Friday, April 30, 2010

Garden Update!

Well, my garden proper is still a construction zone with dirt piled up waist-high all along the walkways and creeping a bit into the beds. I'm glad I covered the beds with row cover to protect them from the compacted clay invasion!

But the pots on the other side of my house are seriously trucking along. This is about the south side of the house so it gets pretty good sun this time of year (in a month...not so much).

Arugula needing another harvest/thinning:
Carrots trucking along:
Greek mountain oregano getting ridiculously huge. These are 2 plants that started off last year in a 2" pot. And they looked pretty puny all last year.
Misshapen sage bush, now flowering. Anyone want any sage?!? This also started off last spring as a small plant.
Chive flower bud. I've never tasted a chive flower before...looking forward to the opportunity!
Interestingly enough, the bunnies haven't touched the arugula. Is it because it's peppery tasting? Because it's in a 16"-ish tall pot? Because they are super lazy? A few days ago I observed 3 bunnies (simultaneously) hanging out just feet away from the pots. They spent most of the afternoon stretching, napping and grooming. Oh, and sampling my toad lilies. But at least this year they are keeping it to one plant instead of destroying a little bit of all the plants....

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Even Apartment Dwellers Can Landscape

Long time, no post, eh? I pulled a muscle in my side which made anything involving bending over, reaching, lifting, etc. hurt. So, that pretty much ruled out most garden tasks. Luckily, the weather (and rain) have been pretty kind over the past week so things look OK outside. But that is another post.

I am admittedly obsessed with all things miniature. Those tiny little Le Crueset dutch ovens meant for melting butter? Totally tempted to buy one even though it's $20 & I don't have the need for melted butter. Also? Little spoons. I love eating pudding or yogurt with a tiny silver spoon (should be used for adding sugar to hot tea). And, finally, little landscapes. Whether it's a terrarium, bonsai, hypertufa, or just your basic pot filled with dwarf plants, I'm in love!

While on my "no outside because of allergies" and "no strenuous work because everything hurts" phase, I decided to create a simple mini-landscape for inside my house. Just like any landscaping you need to determine the right plant for the right place. With indoor gardening you thankfully have more control over the environment, however.

Thus, for me, the plants needed to love low light conditions and tolerate dry soil. (The latter condition is necessary because I am lazy with plant watering. If you tend to over-water your plants, look for something that loves moist soil.) These are perfect little pieces of dirt that even apartment dwellers with the lowest of light and smallest of available space can get their hands dirty with.

The result:
Yes, these pictures were taken on my stove! LOL! The larger plant is a dwarf philodendron, the upright green plant with pink flowers next to it is centeriaum soliloides (this admittedly likes things a bit more moist than the other plants), and the cascading plants are Pilea glauca/blue creeping pilea. I have no idea yet what I'll put in the other parts of the "strawberry" pot. I just used regular potting soil.

So, there you have it: An easy, peasy way to brighten a corner of your home. If you really want to go crazy, there are little houses, people, animals and other things you can find (I've seen on Etsy and Merrifield Garden Center had some things as well) to make your creation look more realistic.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

US Botantic Garden's Summer Exhibit is Full of Awesome

You may have wandered down last summer to the US Botanic Gardens near the Capitol and viewed their incredible terrace exhibit. This year, it's going to be better. Highlights include a focus on edible landscaping, living walls, and townhouse gardens. So, one & all mark your calendars to visit the Mall to check it out, get ideas for your own space (no matter how small!) and enjoy free entertainment. Below is the press release. If you want more info (including how to get there, etc.) visit

April 13, 2010 Washington, D.C. — Join the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) in exploring the many ways plants improve the quality of our lives. Thrive! From the Ground Up, our summer Terrace exhibit, opens May 29. The exhibit features seven outdoor gardens, each focusing on various aspects of our daily lives. Whether you live in a studio apartment or in suburbia, there’s something here for everyone.

