Yesterday morning, with the temperature around 12ºF (-11ºC) I was not outside. Instead I was cozy indoors with a fire in the stove and eggnog french toast on my fork. A flash of brown caught my eye out the window...

A hawk had landed first in my silver maple tree, then quickly moved to my neighbor's where it spent the next 15 minutes or so scoping out my veggie garden and surrounding ground.


Winter lawn, far below

Yesterday I took my nephew to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial here in St. Louis, home of the Gateway Arch, or as it's more commonly called, "The Arch". It has been a few years since I've done this, so was looking forward to having a look around.

The 4-minute ride up in the small, rotating tram cars is no thrill ride but part of the experience, and at 630 ft. (192m) tall you get a great view from the top.


Indoor pest control: first attempt

Some of the plants that are overwintering under the grow lights indoors have pest problems every year. Whiteflies, aphids, mites, scale, mealy bugs, and fungus gnats are the culprits, and the first outbreak is happening now: mealys and aphids.

I've got two small elephant bush (Portulacaria afra) plants under the lights, and their succulent leaves and stems are apparently the choicest greenery on my table right now.



Christmas Eve morning was quite cold here, with a surprisingly low temperature of about 5ºF (-15ºC) when I awoke, a bit below the forecast low of 9ºF (-13ºC). Cold, clear, and sunny, I noticed that the pond looked a bit strange... I took a closer look. Frost! Lots of frost in really interesting patterns on top of the almost-clear ice. Although I don't typically like to do it when it's this cold, I just had to bring the camera outside and get down on the ground.


Happy Holidays!


I'll have a Blue Christmas

Well, I won't be having a blue Christmas, but my pond will. You see, although there is apparently some debate about the effects of adding beneficial bacteria to garden ponds, I do it.

I'm especially diligent in the winter, when leaves and other excess organic matter can turn the pond water chemistry inhospitable or even toxic for the fish.


What's new?

Or more accurately, "What will be new in your garden next year?" For me the holidays mean it's time to put some seed catalogs to work and to pick out something new to grow.

If I didn't try at least a couple of new varieties of edible plants that I love, plus one or two entirely new plants -- things I haven't grown before -- I'd probably get bored with growing edibles completely. So it's time to choose...


An update on the terrarium

It's been quite a long time since I converted my terrarium to succulents -- almost three years -- and almost a year since I've even shown you what's going on there (when I replaced one of the plants).

It's time for an update, as I'm planning on doing some work on this little basement garden over the holidays, and having a good record of "before" is necessary.


Book Review: Hardy Bamboos

One last book review for you last-minute holiday shoppers, this time on a subject that is a favorite of mine: bamboo. I own a few books on bamboo, and although they have their merits this one is probably my favorite.

It's Hardy Bamboos: Taming the Dragon by Paul Whittaker. So what makes this bamboo book the one I pick up most often?



One of my favorite things about having snow on the ground is being able to see the tracks of whatever creatures visit. When I first moved here about 20 years ago, seeing deer tracks in the snow was exciting. Deer sightings were a rare event.

Now they're so common, I'm surprised when I don't see deer tracks the morning after a snowfall. That's not a problem right now -- the frozen pond right now is simply covered by their tracks!


An update on the grasses

It's been a week since I potted the divisions of Pennisetum 'Vertigo' and Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (purple fountain grass) and put them under the lights of my growing table.

You may remember that I said that this year I took a compromise approach to overwintering these: I didn't take the divisions immediately (in late November for instance), but I didn't wait months (until early February like I did last year). Taking the divisions too early leaves me with plants that are just crammed into their pots and dying to get outside by spring, while taking them too late left me with dead divisions. This year things are looking good though.



The snow certainly is pretty, but the 4" (10cm) or so we received Friday night is heavy! It started as rain then turned to snow as the temperature dropped.

Great for snowmen and forts, but not so nice for shoveling or if you're a bamboo.


Branches, snow clings, lovely


Hanging Ornament

I didn't put much effort into decorating the outside of the house for the holidays this year. Most years I hang some lights, mainly because I prefer the gentle, even light they provide as opposed to the single source of the harsh front porch light. I could blame the early cold weather this year as hanging lights in bitter temperatures isn't fun, but we had very mild weather before the current cold snap, so that's no excuse.

I have to admit that the water barrel in the walkway garden played a role in this decision, as the birdbath heater is occupying the extension cord that usually powers the decorative lights. So it really was several factors that contributed to the decision to have no lights this year. We do have an ornament of sorts though, provided by the creatures of my garden.


