Monday, March 31, 2014

How March Ends. Every Year.

Snowing here. Wet, sloppy stuff, sticking to the ground.

I always put out the hummingbird feeder on the last day of March to attract early scouts, although I usually don't see any until the middle of April. This year it has been so unremittingly cold I wonder if the hummingbirds will be delayed.

Every year I use a cheap plastic cylinder feeder that is light enough for the metal stand, easy to fill, and it doesn't drip. There are no feeding holes facing upward for rain to enter.

Nothing fancy. Nothing too big.

Because it holds less than a week or so of sugar water, it makes me get out and fill it each week. That way I am forced to keep it fresh.

I have a prettier glass feeder that I like, but rain gets into the upward facing opening, so it only works in a protected spot under the front porch and the hummers didn't like that location too much.

So March finally ends, the feeder is hung, it's damp and chilly, and that seems to be the way of things in my garden at the end of March.

Cold or wet, usually cold and wet, is apparently the norm.

I know that because I went back to see what I had written in this journal on the last days of March for the past several years.

Here are the titles and the lead sentences from the blog posts I did at the end of each March:

March 30, 2010
Cry Me A River
Pouring rain now for two days, almost 3 inches already and still coming down. . . . 

March 31, 2011
Goodbye March
Overcast, gray, in the 40s.  Rain and snow on the way.  I'm over the shed.  And I'm so over March.

Some tasks accomplished yesterday: One more dead vole. . . . .

March 30, 2012
Sunny Day, End of March
Quite cold this morning, in the 40s.  It felt chilly and windy as I worked on the back hill cutting multiflora rose and painting the cut stems with poison ivy herbicide. . . . .

March 30, 2013
Much Has Been Done
Despite the cold drizzly start to Thursday, much has been accomplished in the past three days!

Thursday afternoon cleared off a little, and Friday and Saturday were cool, partly sunny days, in the 50s, perfect for work outside. . . .
And now March ends in 2014: 
    Snowing here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Photo Fun

At last, a day in the low 40s, and even overnight was slightly above freezing for the first time in a while.

And . . .  it is raining lightly today, so I am hoping we will get a little melting. The ground is still frozen like a brick, but perhaps the icy mound of old snow in front of the potting bench will disappear.

And perhaps the containers outside will thaw and I can start to clean them up. In this unrelenting frigid March they have remained solid frozen blocks.

Unretouched shot 11/3/13 - the patch of epimedium is too dinky
For now I am indoors on a rainy day, and having some fun photoshopping what I want my garden to look like. (Using Aperture to do the photo effects.)

Take a look:

I have two patches of two different kinds of barrenwort, or epimediums, and they both need some work.

First, the patch of epimedium 'Frohnleiten' under the dogwood is too small and circular as you can see in the first photo (unretouched) from last fall.

I am going to expand it considerably this year, bringing the area to the left to drift town the driveway and further to the right to drift along the walk, forming a large curved arc.

I did some photo manipulations to show what that might look like.
The same photo from 11/3/13, but shopped to expand the patch of epimedium

I thought about building a low curved stacked wall on the left side, set into the lower end of the slope, just the suggestion of a retaining element. I'm feeling a little cocky about my ability to build a wall now.

Like so, as I've photoshopped in. Maybe with a slightly larger wall.
(Pretty cool photo work drawing in that wall and the expansion of the epimediums, huh?)

I'll need another pallet of wallstone to do this, and that will give me some more very large ones for a few more stepping stones set in the grass by the bridge in back.

Major project! I'll need to divide an awful lot of the epimediums and buy more as well.

One concern is that when they bloom in spring, they are sulphur yellow, and the foliage has bronze tints in spring and again in fall. Not the greatest combination with hot pink dogwood flowers. The barrenwort and the dogwood bloom at the same time.
Yellow and bronze barrenwort under a pink dogwood in May -- do they clash?

Making the area of barrenworts under the dogwood so much larger is going to make the clash of colors worse. Bronze and yellow with hot pink. Eeeep.