The Thrive! Gardens will span the Terrace across our Maryland Avenue fa├žade:

  • Medicinal Garden – Learn how the natural substances produced by plants provide medicine as well as nutrition. Check out the plants currently being researched to combat cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
  • World Flavors – Discover the plants that make our favorite spice mixtures, such as curry and za’atar, as well as other Mediterranean and world flavors.
  • Cutting Garden – Brighten your day and see the best flowers for the Washington region in a garden that features the best flower picks for bouquets.
  • Kitchen Garden – Find out which heirloom herbs and vegetables, and which new varieties grow best in our region to enliven our palates.
  • Beverage Garden – See the plants that provide our favorite beverages with their unique flavors, from hops for beer to sarsaparilla for root beer. Also featured are tea, fruit and vegetable juices, and healthful herbal drinks.
  • Townhouse Garden – Anyone can have a garden! This townhouse garden will show how to make the most of a small space, whether you’re interested in aesthetics or edibles.
  • Living Walls – Living walls are a spectacular way to use small spaces and we’re making a statement with ours!

All summer long a number of programs celebrating wellness will take place in our gardens. T’ai chi and yoga classes will be held in our NationalGarden, and cooking demonstrations and beverage tastings will take place on the Terrace. Various children’s programs are planned on Saturdays; gardening experts will conduct container-gardening workshops, as well as much, much more.

The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory is open to the public, free of charge, every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Visitors are encouraged to take Metrobus and Metrorail. Further information is available by calling (202) 225-8333 or visiting

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Changing Face of Gardeners

I would say most people's image of a "gardener" or one who enjoys plants in general is that of a Miss Marple type: a meddling old biddy that spends her retirement years tending roses and tomatoes.

Slowly, there are signs of this image changing. Plants are becoming hip. There is, of course, Gayla Trail who, in my opinion, speaks to a younger generation of gardeners with her hip crafts, urban lifestyle and easy-to-understand growing information. There is also the First Lady. A new style icon that also gardens? Interesting. Etsy, a site geared towards hipsters and 20-somethings, has a wide variety of sellers creating stunning terrariums. And, from the makers of Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, there is Terrain at Styers an utterly hip nursery in PA.

The latest sign for me was the movie Penelope. It's a modern fairytale geared towards tween girls (and, apparently, me). Penelope, the title character, lives in a room full of terrariums and dreams of becoming a horticulturalist. The rich girl with amazing clothes wants to become a horticulturalist and even gives a lowdown on Helleborus orientalis on screen. Say what?!?

What will be interesting is to see if gardening really takes off with the younger generations, which I count myself among. We have notoriously short attention spans and want everything NOW. But gardening isn't really about *now*. It's about waiting for plants to mature, appreciating the texture of conifers in the winter when nothing else is in bloom, and anticipating the first summer tomato. Gardening has already helped me with my patience (which I'm sure Sprout will appreciate) so maybe it can help others?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Harvest of 2010!

You ready for it? Are you sure?!? Here you go:

Approximately 4 oz of arugula from thinning the huge pot I just threw some seeds in about a month ago. Yes, I probably waited too long to do the thinning but it still tastes great if maybe a bit leggy. I probably need to throw some more in another pot (garden is still part of a construction zone).

The not harvested, but growing report: I've also got a ridiculous amount of sage. It was this small little plant that is now this huge bush! I have no idea what to do with it all except maybe give it to unsuspecting friends. A little sage goes a long way and one can only eat so many Sage Shortbread cookies. Also? My chives are freaking rockstars. As is, unfortunately, my lemon balm. Anyone want some? It went from this little plant in a 3" pot to practically a bush in less than 12 months. And, finally, my greek mountain oregano. I had hope of it surviving the winter, but when the snow melted it looked Turns out, it was totally just sleeping! My 2 scrawny plants are getting bigger by the day. *sniff* They grow up so fast!

The kohlrabi and kale I started AGES ago are seriously puny still. I don't really understand's been almost 2 months and they still only have 1 set of true leaves. I think I'm going to write them off as a failure this spring and try again in the fall (probably give them an earlier start then). The carrots I planted at the same time as the arugula look lovely (I thinned them out too but they haven't really developed big roots yet) unlike my failed attempt in the fall.

My strawberries, as far as I can see, look OK but they are also part of the construction zone and they may or may not have dirt piled on top of them. Or slugs eating all the berries. We shall see. I am seriously contemplating throwing down $30 for a good sized blueberry bush (well, $60 b/c I'd buy two). Somebody talk me down!!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oh, Irony!