Book Review: Botany for Gardeners

Today I turn from books that are filled with beautiful photographs of plants, to a book that is jammed with beautiful information about how plants work. (I'm not saying that those other books didn't inform because they did, but they can't compete with the level of education you'll receive from today's book.)

The book is Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon. I've had the revised edition for a few years now, and I consider this a must-have book for my gardening bookshelf. (Note that the third edition is currently available.)


Book Review: The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables

Another book review, this time on a subject that seems to trigger strong positive feelings in every gardener and even non-gardeners: heirlooms. What vegetable do you think of when you think the word "heirloom"? If you're like me, you think "tomato" first, but then what?

In The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables, author Marie Iannotti shows us 100 wonderful heirloom vegetables in all categories of edibles, not just tomatoes. Let's take a look!


Book Review: Hardy Succulents

Continuing with my holiday season book reviews, today I'm looking at a book that I got a couple of years ago, and has helped fuel my branching into the sometimes spiky and spiny world of growing succulents: Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis.

I have always grown some succulents, mainly sedum and the common-for-good-reason yucca, but only after I started conversing with other gardeners and read this book did I really start expanding into other areas of succulent growing -- and you'll soon see why.


Overwintering: the purple grasses

I finally cleaned up the growing table in the basement (at least the top table -- the lower one for seed starting won't be needed for a while and therefore is a mess) in preparation for getting my grass divisions going.

I'm mainly interested in overwintering two different purple grasses this year: purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') and Pennisetum 'Vertigo'. I've done the purple fountain grass several times now with only one failure: last year when I waited too long to plant the divisions.


Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose

In other words, sometimes plants surprise you and die, and other times they surprise you by living.

I've got examples of both on my indoor growing table right now. Although I want to start by talking for a minute about one of the failures, the photo was too ugly to use to start this post -- so you get a little sneak peek at the success.


Cold Morning

Awoke this morning expecting it to be cold, and was not disappointed. About 10ºF (-12ºC), which makes it the coldest morning of the winter so far.

A couple of years ago I'd be really worried about my bamboos, wondering what sort of damage they were taking. Now though, due to either the increased maturity of the groves or myself as a gardener, I can just appreciate the beauty of the crisp arctic air -- especially since it's not moving right now.


Cold, but not for some

With many of us dealing with temperatures well below normal right now, a little contrast might be helpful.

I discovered this mantis carcass inside the house yesterday. If you're wondering why the lighting is so strange...


Mulching potted bamboos

Our mild weather (it was 60ºF when I took these photos yesterday morning) will be swept to the south, replaced by frigid air and ice, sleet, or snow -- or probably a mix of all of them. Temperatures are expected to hit single digits F on a couple of nights, which means it's time to mulch.

I've got a lot of potted bamboos that need some protection to keep their roots, rhizomes, and rhizome buds from damage, and burying the pots in mulch is the easiest method I've found. Time is limited so easy is good, but in previous years I've dug a hole before burying them, laid the plants down and tarped over them, and built a greenhouse. This year it's just mulch.


Book Review: Missouri Wildflowers

Today's book is different than the rest in that it's a reference, field guide, and has been around for quite a while. It's Missouri Wildflowers by Edgar Denison.

Please don't think "I don't live in Missouri" and stop reading, or think that this book wouldn't be helpful to you. Besides containing information on dozens of plants that are found in many parts of this country, this book is a model of what a great reference book should be.


Book Review: The Roots of My Obsession

Continuing my book reviews, I turn from one single man's year-long view of a tiny piece of a single "garden" to a book that involves 30 gardeners and at least that many gardens.

The first book I reviewed was historical with little to no narrative or personal touch, the second book was personal but focused on observation, but this book is all personal. The Roots of My Obsession (Timber Press) is the subject of today's review.


Book Review: The Forest Unseen

Yesterday I started my small series of book reviews with a history of the Garden Club of America, a book I concluded would be best appreciated by those who either loved history or the GCA -- but it probably wasn't for everyone.

Today's book is at the opposite end of the spectrum, as it's poetic, educational, digestible, and completely entertaining. It's The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell, and it's a beauty.


Book Review: The Garden Club of America

With gift-giving season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to review some of the gardening books I've received or read in the last year.

Actually, "review" might not be the best description, as I'm not yet sure how extensive my comments will be -- I'll at least give you my thoughts and feelings about each. Does that pass as a review these days? I'm planning on doing at least four of these posts, but let's see how it goes.


Cold, but pretty

It's been a cold start to winter for us in the Midwest this year, as temperatures are about 10ºF (-12ºC) below normal and have been for the most part of a few weeks.

