two - my daughter watches as gardeners scope out what others brought to share (note the fancy dress. She hears the word "party" and goes all out)

I had never been to a literal garden party before, so I was excited when Karen invited my daughter and me to attend hers. She meets once every three or four months with like-minded women from all over New England whom she has met in her travels. The women share plants, tour her garden and chat. We had a lot of fun. Here are some thoughts and ideas for your own garden party that I picked up from attending Karen's festivities.

- Don't pick the hottest day of the year for your party if you can avoid it. My daughter was pounding down V8 juice like no one's business. (I love to take her on gardening adventures with me because I love her company and I think it's a good learning experience for her. But I think the most important thing she learned on this trip is that she loves V8 juice. Does anyone else have a five-year-old who goes for this stuff? I can't stomach it myself.)

- Encourage everyone to bring plants in pots to trade. Label the pots with as much information as possible. Lay the plants on the ground for attendees to peruse and choose what they would like. Karen is extremely generous and had dug quite a bit out of her large gardens for us. She was also willing to dig more if there was something we wanted. She ordered us to make sure no pots were left! I brought four items, but will try to bring more next time I attend a function like this.

- Do talk about your gardens and give the full grand tour. (My father used to call it the nickel tour, but I think with inflation these days it would be about $5 now.) People want to hear about what you have, where you found it, how it grows, etc. etc. I tend to be shy about speaking up, but people really do want to hear all about your gardening habits. Listening to others is one of the best ways to learn. Sharing stories with other gardeners is also a great way to pass the time. We all love to hear about others experiences in the dirt!

- Encourage others to bring food and drink and stay around awhile. Provide your own refreshment. Bring it out in stages. Karen's party was scheduled for 6 hours so people could drop in and out. Food was to be made available all day.

- Supply chairs that provide a great view of your garden spaces. Create a perfect outdoor atmosphere. Karen had up wind chimes and bird feeders that I know are there all the time, but they were perfect for our relaxing party.

I am hoping to have a party at the end of the summer to celebrate the upcoming publication of my book. (I am being positive that someone will pick it up by then.) I would love to hear more ideas about garden parties. Have you ever hosted one? Please let me know what made it special for you.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Garden Envy

I have garden envy and I've been sitting here trying to decide if that is a bad thing. I wouldn't say that I'm jealous or "green" with envy. I just sometimes admire others' gardens in a way that makes something stir inside of me. I want what they have. I don't want to give up what I have though. I'm not dissatisfied with what I've got. I just want to make what I've got better or different.

When this feeling stirs inside me, I want to run from the admired garden and start planting furiously in my own. I get filled with ideas that are ready to pour out. I feel creative. I have a realization like "AHA! All I need to do to add this atmosphere to my garden is to plant (fill in plant of the moment here.)" Or, "AHA! All I need to do is hang more wind chimes, build a trellis, etc. etc."

When I walk into a garden that inspires me, I feel like I walked into a great story that someone else wrote. (Have you ever gotten so involved in a reading a narrative, that the fiction felt like it was your real life?) I have become one of the characters of this other story. I have become the GARDENER . But, when I finally do get home, I realize that this alternate world really doesn't fit mine.

I have realized my propensity to project other people's garden taste onto my own space for a while. I began contemplating this phenomenon in earnest yesterday after my daughter and I attended a "garden party" hosted by two of the gardeners I interviewed for my book last year. Their gardens are amazing. They spend a great deal of time in their spaces, have a lot of knowledge, and have transformed their lands into gardeners' paradise.

I walked among the first garden, which was created by Karen, and felt transformed. Her fields are already blooming furiously. My colors are just getting under way. I said to myself while admiring her lupine, "This is missing from my space. I must plant lupine!" My mind wound around the realization that lupine is a missing character in my story. "And anemones! So, this is what you can do with anemones! And listen to those wind chimes in the warm summer breeze. What a wonderful idea to hang them from all the trees." My main source of envy for her garden is of her large space between horse fields and fruit trees. Here she has a garden just stuffed with all kinds of wonderful perennials. At first glance, the space looks like a field of wildflowers, but when one looks closer, one can see that it is a well planned space bursting with color. After viewing this, I then moved on to the second gardener, Emily's space. Her gardens wrap around her house, leading one around the yard to reveal a rolling country landscape in her backyard. Her gardens are very different from Karen's, but equally enticing. "AH! primrose. I don't have those! And her columbine steals the show back here!" My mind furiously wove the gardens into my own story, trying to think of them as the backdrop for my activities in my own yard.