I am a landscape design student. I am an avid gardener. I am an advocate of everyone connecting with the land around them.

I also am a severe allergy sufferer. Mostly, I am allergic to trees: ALL trees as once indicated by one of those tests they do at allergist offices where they prick you with all sorts of things. But, oak tress (lovely oak trees!) they are my nemesis. That prick of the needle turned into a welt several inches across.

I never had allergies until I was 4 and we moved to Florida from North Carolina (which certainly has its share of oaks). My mom was first concerned with this weird rash that would appear on my neck and the bends of my arms and legs. She suspected strawberries. I remember the Spring Without Strawberries. Sadness. But when the rash didn't go away, lucky for my stomach, strawberries were ruled out.

It took several years for us to notice that the rash (along with an itchy throat, overly crusty eyes in the AM, runny nose, etc.) came around the time my grandma's oak put out its catkins. Sigh.

Spring has always been the most devilish season for me! I love the cooler weather and all the flowers. And, now that I'm in Yankee territory, I'm always wanting to be outside after the long winter. This year has been *intense.* Not only the elevated pollen counts due to the wet winter and warmer spring temps, but also I can't take my usual allows-me-to-function medicinal cocktail because none of them have been approved for pregnant ladies. I'm barely holding on with some OTC Claritin and a neti pot.

So, here's to hoping for more rainy days with some high (but not too high) winds to get this pollen down!

Any other allergy sufferers out there? How are you fairing this year?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lesson Learned: Seed Storage

Like most things gardening, I tend to first not believe the so-called "experts" and do it my way. (You could say I'm a bit stubborn.) Then, I realize the "experts" are Experts and actually know what they are talking about. You'd think by now I'd know, but I suppose I still haven't grown out of that rebellious streak from high school!

I've got a few germination failures of seeds from last year that totally should have germinated. One, is my beloved Unwin's Dahlia (I got 2 out of probably 15 seeds I started). Another is my Thai and Red Rubin basils...complete no-shows. Luckily basil is easy to propagate so I'll just have to buy one of each plant to make the 2-3 I want.

It thus appears that keeping your seeds in a basket under your media unit may not be the best idea. And, that germination tests, which could have alerted me to my issues much earlier when I was buying seed, are not a total and complete waste of time.

So, where SHOULD you keep your seeds? They need a cool, DRY place. Basically, the opposite of what they need to germinate. I've heard and read that the refrigerator is a good place to store seeds of most edibles as long as you keep them away from your fruits & veggies (especially ethylene emitters like apples) and add some dry rice or silica packs to keep everything dry.

And, next year I'll do a germination test...

The massive upside is that the carrots I sowed in a pot about a week before I left for vacation have sprouted! Hurray!!! My fall carrots (same seeds) were a complete failure; I blame it on the squirrels digging in the area and my infrequent watering.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Postcard from France

Last week I had the good fortune of spending some relaxing time in the Languedoc region of France. Where is this you may ask? (I didn't know either until my husband suggested it.) It's located in southern France, about 1.5 hours over the Pyrenees and a bit in land from the Mediterranean. This lovely place is birth place of sparkling wine (Blanquette was first made in the Abbey of St. Hilare, which as a devotee to all things bubbly, I visited), Roquefort cheese and cassolet.

Besides the breathtaking (and ridiculously steep to climb) Cathar castles, we of course needed to visit the farmer's market.

We shopped at the market almost exclusively for our dinners. I mean, you only need a loaf of good bread, some good cheese, a handful of olives, maybe a bit of lettuce tossed with a simple vinaigrette, some cured meat and some dried fruit. Heaven. Add in a glass of blanquette...even better.

The market was completely bustling. I wish Falls Church Farmer's Market had a dried fruit vendor with as an extensive selection as the one pictured above. And maybe an olive vendor too...they do have a pickle vendor that I keep meaning to purchase something from.

Why don't the vendors at farmer's markets here use the little chalk board signs? It's certainly more attractive than the paper in plastic sleeves and won't blow away...