That means that I'm seeing the winter garden a bit earlier than normal, but that's not always a bad thing -- the winter garden is quite attractive in its own ways.


lobelia stems, noticed

Looking out my home office window I see my walkway garden, complete with bird feeder and the I'm-not-letting-it-freeze water barrel. The combination of these two means that quite often there's something to see when I glance out there -- the birds are always fun to watch.

The other day I noticed something different though: my lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis), stems dead and dried at this time of year, looked strange.


The overwintering table, part 1

You already know that I bring lots of plants into the garage to overwinter in a semi-dormant state. Although those take up the most room, they're simple -- just let them sit for five months, maybe watering once in a while.

There are other plants that I grow inside under lights, either because they don't do well in the garage, I want to propagate them, or because they're too important to trust to the sometimes unpredictable garage. Although I haven't finished bringing everything inside yet, here's a look at what's in here already.


Helping horrible houseplants

Although I'm quite proud of my garden and have a good amount of success with most plants I try, the indoor greenery is another story. Too little light and a maddening design that puts all of the heater vents right in front of the windows means that houseplants face a challenge in my home.

Take for instance this Dracaena (which I believe is Dracaena deremensis but I'm no expert). When it was new it was short and bushy, and looked so healthy.


Protecting my winter crops

We've had one really cold night in St. Louis so far, when it dipped down to 16ºF (-9ºC) ten days ago. It didn't stay that cold of course, and we even had a record high temperature of 80ºF since that cold night, but cold is coming again.

(I'm struggling on what tense to use here, as the photos were taken yesterday before the cold arrived, but I'm writing it in the morning when it's 13ºF/-10ºC). It was forecast to get down to 10ºF (-12ºC) so I'm not too upset about 13ºF. Back on point: I had to spend some time yesterday getting my cold-loving winter vegetables covered.


Beacon, soon lost

The Iris pseudacorus in the walkway garden is certainly impressive in the summer, with its strappy, upright foliage adding a structural element here.

Right now though, it is a beacon. Seemingly putting the last of its energy into color, it glows yellow and orange while its charm-school posture relaxes into a slouch.


Prairie Dogs

Although you'd think that my dozens of posts on our August roadtrip would have been comprehensive, leaving nothing out, that's not the case.

One of the things that I didn't show you earlier was the prairie dog colony at Devils Tower National Monument. I didn't post about it at the time because I thought that video would be a better way to show this off.


Deer signs, part 2

As I was raking the leaves from under and around the maple in the front yard the other day, I took a look at the cactus bed, wondering how I was going to get most of those leaves out.

Then I noticed something: The Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana' that was the anchor to this end of the bed didn't look right. It didn't have the presence that it usually did.


Deer signs, part 1

Like many suburban and rural gardeners, I share the garden with deer. They're not as much of a problem for me as they are for some, even though they come through my yard at least twice a day -- usually when I'm not around to see them.

Although I don't always see them, I see their signs. Sometimes they do damage that is more significant than a few unwanted shrubs stripped of leaves, or some perennials pruned poorly. Take for instance my bamboo. My beautiful, make-me-feel-happy bamboo.


The will to survive ruined my post

Sometimes I have little hope of turning certain garden activities into a post. They're either too small of tasks, something I've posted about before, or just not very interesting. I had one of those this weekend when I removed the netting from over the pond.

I expected this to be one of those boring tasks, so I didn't bother having my camera with me. As I peeled back the netting, lifting the submerged parts out of the water and moving from back to front (toward the lawn), something exciting happened, something that made this ho-hum activity immediately post-worthy...



You know you're in for an interesting day when you open the front door at 7:00 AM and outside is warmer than in, and almost hot, humid air rushes into the house. It was 70ºF (21ºC) at that time, and I knew two things: first that I was going to take advantage of the warmth to get more garden tasks finished, and second that it was probably going to storm.

As the morning progressed, the winds picked up, and closer to noon when the temperature was a record high 80ºF (27ºC), the storms hit. Rain! Good, hard, soaking rain, and it wasn't going to miss us this time!


Cartoon leaves blown, my mind too!

Does anybody else reading this watch The Simpsons regularly? I've been a big fan of the show since its inception, not only for the outright humor but for the ongoing social commentary and unbelievable attention to detail.

Did you happen to see last week's episode, where Homer has a bit of a mid-life crisis and his ordinary, never-rode-on-the-back-of-a-firetruck life weighs heavily on his mind? As he walks forlornly down the street, a few leaves blow across the foreground of the shot. "Wow! Did you see that!" I excitedly said to my wife, grabbing the remote to watch a few more times...