When I arrived home, something felt wrong as soon as I started up the driveway. My property is slanted. It doesn't resemble the spaces of either Karen or Emily at all. Everything is terraced. I can't create a large square, flat wildflower field. I have no rolling hills. The back of my house stares at trees. I sighed as I began pulling my mind out of someone else's story. Then I began admiring my little rose garden and the way I have fairy roses wrapping around a fenced area of the yard. I smiled at the daisies, running along the first terraced wall that welcomes me home. I looked for my favorite plants that feel like old friends. They are characters whom I know quite well and with which I can personally identify.

This works for me. With each bout of garden envy, I learn how to weave another person's creative ideas into my own garden spaces just a little bit. Gardeners have different landscapes that we mold based on our knowledge, experiences and tastes. The landscape, like the gardener must also be the central character of the story, for it can only be molded by the gardener so much. I realized that there were many things about the others' gardens that didn't excite me. I will not be recreating Karen's rock garden for example. It is beautiful, but I don't have rocky crags requiring this kind of gardening.

So, all in all, I think a little garden envy is not a bad thing. I think I have now come to terms with it.

(blogger isn't letting me post photos at the moment. I'll try ot put some up of the gardens later)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Horses and Flowers

Today was the running of the Belmont Stakes, the last horse race in the thoroughbred triple crown. At the conclusion of the race, the winner was given a blanket of flowers in the winner's circle. It would have gone unnoticed had my daughter not commented on the blanket made of "cottonballs"...I began thinking about the traditions behind the throw.

The first leg of the crown is known as "The Run for the Roses." This is something that is imprinted in my brain -- a phrase with which every horse racing fan is familiar. A blanket of red roses is laid on the winner of this stakes. I learned today that the "white cottonballs" of the Belmont Stakes are carnations and this race is known as "The Run for the Carnations." (Though it seems that at one time these white flowers wmay have been traditionally green.) According to one web site, "The blanket requires approximately 350 carnations, glued to green velveteen spread and weighs between 30 and 40 pounds. The flowers are shipped from California or Bogota, Columbia." The second leg of the triple crown is the Preakness whose flower is "officially" the black-eyed susan. Interestingly, the flowers used in this winning blanket are daisies with painted black centers.

In my research, I also learned that this year's Kentucky Derby / Preakness Stakes winner, Big Brown does not like flower blankets and his handlers won't let them drape him with the flower blankets. If he had won today he would have gone down in history. But, my daughter would never have commented on the "cottonballs" and I would not have posted this. (Apparently, the champion Barbaro didn't like flowers either.)

I plan to order this article to learn more about the whole blanket winning tradition. Though the Internet is great for research. I'll need to continue at the library if I am to delve deeper into this subject. Indeed, the sense of pageantry that flowers add to any event is obvious. Traditions must be rich among the diverse types of celebrations that include them. It would be interesting to research how flowers are included in weddings, are given at the end of performances, are pinned to girl's at the prom. How did these floral traditions get started and why have they become such a vital part of our celebratory consciousness?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Finishing Projects

I started painting my gazebo the other day and then it rained. My gazebo sits -- half white, half brown -- waiting for my attention. I have big plans for the space, formulated while whitewashing and dreaming, enjoying the sounds of chirping birds and scoping out my gardens. As I painted, and was eaten alive by the biggest mosquitos I've ever seen, I began considering screening in the space. I also envision flowers dripping from flower boxes hanging on the rails of the gazebo. I will fix up the roof, which has loose tiles. I will somehow get up to the dilapidated cupola and replace missing panels. At least while I used my powerwasher on the space, no creature came flying out! (I had feared there were bats in there.) I also hope to place a nice brick patio-like area in front of the gazebo steps. But now, after a short break, I wonder how much of this project I will actually finish.

