The bulbs that keep on giving

Several years ago I got a couple of Amaryllis bulbs on clearance after Christmas. I wasn't very interested in these plants since I had never seen one in person before, but for $1 or whatever the ridiculously low price was, I'd take a chance.

Five or six years later, these plants have been blooming for me every winter, requiring almost no attention during the summer growing season. The only thing I need to do is remember to move them into a dark corner of the garage in early autumn.


More exploration!

I haven't been near my garden the last couple of days, and have had really no time to write decent posts. I usually prepare a few topics in advance when I know it will be difficult to take new photos, but with holiday prep I just didn't have time. So I apologize for the brevity.

This dragonfly was one of several of the same species that were found along the walking path at Simpson Park -- the small but wonderful park I've lived near for 20 years but only discovered this past summer.



A few years back when I started growing bamboos (which was in the 2007-2008 timeframe), I took a lot of care to protect them during the winter. The advice I got was to ensure that the young plants had as many green leaves in the spring as possible, and that meant wrapping small plants to protect them from cold, dry winds, tarping plants to the ground, and even building a temporary greenhouse.

Since the plants are larger now, I have more of them than I know what to do with, and I got tired of looking at ugly plastic sheets in the garden all winter, I've stopped with most of those extreme measures. That's not to say I don't do some things to protect my favorite plants from the coldest weather though.


Bee right back

I need to take a short break from posting anything significant -- if what I post ever is.

Things should be back to normal tomorrow, but we'll see. If you're looking for something interesting to read, how about this index of my favorite posts of my second full year of blogging?


The obvious solution

As you may remember, earlier this year I bought several cold-hardy but moisture-hating Agaves and Yuccas. My goal was to get them into planting beds this year, along with my cold-hardy cactus.

That goal was not met (but I did create some soil mounds as a first step), so the potted plants remain on my driveway. I was concerned about that one Agave during the summer, but it seems like that was nothing to worry about. I do have other concerns though...


pond ice art

Nor surprisingly, the pond has built up a layer of ice. A few days ago when it was still forming the sun was out and the frozen pond in sunlight is irresistible to me.

Last year I had just a lifeless sheet of frozen water to photograph. This year though there's a biosystem under the ice, and that makes it so much more interesting.


Happy Christmas!

Wishing everybody a warm and happy holiday!

I hope you're spending time with friends and family, and are as content and comfortable as a stray cat in a protected corner of a friendly garden!


Glass of art

I water the small aloe in my kitchen window quite infrequently and very sparingly, as there are no drainage holes in its glass planter.

Still, an interesting mix of algae and other unidentified organisms have grown in the space between the soil and the glass. Quite colorful and beautiful in the sunlight...


Windowsill Aloes

If you've been reading my posts for a while and really paying attention to details, you may know that my house has very limited south-facing window space for plants. In fact I have exactly two windows that face south, one that is about 8" (20cm) wide with no sill, and the window in front of the kitchen sink.

Still though, I manage to keep a few plants here throughout the year, adding a couple more during the winter months. Right now the two plants are both Aloes.


Last few plants I miss

This is the last of my "plants I miss" posts, but it starts out with one of the first perennials I grew, 'Sweet Dreams' Coreopsis.

I grew this in 2004 for certain, but I tried it a few more years too -- not sure if 2004 was the first or not.


Another plant I miss

Yesterday I started looking at plants I once grew and now miss. I have another one today, but this one is a bit different.

It's Monarda or "Bee Balm", and looking at these photos I really wish I had it back in my garden.


Plants I miss

During the dreary days of winter I spend quite a bit of time going back through my garden photo archives. Not only does it give me a taste of what I'm missing from the spring and summer, but it reminds me of what I had done in the garden in years past.

Looking back also reminds me of the plants that I no longer grow for whatever reason. Today I'm going to start talking about some of those that I miss, starting with hollyhocks.


More winter seeds

Yesterday I showed you the seed heads from the plants in my back yard. Today I finish with the plants from the side and front gardens -- there's a lot more in front this winter because of the walkway beds!

It's already clear that I love keeping these beautiful seed heads around throughout the winter instead of cleaning them up immediately in the fall. This isn't only for my own benefit though -- the birds feast on the seeds all winter long. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather see a finch sitting on a seed head than on the bird feeder.


Winter seeds

This weekend I noticed that there were a couple of interesting seed heads in the garden, so I spent some time photographing them in the balmy weather. I ended up with a lot more photos than I thought I would, so I'm breaking this into two posts.