Epimedium 'Rubrum' under the maple last spring
A second patch of another barrenwort, epimedium 'Rubrum', circles under the maple tree in the back yard and they are also clumped too tightly around the base of that tree.

They need to be divided and moved around a bit to form more of a drift and less of a circle.

I have found dividing barrenworts is really difficult. They don't dig up easily at all, and they sulk for three years when you dig and replant them.

They are slow spreaders under the best conditions, and digging them up seems to slow them down even more.

Epimediums are tough plants for dry shade precisely because they have tenacious roots that are hard to dig up. That's why they survive well in difficult conditions. But that means they don't like to be moved around, and here I am planning to do exactly that in a big way.

You know, it's much easier to photoshop them into big drifts under my trees than it will be to actually dig them up and divide and move them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


We are on the back edge of a nor'easter today and the air temperature is 32 degrees, but the twenty mile an hour biting wind makes it feel like 22 degrees. Not a fit day to be outside.

This is not my picture, it's from,
but Sundown totally looked like this yesterday. 
At least the snow went off to the south and east and spared us.

Ski Sundown is still 100% open and it's not even spring conditions. We drove out there yesterday, before it got so windy today.

Jim and I had gone to New Hartford to check out Collinsville Antiques (restless, looking for garden tchotchkes), and we went by the ski area.

What we saw were winter conditions, with people schussing down Gunbarrel and dressed for the chill.

We did not find any garden antiques junk yesterday, but we had a great time wandering around the 20,000 square feet of vendor booths crammed with collectibles, and marveling that items from our youth (the 1950s and 1960s) are now considered antiques. As are we.
Here's a photo of Collinsville Antiques from their website,
showing just a fraction of the vendor stalls in the building.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Where to Sit

Cold. That's all I can say about the weather today.

I'm inside on a 21 degree day (there's sun at least, and hopes of temperatures rising to 30 degrees). What is there to do inside but plan imaginary design changes.

This year I am going to put the patio umbrella table and four chairs in the gravel garden. I liked the look of the Mayan chairs there, but they are so low slung, especially nestled down into the loose gravel, that it's hard for me to get out of them (and impossible for Jim).

The cushions hold dew and after a rain they are sodden for days. Not a good place to sit.

The green canvas director's chairs (tag sale items I bought in 1980, the year Tom was born) have fallen apart from being out in the weather and really are past their life span. They never were sturdy or comfortable and now they wobble and the wood is split.
In 2012 the green director's chairs were still ok, but weather has done them in.

So the umbrella table patio set will go there, in the center of the gravel. And the Mayan chairs will go back on the front porch as I had them one year. They'll stay dry there.

In 2009 the Mayan chairs were on the front porch. 
I kind of liked the look and I can sit there and monitor traffic
on our street while drinking gin and tonics.

So, what should go on the upper deck where the table and chairs had been? The space is cramped and not really big enough for a table and four chairs. (An unexpected design problem when it was being built cut it in half).
The table and chairs fit, barely, but the deck is the route in
and out of the house, and it's hard to squeeze by the furniture.

We don't need another seating area -- the rockers on the stone patio below are where I sit to view the garden, and the table in the gravel garden will be where we can entertain or eat. I can even sit on the front porch if we put the chairs there.
The viewing area -- this is where I normally sit, and there is
even some afternoon shade now from the river birch nearby.

In addition, we have another place to sit now that the new back porch is remodeled. It's just the place in the afternoon when the sun makes the deck too hot and sunny. I never did figure out how to get shade on the deck, so the table and chairs were never that usable on a sunny day.

We don't need yet more seating on the deck. An unencumbered path across the short deck from the house to the patio below is really what's needed.

Instead, I'll forego any furniture on the deck and use the area for a container vegetable garden. Something like this, with pots of herbs and lettuces and carrots. I won't need the chair that this picture shows, but a table to hold some of the pots would be ok.

