I read a lot of gardening books, and though most have something to offer, many just cover the same old ground in one way or another. So I was happy to find a copy of Michele Owens’ book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Wealthy, and Wise, at the library recently. It was a rainy, cold weekend and I’d heard good things about the book, so I planned on curling up on the couch with it, and a couple of others I picked out. As it turned out, those other books just lay there unopened on the coffee table because I couldn’t put Owens’ book down until I finished it.
If you’re not familiar with Michele Owens’ garden writing for Organic Gardening and other magazines, you can get a good understanding of who she is and what she believes in by checking out her blog posts on Garden Rant, which she founded a few years back with a handful of similarly smart, funny and straight-talking garden writers. As a former political speech writer and author of several best-selling business books, Owens is keenly aware of the need to do her research before writing and throughout the book she cites the work of many horticulturists, ecologists, microbiologists and others. But all these facts do not a snoozy tome make because she is adept at interweaving studies, facts and figures with her own passionate commentary as an experienced gardener who loves plants, nature and growing vegetables.
Because she’s married to a journalist who covers climate change, Owens gets a dinnertime update on just how much stress our warming world is putting on agriculture all over the world. This understanding, coupled with a love of good, healthy food, drives her to motivate people, everyone, not just gardeners, to grow at least some food in their own backyards. Sure, that will help relieve some pressure on the world’s food supply, she writes. But growing things to eat is also just a joyful, uplifting thing to do; just ask anyone who has ever grown even one tomato plant in a pot on a balcony or back patio. There really is nothing like being able to walk outside and pick something you’ve grown yourself and pop it in your mouth, or serve it up for dinner.Read More»
A few readers have emailed lately asking if I think it’s okay to just take a few seeds from plants in people’s gardens, or if I think they should ask first. It’s a good question, and one every gardener grapples with, I imagine. I admit that I have gathered a few seeds here and there from other people’s gardens. I didn’t go up into their yards or anything. But if a plant I liked was in a boulevard garden, or poking out of a fence or over a wall, I’d take a few seeds if it seemed like there were a lot to go around. I didn’t think much about this, probably because I wouldn’t mind if people took seeds from my gardens, at least not the ones that are accessible from the sidewalk.
But then the issue came up on our Master Gardener listserv, and I got those emails I mentioned from readers, and I realized that a lot of people consider taking seeds from other people’s plants a horrible thing to do. “It’s stealing,” one gardener wrote on our listserv. And many others agreed. Of course I see their point. And even though we stealers only take a few seeds, what if everyone who came along did that? What if the plant was special, maybe an heirloom grown by the gardener’s grandma and each year’s seeds were a precious treasure to be shared with family members?
I’ve thought about all of these things and decided that I won’t ever take seeds without asking again. But this doesn’t change the fact that I would be happy to share seeds from my own gardens, and I’m fine with people taking them without asking as long as you don’t venture into the yard and frighten our scared-of-everything dog, Lily. This whole thing has got me thinking about ways to share. I could put up a sign on the boulevard next season saying “Please feel free to take seeds from the boulevard gardens!” We live on a corner lot, so there are a lot of plants to choose from out there.
But I’m not sure how to let people know they’re welcome to seeds from plants inside the fence, too. We just need to know you’re coming so we can put Lily in the house. If you live around here, and you’re reading this, just email or call and we’ll tell you to come on over. For passersby, though, I obviously need a better system. I’m wondering if there’s a good a way to join up with other gardeners in the area to start a Little Free Seed Bank, modeled after the Little Free Library boxes that are popping up all over the place. If you haven’t seen these, homeowners, businesses, anyone who wants to, really, can give money to the program and get their own birdhouse-like box to stock with books that people can take and read for free. Take a book, leave a book, that’s the idea, and from what I can tell, it’s working beautifully.
Maybe there’s a way to do something like this with seeds, too. I threw this idea out to readers of my Everyday Gardener column in our local paper, The Southwest Journal, and several people emailed to say they’d be interested in working with me on trying to get a seed sharing plan off the ground next year. If you’re a local reader and you’re interested, too, please email and let me know. If you’re not local, but you like the idea and would like to know what we dream up, just email and I’ll keep in touch.
And, if you have a minute, I would also love to know what you think about sharing seeds in general. Would you be happy to share seeds from your garden with others? Would you want people to ask before they took seeds? Do you think it’s stealing to take a few seeds from people’s gardens without asking?