Today I'll cover the back yard, and tomorrow we'll look at what seeds are in the side and front yard.


an old friend

I've got a woodpile in the back corner of my yard, and it's been there for several years. It's made of logs that were meant to be turned into firewood, but the wood turned out to be too tough to split for my liking, so it just sat. That was five years ago I believe, and this wood is only good for one thing now: fungus!

Each year when the weather is cool and things stay damp for a while, this orange fungus blooms. I love taking photos of mushrooms and other fungi, so I can't resist photographing this one whenever it appears. Appear it will too, as it's as reliable as an old friend.


fish art

I went into the garden yesterday to enjoy the warm weather for a little while and take "a few" photos. An hour and a half and 80 photos later I went back inside, feeling recharged.

The fish are so easy to see these days, as they soak up the warmth at the water's surface. They added a splash of color to the otherwise drab pond, with reflections and ripples creating the art.


Using the patio to look back

I was searching for some older photos this morning, and decided that it would be a good day to take a look back, just to put things into perspective.

The patio seems to be a popular subject of mine, so that's what I'll use. This is the patio today, 15 December 2012. Green. Private. Almost overgrown. Now we'll start stepping backward.



Is there a plant in my garden that I take more for granted than Euonymous? Possibly lawn grasses. Or the yews in front of the house. This is a plant that the builders chose 40 years ago, put in every other yard on my street, and moved on. We though, have to live with this choice.

I pulled most of my Euonymous out at least 10 years ago, moving them to the back edge of my yard where the deer can freely browse them all winter long. I still have a couple of these vigorous growers in the front yard though, and they require pruning (gasp!) twice a year.


Frost, not on bamboo

As you probably know, frost does not limit itself to coating bamboo, so here are the other things I saw the other morning out in the cold.

What amazes me most about frost is how it looks so different on various surfaces: like sugar crystals, or flakes, or spikes, or curlicues, all depending on the material on which it has formed. I didn't mention this yesterday, but the frost forms differently on many of the bamboo leaves depending on species too. I'm not here to analyze why though -- I just want to show you the pretty.


Frosty bamboo


Still green

It's early December, and I'm amazed by the fact that some plants are still green and healthy. Maybe it's because I haven't grown them for a few years so I've forgotten how cold-tolerant they are, but the snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are looking better now than they have all year.

They started really slowly in the spring, some of them being ravaged by some critter (rabbits? pill bugs? slugs?), and seemed to stop doing anything when summer was its hottest. Once colder temps arrived though, they really woke up.


okay, I'll rake

I don't talk about the mundane garden chores too often: mowing the lawn (barely had to do it this year), weeding (okay, I do talk about that once in a while), and raking. It's not that I hate doing them (except for mowing the lawn), it's just that I assume that most people reading this have plenty of experience with them and don't want to read about them.

Today though I'm going to talk about one of them. Can you guess which one?


Silent stream

One of the main features of my garden is the stream that I built in 2006. It's next to the stairs that lead down to the patio, and has been providing both visual interest and wonderful sound to the garden for six years. It's had its problems though: the way I built it allows leaks to form, the reservoir is too small, and debris often clogs the pump.

I usually battle to keep it running throughout winter too, using a birdbath heater to keep it from freezing (which is ridiculously easy some years, and impossible others). Some years I just turn it off when constant freezing temperatures are forecast, and that's a sad day as the garden gets eerily quiet.


It's a small place, but the food is great!

I've been feeding birds for as long as I can remember. There's plenty to attract these avian beauties to my yard already: water, places to roost and forage, insects in summer, fallen seed in winter, but I've always enjoyed putting out additional seed to get even more fowl to visit. A garden without birds just doesn't feel "alive". My main bird feeder has been on the disused basketball hoop for 20 years, and you can get a nice view of the activity there from the bedroom window. 

I've had finch feeders in other parts of the garden, but for the last couple of years I've had very little success with them -- the finches just won't use them. A few weeks ago I decided to utilize the finch feeder pole in front of the kitchen window for a second small "regular" bird feeder. If I can't get the finches to arrive, at least I'll be able to see the less-picky visitors at this other end of the house.



It's been a while since I've mentioned eggshells.

It's difficult to ignore them right now though. This one is on the driveway, probably as a result of a curious raccoon. What was he curious about?


Sedum and Semps

Certain plants disappear for me for most of the year -- there's just nothing remarkable about them, or perhaps they get overshadowed by other things.

But at certain times of the year, they are beacons to me. I am the moth and they are the flame. They are sedum and sempervivum.


I like it: textures

Not much to say today, except that I really like textures -- both in the garden and in the home.