First, I consider how wise my ideas are to begin with. For example, what is the point of screening in a gazebo on the edge of the woods? When you open the door, won't all the bugs go flying in and wait for you inside? I picture them poised and ready when I am not on my guard. There I will be thinking I am kept safe by the screen, while really it will only provide a false security. I then consider how much time this will take. Do I have time to do this on my own? Will my daughter allow me the large increments of time I need to finish my duties over the summer? How much time will this take away from planting, weeding and my regular garden activities? Also, do I have the talent to get this all accomplished?

I think about the garden visions I've had over the years. How many have I accomplished? I was able to line my whole driveway with rudbeckia at my last house before I left. But I was never able to get anything growing in the backyard, spending all of my time in the front. I also think about my non-gardening projects. My master bathroom has been screaming for attention for two years. I've done as much as I can without spending a lot of money, with my limited tools, and my limited demolition skills. In the rest of the house, I envision retiling the hallway, sanding the wood floors, etc. etc. How much will I actually do? will my priorities change over time? which projects should I tackle first?

I have grand visions. Perhaps dreaming up new projects is part of the fun. Or, is it just a sign of an overactive imagination that is never totally satisfied? I am somewhat disturbed that thus far I have never fully achieved a total vision for my living space. I wonder how others feel about their own ongoing projects. How long does it take you to finish projects once you start them? How many project plans do you have on your plate? Do you ever feel close to finishing your list?
Do you try to accomplish your tasks on your own or do you hire "experts" to help you?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Touchy Feely

I love artemesia. Its beautiful silver, gray-green foliage is soothing. Its wispy foliage adds texture to the garden. Most of all, when I touch the plant, I get the same feelings inside that I get when I pet my cats. Artemesia is a soothing plant. It is soft to the touch like lambs ear. (Now that I think about it, why are both of these soft plants the same color? What other plants of different colors have this same texture? I can't think of any off-hand.) I love touching plants. I love the squeaky rubbery feeling of sedum. I find the petals of daisy-like flowers beneath my fingertips calming. Palming a hydrangea blossom is also satisfying. Running fern leaves between thumb and forefinger makes me tingly. I can't totally explain why I feel this way. A combination of the look, smell, and feel of a plant either makes it or breaks it for me. If it looks soft, it goes in the plus column for sure.

I remember when I was young, my mother had a row of cacti lined up on the living room windowsill. One variety had beautiful red needles -- soft looking needles that begged to be touched. I touched. I screamed. My mom sat with tweezers pulling the beautiful red plant protectors out of my flesh. Yet, I still have a compulsion to touch.

I realize that this compulsion goes beyond plants. I find myself touching items I see in stores too. I see the same touchy-feel propensity in my child who I am forever scolding not to touch while we are in stores. (I realize that this is hypocritical, but certainly a five-year-old is more likely to break that which she touches than I am.) I tend to think of the senses of sight, sound, smell, and taste as more important than that of touch. But when I contemplate how much satisfaction I get from this particular sense, I realize that it is just as important as the others. (Have you ever been posed the random question, "Which would be worse for you, losing your sight or losing your hearing?" How many of us have considered what it would be like to lose a sense of touch?)

The garden is a wonder of touchable items. I love stroking leaves and petals. I have a friend who bats at plants when she passes. when we walk through a garden center together, she has the urge to hit extended blossoms and leaves with her open each his own?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Let It Rot! (For composting beginners)

My three bin composting system placed near my garden for easy application and an insider's view of my beautiful rotting mess.