I’ve nearly finished putting the gardens to bed for the winter. As I worked, I actually did go through with my pledge to rip out all those diseased coneflowers and phlox that have been limping along in agony for years. Aster yellows, powdery mildew; I’m as tired of looking at that ick as they are of having it. So they’re out of their misery now, and so am I.
The upside is, I get to buy new plants next spring to take their places. I can live without coneflowers, but I would miss phlox in the garden. So I hunted around for some truly standout mildew-resistant varieties. Below is some information on the ones that got the best reviews from fellow master gardeners and local garden designers.
Phlox Flame™ Series: The naturally dwarf cultivars in the Flame series have outstanding mildew resistance. Available in a wide array of colors, these phlox have an attractive bushy habit that’s nicer looking than that of other phlox varieties. Zones 3 – 8.Read More»
Okay, this is absolutely anecdotal and unscientific, but I’m going to go ahead and say that I think orchids love bathrooms. It must be the humidity from the shower because I’ve grown orchids for years, and they’ve never looked as lush and beautiful as they have since I moved them all to a shelf in the bathroom. Orchids are on my mind right now because it’s the time of year when they are putting out new growth that will soon be blooming and, so far, my fertilizing regimen seems to have paid off.
My orchids didn’t get the best start in life, so it’s no wonder they’ve struggled over the years. Purchased on sale at the grocery store, found abandoned on curbs and plucked from end-of-the-season tables at big-box stores, these orchids are not the Best In Show sort. But, having brought them home, I’ve felt duty-bound to try to do the best by them that I can.
Though they look delicate and elegant to the point of being unreal, it’s honestly not that hard to grow orchids if you pick the right ones and follow a few simple tips. Phalaenopsis, or the moth orchid, are probably the easiest ones to grow. And now that orchids are sold everywhere, it seems, you can find them really easily. When you get home, put your moth orchid in a sunny east, west or shaded south window (perhaps in the bathroom?) out of direct sunlight. Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids are also easy to grow, so check out your plant tags before you buy.
Water when the mix is nearly dry, usually every four to seven days. Fertilizer is the key to getting orchids to rebloom, so be sure to fertilize every week when your orchids are starting to put out new growth as they head into the growing season. Back off to once every other week or even once a month after they’re finished blooming and are ready for a rest. Orchids bloom and rest, bloom and rest, so don’t be alarmed when those beautiful store-bought blooms fade away. Just cut off the spent stalk and keep watering and fertilizing.
You’ll find plenty of orchid fertilizers out there, but any houseplant fertilizer will do. When you feed your orchids, dilute the amount of fertilizer you use to a quarter of what the label recommends. You can always beef up your mixture a bit if you don’t get the growth you should.
Orchids do best in environments with reasonable humidity. So if it’s dry in your house, group your orchid pots on top of a tray filled with pebbles. Keep the water level low enough that the potting mix doesn’t get wet. Or, that’s right, grow them in the bathroom!
We ripped out our lawn over the last few years, and we don’t miss it one bit. Sparse and full of creeping Charlie and other weeds, it was ugly even before our dog Lily peed all over it and killed off spots one by one. I do realize, though, that a lot of people like turf grass and, even if they don’t, they’re not keen on ripping all of it up to put in gardens that they have to care for.
But what to do about all of those weeds? The truth is, if grass gets enough sun and is kept well-watered (about an inch each week); mowed to a slightly higher height of about 3 inches, which helps shade out weeds; and fertilized even once each year, it will grow fairly well and suffer few weed and disease problems. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the difference these simple things can make, so they hire lawn care services to come and keep their yards looking good.
Having observed these services in action all over my neighborhood, I have to say, the results aren’t so hot. Trucks show up, guys jump out, and they promptly mow the grass right down to the nub. Then, they douse the scalped grass with all kinds of chemicals, including herbicides that usually contain 2,4-D. Popular because it’s cheap and easy to use, 2,4-D was concocted by scientists during World War II. It was one of the components of Agent Orange. And it is effective when it comes to killing things like clover, thistle and creeping Charlie, but it has remained controversial since it was released for public use in 1946.
Though the EPA says there is not enough data to conclude that the herbicide may pose some cancer risk, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified 2,4-D as being a substance that may cause cancer in humans. Studies are divided on both sides with many scientists being of the opinion that 2,4-D may be carcinogenic, particularly in the case of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Even when these chemicals have dried, there is debate about when it is safe to come in contact with grass that has been treated with the herbicide. (You know how often you see those signs warning people and pets to stay off the grass until dry.)Read More»