I already have the 26" wide faux concrete bowl that I have grown lettuce and herbs in before. Some more nice pots to group around, a low table or stool to put some on, and I will have a nice potager area right outside the kitchen. Could I keep it looking nice?

It's in full sun, which was always the problem for sitting there.

With all the other areas to sit in, and a nice screened porch now, I don't need chairs on the deck. Just some greenery, some edibles in containers, and a more open area to get from the back door down to the patio. If my new Meyer lemon tree doesn't die right away, it can go out there in the summer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

In The News

Turn to Channel 20 for the news - -

International search news:
They can't find a commercial Malaysian jet after weeks of intense searching over water. It's an international mystery. And I can't find my fine garden scissors after the same effort searching over land.

The scissors were lost in the weeds on the back hill where I had gone to dump a cartload of spring clean up debris. They were sitting in the tray of the cart and went overboard when I overturned the cart to empty it.

We know where the accident occurred, and we have meticulously searched every inch of the area in an overlapping grid pattern. There is no progress to report -- not a beep, not a blip, not a radar shadow, not a single sign of the missing scissors. A mystery.

If they can't find a jumbo jet that went missing, how am I to find a pair of metal scissors with black handles buried in the weeds?

Seasonal and weather news:
Spring arrived on March 20.

The yard is largely snow-free now and I can tromp around squishing the wet lawn into puddled mud packs, but I cannot easily access the one area I need to get to -- my workbench and toolshed. It's still iced in.

So I just stuck to using the hedge trimmer and knocking down the nepeta and daisies and black eyed susans and other standing stalks.  What a difference -- it's so easy using a power tool for this job.

The only hard part is the bending and stooping to collect all the shattered stalks and carry them away. Scissors help to cut the finer bits off, but I've lost my scissors.

Wildlife news:
Not a single vole has been found in my overturned pots-and-snaptrap contraptions. I risked my life baiting them with peanut butter and have not trapped anything.

Consumer product review:
I love these leather work gloves from Lowe's. Soft, warm, easy to work in, easy to get on and off. They aren't completely waterproof like my Mud Gloves, but they did handle the wet clean up today without getting too soaked. Nice gloves.

I am going to lose one soon.

I also like my Bogs boots. Easy to slip into, easy off, and totally waterproof. Walking in the yard today was a squishy wet slog, but my feet were fine. It's not easy to take a selfie of your own feet.

We leave the news today with a local shot from the east side of the house on the first day of spring, March 20, at 6:20 p.m.:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Be Still, My Heart

Bitter cold, in the teens at night, in the 20s in the daytime, barely inching into the 30s at high noon.  Because it does not get above freezing, the remaining snow has solidified into a hard ice pack that requires crampons to walk on.

I can inch across the icy snow carefully and get to the steps, where I can crab walk down the edge, but then I'm stranded on a field of slippery undulating ice mounds on the patio. It's a heart-stopping process that I constantly fear will end unceremoniously.

And yet I must get to some things on the bench. I need pots to repot the growing seedlings. I needed containers to cover the vole traps I set out. Once I got to the bench I found the containers were all frozen fast together.

I was only able to unstick a few and used them to cover the baited snap traps set in the yard. The east side is snow free, but the work was cold (it was 26 degrees out, but sunny).

Finding a few little rocks to prop up the pot edges, and to weight the tops, was a challenge. The dry creek bed is completely under hard snow, and the few stones at the edges were iced in solidly. I got bits and pieces of rocks here and there, and made do, but it took a scavenger hunt to find any at all.

For all this, I doubt I will make a dent in the vole infestation. Pffft.

What is this thing? I stumbled around in the meadow where the sun is at least softening bits of snow. It's a giant haystack of grassy stuff, frozen solid. Somebody's home?

And what's this? Omg, it is a daffodil peeking up on the back hill where I planted 150 bulbs last fall. Really?

Be still, my heart.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Trying Not to Complain

yah, that's me in the blue parka skiing at Mammoth,
with Tom behind me.
I like winter.