Here's a little look at some of the indoor textures that catch my eye every day.


The garage

A few days ago when I was talking about bringing the plants into the garage for overwintering -- a couple of cold, cold nights forced me to do this before I really wanted to -- there were a few comments asking to see the garage.

Well, against my better judgement here it is. A little more planning and time and I would have had things cleaned up and better organized before the plants came in.


What a view!

On Saturday I took advantage of the warm weather to hang some Christmas lights on the house and to clean the gutters. This requires that I get up on the roof, and when I was finished I sat down and surveyed the yard. Then I realized that I should take some photos, as this is the perfect opportunity to give you a nice bird's-eye view of the entire back garden.

I'm still planning on creating a detailed map of my yard, but for now this is the best look at where everything is -- if you don't already have a good view of it in your mind that is.



Unseasonably warm this weekend, but I suspect that the word "unseasonable" will start losing its meaning as the weather becomes more unpredictable. As a gardener I'm hoping for another mild winter like last year's, and we're off to a good start.

Our normal high for this time of year is 47ºF (8ºC). The forecast this week predicts highs of: 72, 74, 61, 56, 58 (that's 22, 23, 16, 13, 14ºC) then finally it gets back to normal for next weekend.


Sunhoke harvest

Part of my preparation for winter is getting all of the potted plants off the driveway, or at least as many as possible. Many of the pots have been moved into the garage, have been positioned under the deck, or have been emptied of their non-hardy plants and tired potting mix. Some of the pots this year were edibles that have already been harvested: potatoes (a disappointment), sweet potato (not bad), and the final crop to harvest: sunchokes.

Also known as "Jerusalem artichokes"-- one of the most misleading common plant names of all time -- these members of the sunflower family (Helianthus tuberosus) produce tasty edible tubers, and it's time to dig them up!



As you know from my posts in previous years, I grow lots of plants that are not cold-hardy and won't survive our typical winters here in St. Louis. I can either treat these plants as annuals, let them die each winter and buy them all again in the spring, or I can work to overwinter as many of them as possible.

I don't really have the budget or desire to buy the same plants every year, plus I hate killing plants. So for me there's really no choice: I overwinter them.


Starting the canna dig

Recently I've been talking about winterizing -- getting my non cold-hardy plants protected for the winter. Those two cold nights we had early this week (21ºF) were the only real problem nights, with every other night at 27ºF or higher. Those two nights were enough though to make me bring dozens of potted plants into the garage, dig up elephant ear tubers, and cover my in-ground winter greens.

After the two cold nights passed I had some time to start organizing the pots that I hastily dragged inside just a few days before, and one of the tasks was to dig up some potted elephant ears and cannas -- a stack of empty pots stores much more easily than huge pots full of soil and tubers. Today let's look at the cannas.



For the last two nights the temperature has dipped down to 21ºF (-6ºC), several degrees colder than it has been yet this year. Without those two days I'd say our winter is getting off to a mild start, with daytime temps back up into the lower 60s (16ºC or so) at the end of the week and over the weekend.

Those two cold nights ruined it though, as it meant I had to move all of my non-hardy plants into the garage, and also protect some of my in-ground plants. I've been planning on doing this some day "soon", but I'd rather do it later. Looking at the forecast and realizing you have two days to do a week's worth of work is not the most stress-free way to garden.


Another one looking good

The cardoon were looking particularly good over the weekend, and another plant that fits that same category is this Artemisia 'Powis Castle':

It seemed to be struggling for most of the hot summer (everything was) but now it's looking amazing.


Spider plant

Most people grow spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) as a houseplant, but I've never really liked it indoors. I'm not very good with houseplants in general though, so maybe that's the problem.

I do like growing spider plants outdoors though, and it's time to bring these tough but not cold-hardy plants in for the winter.


Cardoon, last look

Friday I spent most of the cold, blustery day working in the garden. I took a few minutes off from chores though to notice and enjoy a few plants that are looking particularly good right now.

The first is the cardoon. I've got two plants in my garden right now, and even though both are looking great, they sure look different from each other. (I've mentioned this before)


banana dig

Yesterday I wrote about how I protect my cold-hardy banana (Musa basjoo). I mentioned that I wasn't yet prepared to dig up the big tropical banana clump yet.

With a low temperature of 23ºF (-5ºC) predicted for last night, it no longer mattered that I was ready -- it was time to dig!


bananas, can't take cold

The weather has been pretty cooperative this fall, with tastes of freezing temps followed by warmer days. Perfect for getting the non-hardy plants to go dormant and to then get them stored for winter in the garage. Not that I've actually done any storing yet. I'm just saying that the weather has been perfect for it.