Overwintering: water barrel

Continuing my look at things I need to prepare for the winter, let's take a quick look at my front garden water feature.

I added this half whiskey barrel to the walkway garden this year and have really enjoyed it -- the birds use it quite regularly. Since I won't have the stream running this winter, I've decided that I will keep this barrel filled with water all winter.


Overwintering: tender plants (in the garage)

Although I do lots of work to prep plants for overwintering: digging up elephant ears, tropical bananas, and several others that wouldn't take our zone 6 (or maybe 7 now?) winters, mulching others, taking cuttings, and so on -- the quickest solution for many plants is for me to just bring them into the garage for the winter.

Although I've been doing this for the last four or five years and you'd think I would have a system down by now, the first sub-freezing night always catches me by surprise so I end up scrambling. My plans of an organized, efficient packing of plants falls apart and I gain a jungle in the garage.


Overwintering: Musa basjoo

Continuing the documentation of my overwintering efforts, today it's my hardy banana, Musa basjoo.

This is one of the easiest plants to overwinter for me, as although it's not hardy enough to just leave alone all winter, I don't have to bring it into the garage. So no digging or heavy lifting required!


Overwintering: Pennisetum 'Vertigo'

I'm currently showing you some of my overwintering techniques, important because as I type this it is 16ºF (-9ºC). Sunday's high is forecast to be 77ºF (25ºC), but that doesn't help a plant that has been killed by the cold -- so unless I want to buy lots of new plants in the spring I need to protect some of them.

Today it's the Pennisetum 'Vertigo', a grass that was new to me this season but one that I'll be growing again and again as I really like it! The only problem with it is its size: it is so much larger than Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (purple fountain grass) so is a lot more difficult to grow indoors. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself though, as right now I just need to get it out of the ground and into the garage.


Overwintering: Vigna caracalla

Regular readers know that I love flowering vines, growing at least ten different types every year. Many of them are annuals grown from seed each year (on purpose or as volunteers), but a couple of them I like to try and overwinter as they don't produce seeds.

Vigna caracalla (corkscrew vine) is one of these. I started a couple from seeds three or four years ago, but have overwintered them as cuttings under lights every year since then. I had high hopes of getting seeds this year due to the large number of seed pods that formed, but it's not going to happen.


Removing the pond leaves

As reported earlier the netting I installed over the pond was working, but not perfectly. Although some leaves were getting into the water, most of them were not.

With most of the overhead maple leaves down, this weekend was the time to get them off the net -- and I wasn't sure how I'd do this.



The light coming in through the west-facing windows this morning was so bright, I knew that something was different.

It's all of the leaves that the maple has dropped -- they're so bright this morning, almost blinding -- reflecting back into the house. Cheerful, and a nice way to maximize sunlight exposure inside.


A few quick thoughts

I've got an early-morning blood donation appointment at the Red Cross this morning -- seemed like a good idea to make it for the morning, but as I groggily type I'm not so sure now.

I have a few quick things to show you this morning, starting with this. Woodpecker damage, or something more sinister? These holes are all over the trunk of my neighbor's beautiful magnolia -- I hope it is just woodpeckers.


It's (sort of) working!

Technically, the pond netting I installed for the first time this year is working. It's catching the leaves and keeping them from sinking under the water.

Unfortunately, it's not keeping all of them from touching the water.


Dark and Wonderful

As each leaf in my garden loosens its hold and floats to the ground, I'm delighted and depressed at the same time. It's an inadequate and almost unnecessary understatement, but the garden certainly changes during autumn. On the bright side, that means that tree silhouette season is almost here, when shorter days and barren trees mean I can actually see the sunrise (and sometimes sunset) revealing the fractal forms of the now-visible branches.

I found these photos on my phone last night, taken in the Madison area of Yellowstone back in August as we sat in the outdoor amphitheater and listened to a ranger speak about the wildlife and how it survives in each season -- especially winter.


Colorful Carpet

Simply put, today's post is about the fall beauty in the process of turning into fall chores -- namely raking.

As beautiful as some of these colors are on the tree, to me they may be even more so on the ground.


Move views of the colorful back yard

After months of being surrounded by greens of all shades, the fall blush of color lasts for such a brief time -- usually just a few days or a week at most. I've been paying more attention this year to these colors in my own yard than I usually do, taking a larger number of photographs than normal.

Today I'll show you not only some nice focal points of color in my back yard, but what the space looks like as a whole. I didn't do as much of that in this year's posts as I should have, possibly because it gets difficult to see everything when all of the plants are at their peaks. Now that some plants are gone, leaves have started dropping, and colors are changing, it's much easier to see. Does that make sense?


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