I skied several times this year. I like snow. A cozy day inside is great. A brisk cold walk is nice. I have great winter boots that are stylish. My garden has real interest when dormant, especially the woody shrubs.

I have no patience for people who choose to live here and complain about winter.

But right now I am trying so hard not to cry. It is in the teens today, and may get up to 29 degrees, but a day in the 30s will be a stretch. Rotted snow still impedes any walking around outside.

The week promises more cold -- nights in the teens, days in the 30s and 40s, not a single day in the forecast that a gardener could enjoy. And it's cruising well into the end of March.

Aaaah, but I have seedlings indoors. The zinnias popped up right away and will need to be repotted before I can even get through the snow to my stash of containers on the potting bench, which is still iced in behind a bank of snow.

Even the tiny nicotiana seeds have sprouted. They were the size of poppy seeds, and came in a tiny plastic tube so they wouldn't get lost in the envelope.

A few of the yellow nasturtiums came up, and a few of the Black Beauty dahlias, but a lot are no shows so far. I do have some more Black Beauty dahlias sprouting in the cell packs next to the zinnias, so there will be Black Beauties enough I hope.

The only thing not up yet are the butterfly weed seeds. They were last year's seeds and may not be viable, or they may just be slow sprouters. But the Hummingbird salvia seeds from last year came up. The random free dahlia I got also is up, and at least two of the free morning glory seeds.

So I can deal. There is something green growing on this St. Patrick's Day and that is encouraging. I have been to Key West and that week in the warmth is still a pleasant memory. So it's good.

I am really, really trying hard not to complain. Or cry.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ugly Stuff

Finally the daytime temperature has risen to 54 degrees, but it is windy, as March always is when the air gets warmer. I finally got outside and could get through the snow to reach my tools.

But it was ugly.

First, it was hard schlepping through the rotted snow. It's mushy but icy underneath and the awkwardness of sliding around in it hurts my hips after a while. The front and east sides have melted but the rest of the yard and the meadow are still deep under snow.

Second, the voles went wild this winter and the entire east side of the yard is dotted with tunnels.

I mean the whole yard! Every three feet or so has these excavations. Under all the snow this winter they dug up mounds of dirt and created a city of networked underground thruways.

At the edge of the mulch around the new katsura they created a construction site. Everywhere else there are entrance and exit holes, with mounds of dirt at each one.

I need to get mousetraps and set them out. Probably 30 or more, in order to place a trap at each entrance and exit. That was the only thing that worked, at least in the much smaller strip along the front walk the year the voles took out all my plantings there.

There are more uglies.

I think the pink flowered heaths are dead. Both of them.

March is their season to bloom. The little spots on the brown foliage are dried flowers from last year.

For comparison, here is what they looked like on March 16 back in 2010. That was a warm spring, but even so they should not look so dessicated and brown in the middle of March.

I'll wait for milder temperatures, and a more sustained warm stretch than just this one day, to see if they green up and sport their pretty little pink flowers. But they are awfully ugly right now.

Another ugly sight is the miscanthus by the garage door. It's weighed down by hard packed icy snow, but I was determined to get at the standing stalks and cut them down.

The hedge trimmer Jim got me last summer works like a charm, but all I did was make a bigger mess. The fronds chopped down easily, but I could not free half of them from the icy snow. So when the snow does melt, the loose grass stems will blow about and make a horrible mess.

Already, on this windy day, the stuff I cut blew around and accumulated in corners and edges.

The half that I could gather up and cart away was taken out to the back hill, where they will blow around there. They are bright colored and loose, and hard to dispose of and easy to see everywhere.

I hate grasses.  I would never plant miscanthus again as an ornamental in a garden. The only way to deal with them is to burn them in winter, they go up in a poof. But I can't do that so near the house. Next year I must cut them down in fall, even if the sheared stump looks so silly.