Take the bananas for instance. Their foliage has been toasted, while the pseudostems are still in good shape. Seems like a good place to start with some winterizing! (The other option is to start digging up dozens and dozens of elephant ears -- I'll postpone that as long as possible.)



Today there is a festive feeling in the air. People are gathering with families and friends, preparing feasts, indulging. Most businesses and many shops are closed, there are a couple of extra football games on TV, and there are even parades with huge cartoon balloons! I know it's an important day, but I never dreamed that the 1000th post of my blog would ever cause such excitement!

Yes, it's true. According to Blogger, this is post number 1000. Oh, and it's also Thanksgiving Day here in the US.



A month ago I harvested my potato crop. It was quite disappointing. I was reassured by several gardeners who have more experience with spuds than I do that it was a bad year for potatoes, and that I shouldn't give up on trying them again next year.

I forgot I had one more "potato" plant to harvest: my sweet potato!


Planning for next year

The butternut squash volunteer I wrote about yesterday taught me that deer and rabbits don't seem to bother that particular plant, so I'm going to grow some of them on purpose next year -- outside the fenced area.

This is where it will happen, and I decided to start the bed prep now. That will give the organics several months to break down and start making this clay soil something a squash can really love.



I didn't plant squash this year. My small veggie garden just doesn't have the room for it. I did plant butternut squash one year and it essentially covered the entire fenced area of my veggie beds. I got great squash but couldn't grow anything else. So I haven't planted it again since then.

It turns out that I was growing squash this year though. A volunteer butternut squash plant grew outside the fence this year and added a fair amount of beauty to this part of the garden. I let it grow because of this and to test if the deer and other herbivores took advantage of it. They didn't as far as I can tell -- maybe a couple of nibbles but nothing significant.


Moudry: overdue attention

A couple of months ago I posted that I was going to dig up the dozens of 'Moudry' fountain grass seedlings that have been peppering the lawn in this area for the last two or three years. Because of the summer's drought I didn't mow very often, allowing the ever-present seedlings to mature a bit.

I dug some of them up back then, but now it's time for all of them to go. I really should have done this a month ago.



As it gets closer to winter, the Opuntias are starting to prepare. Remember that this is my first year growing these prickly pear cactus, and like most things in my garden I don't start out small. Why try a single species of a new plant when you can grow a dozen, regardless of how little experience you have with them?

My several pots of these have spent the spring and summer on the deck where I could keep an eye on them (and occasionally bump into them -- good planning!) and I have been rewarded with blooms, the growth of new pads, and just seeing the differences in form, color, size, and texture of them all. Now I get to add one more attribute to the list of interest they've provided me with.


Blue? Berry

Was it just last year's spring (2011) that I finally got my first blueberry plant? Was it just last fall that I saw their first autumnal display of wonderful color? It seems like I've always had this incredible foliage in my garden.

I wasn't going to post about the blueberry leaves this year, as I had already done it. But then I saw it happen again with my own eyes and I just couldn't resist.


What do you see?

The last couple of days I've been battling a cold and just haven't felt much like getting out into the garden, but I have been doing quite a bit of window gazing.

For instance, here's the view of the driveway from inside. What do you see when you look at this? Do you focus on the greenery? The bamboo? Something else? I'll tell you what I see...


New cactus awake

Two weekends ago I visited Schlafly Gardenworks for the monthly informal gathering of gardeners. This is the time of year when only the most garden-crazy show up to these, as the weather doesn't really say "let's garden!". This post is not about that visit though.

This post is about the "Nopales cactus" that I bought as I was leaving the garden. Each year at this time Jack and Nolan take cuttings from a spineless prickly pear cactus, pot them up, sell them for $5 each, and give the proceeds to a local charity. How could I resist?



I don't want to upset anybody who may be reading this, but I have a confession. I don't really like daylilies. I  know they're dead-simple to grow, tough as nails, and can be quite beautiful when in bloom, but that's not enough for me for some reason. Maybe it's that the deer like to prune the blooms and flower buds for me -- not every time, but enough to keep me from becoming too attached to these plants.

The other day though I found something that may have just kicked daylilies a couple of spots up my "favorite plants" list: seed pod skeletons!



Although there have been three or four nights in the past few weeks where the temperature just touched the freezing point, there had been very little evidence of it in the garden. The other night though it got down to 28ºF (-2ºC).

There was no question that some of the plants felt that, and they didn't like it.


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