Are you seeking a simple explanation for creating your own compost? I recommend the book "Let It Rot." It treats composting as an art, not a science. It suggests various methods to follow for composting and provides troubleshooting. The troubleshooting is particularly helpful for heavily right-brained thinkers like me. (Place me in the category of those who may be turned off by some long-winded explanations of the chemistry for proper composting. I enjoy experimenting, but not detailed directions or recipes to reach my goals.) Instead, the book suggests things such as, if your compost is too wet, add dry leaves and grass. (AHHHH! I can do that!) I had been "composting" in a large garbage pail for two years. It was smelly and nothing was getting accomplished -- at least nothing useful for the garden. My problem? I needed air holes to promote circulation. Now that I know this I recognize that it is common sense, but I did not have the common sense to figure it out! (I transferred my compost to a new bin in which I could punch holes. After making the proper circulation, my yard smelled for two weeks. Unfortunately, the bins are located near my daughter's play area. The poor little girl did not want to go on her swing. I told her why it smelled and what the problem was and that I was going to fix it. The dear little girl volunteered to help, carrying dried bits to the pail and holding her nose while she dumped them in. Note: Unless you want to put up with the odor for weeks, do not punch holes in a closed container filled with acridic smelling, rotting vegetables!)

Here are some more helpful tips:
- turn your compost often, but not too often, so that you retain the heat necessary for descent composting (Did you even think about needing heat?)
- add some friendly microbes from you friendly neighborhood garden center or a little manure to get the process under way
- keep the pile moist, but not too moist
- good compost doesn't smell! Finished compost should be sweet and earthy
- there are many types of containers or lack thereof for composting (read the book and he'll explain)
- add as much as you can or want - grass clippings, newspaper, veggie leftovers, weeds (Did you know that some people even raid other people's garbage to get more for their compost bin? I'm not at this stage yet and think I'm probably lucky enough to produce enough unwanted organic matter that I will probably never get to this stage.)
-Chop up pieces as much as you can for faster decay. (Again, this makes perfect sense for by increasing surface area you allow the organisms to work on more parts, but I never thought to do it before this book.)
-Though compost is great for the garden, you will generally need to still add fertilizer as compost will not provide enough nutrients alone for your plants.
- Have fun with it. Yes, really, have fun. It is deeply satisfying to see smell my less odiferous compost and to see the newspaper pieces transforming into something else.

Despite not raiding others' garbage, I do feel myself becoming a composting addict. I check the pile everyday and am itching for the end stage when I can get this stuff in the garden. Maybe it is because I finally feel like my science experiment is progressing properly. Good luck and if you are new to composting too, let me know how you are making out.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking Great Pictures

The great photographer Dorothy Lange said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” When you are using your camera, you are on the lookout for things that are unique or beautiful. Taking pictures helps you slow down to appreciate what is around you. The more photographs you take, the better you get at identifying what is worth looking at an extra time and what is worth recording. Photography allows you to see the world in a whole new way. Becoming more aware of your environment helps you form informed opinions about the things you see. Would you like to share your own vision of the world with others? Pick up a camera, learn some basic rules of photography, take lots and lots of pictures, and show the world what you’ve got!

People take photographs to remember an event, to record something beautiful, to show something that affected them emotionally, and to share a moment with others. Everyone has a unique point of view. If you tell a group to photograph a particular thing in front of them, such as a flower, no two people in that group will come up with the same picture. Photography helps us express our individuality. It is a way to tell the world who we are and to present our points of view. Photography and gardening should go hand-in-hand. Record your handiwork for others to see and use the opportunity to further express your gardening sensibilities.

Anyone can pick up a camera and shoot photos. It is easy in that respect. But, as with any art, the key to good images is to have a vision and to use basic techniques to enhance your statement. You may see the world’s most beautiful sunset, but if you do not know how to properly capture the light and the colors you can not share that beauty with viewers of your picture. There are three basic rules for good photography and two additional rules for becoming a great artist.

  1. Find a good subject
  2. Set up a good composition
  3. Use light to highlight your subject and composition
  4. Study the art work of others
  5. Show your photographs to other people
Dorothea Lange helped generations of people to see the world around them in a whole new way. As your photography skills progress, you’ll be surprised at the new perspective of the world that you have. You will start noticing good photo opportunities even when you do not have a camera in hand. You will see your flowers in a whole new way. You'll notice more little creatures and other fine incidentals. On a larger scale, you will develop a greater appreciate for things in your daily life such as people’s expressions, architecture, the weather, your cat.. Let your camera guide you and you too will see your world (and your garden) a little differently.