I did accomplish a few positive things. The amsonia by the front walk was easily cut down with the handy hedge trimmer, and I got to the pruning of the Japanese maple in front. I took off a lot.

My tools were dry and fine inside the shed, even though I still can't open the front doors with all the snowpack around them. Everything inside it wintered well.

And here's something pretty to counteract the ugly stuff -- a spring wreath on the front door:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Will It Ever Melt?

Although it is snowing lightly this morning and it's back to temperatures in the teens today, Tuesday was warm and sunny and in the late afternoon I sat in the sunshine on the front steps and it was almost as nice as Key West.

But I couldn't get to my tools, even on a such a nice day as Tuesday was. I have pruning to do, and clean up to start, but everything I need is inside my handy dandy tool shed, locked in a bank of snow.

I can lift the top and reach in, but that assumes I can get through the deep stuff to get to it. The porch door can't even open onto the back deck.

And the snow surrounding the driveway was too much to get through out to the back yard. It was a no go despite the nice sunny weather.

I desperately want to cut back the grasses, and clean up the smashed perennial stalks from last fall.

And I want to do some creative pruning on the Japanese maple in front. You can't see it here, but the curvy branch on the furthest left side needs to be cut off. I can get to it easily where snow has melted in the front, but my saw and pruners are in the buried shed in back.

The witch hazels don't look good, and I won't take a picture of their brown leaves and tiny unopened flowers, even though this is supposed to be their season. They continue to make me mad.

But the redtwig dogwoods look wonderful, especially against the snow.

And we have snowdrops. The south facing front garden is melting and the little snowdrops are popping out of the tired mulch.

It was a nice day, but only a brief respite. Now we are back to snow, some icy rain and cold weather.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bedroom Greenhouse

Relief today -- it is in the 50s and sunny, and some of the old snow is melting.

I sowed seeds indoors today. This time I made a corner of the bedroom into a greenhouse station.

Last year I did them in the basement, but it is cold down there, and dark, and I had to remember to switch the grow lights on and off, and traipse up and down to check things, and carry water down.

In the bedroom I can constantly see what's happening, monitor the lights, and it is warmer.

I just have to be neat and careful not to spill anything. It's unattractive, but, oh well.

I sowed:
  • Black Beauty dahlias -- lots of them. They did well for me last year, grown from seed.
  • Zinnias -- Lilliput Mix, colorful pompoms about two feet tall, not as tall as Cut & Come Again, but similar in look and color.
  • Nicotiana alata -- a red one called Perfume Red.
  • Morning glories -- purpurea mix that was a free packet with my order. Purples and mauves.
  • Dahlia variabilis -- a pom pom dahlia that was free. I only planted one (they look a lot like the zinnias)

I had old seed from last year and planted several orange butterfly weed and one little red Hummingbird Texas sage. We'll see if it is still viable.

I also sowed the Yellow Gleam nasturtiums in larger cow pots so that they can be moved whole into their garden spots. Nasturtiums don't like to be transplanted.

I want nice big plants for early summer; last year the nasturtiums I sowed directly in the garden took their time and did not bloom until late September.

Here's a picture of Nasturtium azureum
from Dave's Garden
And here is a weird thing: I planted the blue nasturtiums, Tropaeoleum azureum. The instructions were to put them in damp potting mix and then into a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for 6 weeks or more! Then take them out and wait another month for them to sprout.  Really?

So that's what I did.  The seeds were tiny, not at all like big round nasturtium seed balls.

A little research tells me that these are fussy, hard to germinate and difficult to grow.

They may not bloom the first year, and need a full year to form tubers. They need deep pots for the tubers to start. Yikes.

These are tender perennials and will have to stay in pots, I think, then brought in over winter. They don't take off for blooming until year two.

I need to rethink planting them with the yellow Gleam trailing nasturtiums on the twig towers. I think these should be in pots on their own, maybe on the patio.

And another picture of Nasturtium azureum

I really should have done some research before an impulse buy of blue nasturtiums. But surprises are fun too, and seeds are cheap!