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?


A little more color

I've been enjoying the fall color this year, trying to take photos as soon as I notice something that is really nice -- the one problem I have with autumn is the colorful days are just over too quickly!

A tree can go from "nice" to "WOW!" to "blah" (or worse yet: barren) in just a couple of days, so I've learned not to delay with the camera. Today, just a few of the better bursts of color in my garden.


Four Surprises

When walking around the garden the other day trying to decide what tasks needed doing most urgently, I saw a few things that surprised me. First up is my venus flytrap:

It seems strange to me that a harvestman (or "daddy longlegs" as we call them around here) would climb up this plant, then lower its body into the "trap", but apparently that's what happened. I never would have guessed this was possible!


How much winter sun?

As you may know, this summer I finally got my cactus beds planted and even made them look better with a dry-stacked stone wall. I'm so happy to have these in the ground now, as last year they spent the winter on my deck in pots.

I had a few problems with pads rotting at the end of winter, but only those that were in contact with the soil -- the "child" pads up in the air were all fine. I expect that the soil in the pots just got too wet, something I'm hoping to avoid this year.


Tiny new garden

Last weekend when I was planting the sale plants that I had just bought, I noticed that one of the Clematis had a few extra plants in the pot.

Not the typical weeds either -- these were healthy mosses and liverworts!


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