May 092012

The lovely weedpatch we have cultivated.

There are numerous areas of my garden which require attention. This weekend I tackled one.

Sometimes it helps me stay motivated to break down a complex task into defined steps and track my project in a before and after. So while this post is really for me, I thought it might be helpful to someone else as well.

Step One. Survey the Situation.

Weeds. Check.
Lack of “real” plants. Check.

Step Two. Weed. A lot!

The enormous weed pile.

Step Three. Amend clay soil.

Adding sand and topsoil to the clay.

Clay soil is the bane of most Virginia gardeners. It’s thick and heavy when it’s wet and it dries rock solid. Most things don’t grow in it so you have to add a little sand and some “real” soil or organic matter like manure or compost. I recently met a soil scientist who informed me that, contrary to common belief, you can permanently fix clay soil in your garden by digging it up and amending it with sand and organic materials. It’s just that you have to do it five times(!) before it takes. I have yet to meet someone willing to dig up their entire garden five times so the rest of us just dig it up and amend in spots as we plant.

Step Four. Plant

"Real" plants

I borrowed liriope from the enormous quantity we have in our front flower beds so I got my edging for free. And you know the story now of the rescued Ruby Spice Clethra so that was “free” in a sense too.

Step Five. Mulch

Mulching completes the transformation.

I have learned to like mulching. It is kind of like painting. It finishes off the garden and gives the planting area an organized look.


 Posted by on May 9, 2012 General Tagged with: ,
May 092012

The Clethra last summer in its glory at the nursery.

Know any funny stories about gardening? No? I didn’t either until this weekend. Gardening seems a sort of meditative, serious type of practice but I have found there is a lot of humor in it too.

Take for example, my recent experience with the Ruby Spice Clethra, (which just happens to be a native plant to the eastern U.S.) and is supposed to be a great plant for attracting butterflies.

Last year, I bought one on discount in the middle of summer to fill a spot near my front door. It had a few blooms as I recall and then didn’t do much. Early this spring, I looked at it and it was just a bunch of brown sticks.

“Oh great! I killed it.”

I dragged it off into the woods near our home to compost. I ended up ordering some more Ruby Spice Clethra online this year to put in my garden.

Imagine my surprise when I opened a package from one of the plant growers and found this:

The "stick" Clethra

It looked like a stick in a pot. Now, I have learned not to be surprised at what plants look like when you order by mail. Just the other day, I received this to plant (and yes, it did grow!):

Forget-Me-Not roots

So, after a while of sitting near the window in my kitchen waiting to go outside, suddenly leaves appeared on the “sticks”!

Sprouting sticks!

This development for some reason triggered memories of my Clethra hauled to the woods. Just for fun, I thought I would go check to see if it was still there.

Sure enough, there it was (with the plastic plant tag still on it).

Clethra abandoned in the woods

It was still potbound and stood up on its own. Would you believe it was sprouting leaves?

Rescued Clethra

So, of course, I had to put this survivor back in the garden!

Clethra survivor in its new home.

Around here, we like our plants practically iron clad!

During this whole incident, I could only remember the famous Monty Python “Bring Out Your Dead” sketch with the classic line: “I’m not dead yet!”

I know of at least one other plant with a Monty Python problem.

In the parking area of our local shopping center earlier this spring, there were all of these odd and pathetic-looking stumps.  Someone really pruned them back hard to just twigs sticking out of the ground.

“What happened to those trees?

Those have been pruned so hard

they are surely dead.”

I predicted.

Yet, in another Lazarus moment, a few weeks ago they were sprouting leaves!

"I'm not dead!" The resilient shopping center tree.

While I am still an authority on killing plants, I apparently have lost my privileges as a plant coroner.

Know a resilient plant? Have a humorous gardening tale? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on May 9, 2012 Ruly Humor Tagged with: , ,
May 042012

Azalea bush in full bloom. One of the many "busy" inhabitants of our garden.

Lately around our house we have an abundance of life. We have huge azaleas, rhododenrons and peonies in an overwhelming, almost desperate, bloom.

Rhododendron burdened with enormous blooms.

Red peony. A new addition from last year.

Blood red peony. Too amazing for words.

This week, I was taking out the garbage one evening and in the short walk out the back door to the garbage can, a lizard scurried under the steps, large moths were fluttering in the darkness and a frog hopped out of the way of my path to rest on our garden hose. After dumping the trash, I caught something out of the corner of my eye near my foot. As I stooped to inspect, I found a large brown spider carrying an egg sac!

It felt like these creatures were saying to me:

Move it, lady! Can’t you see we’re busy?!

It made me stop to realize how important this time of year is for almost every other life form. Whether they survive next year depends on what happens right now.

It’s the kind of realization that makes you feel very small . . . and a bit claustrophobic too!

 Posted by on May 4, 2012 General Tagged with: ,
May 042012

A clever, customizable marker to distinguish the plants from the weeds in my garden.

In my garden, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the small plants that are still getting established and the weeds! To both help myself and clarify the situation for visitors, I wanted to create some plant markers that would be both functional and beautiful.

Punched metal has both a beautiful look and a durability that works well for outdoor use. I found an inexpensive set of metal alphabet punches at Harbor Freight Tools (that you saw in my Easter basket).

When I was browsing online for punch sets, I saw a comment on from a woman who said she used the punches to punch thrift store silverware and mark plants in her garden. Putting a few spoons and knives in the garden appealed to my sense of whimsy.

So, I tried the punches on a dollar store knife.

Attempting to punch a knife.

Unfortunately, the result was less than impressive and the punches barely scratched the surface. So, I tried again with a softer metal, a section of an aluminum can. The recycling aspect of this appealed to me.

Attempt #2: aluminum can

This time, I had success but the punch did not drive as deeply as I would have liked and it took a lot of effort to get it to work.

Punched results on aluminum can

So, I moved on to Plan C, which was to test a piece of aluminum tape I found at the hardware store. This tape is essentially like a heavy-duty piece of aluminum foil with adhesive on the back.

This time, I got the results I wanted!

Success! The punched tape.

The tape is also easier to work with and avoids the risk of injuring someone like the sharp edges of the aluminum can strips.

Once the tape section is punched, remove the backing:

and fold the tape onto itself.

With a sewing needle, punch a small hole in the top.

So, I had this cute little sign with a hole in it but no way to put it in the ground! After some brainstorming with my husband, I came up with using some of our jumbo size paperclip stockpile.

Straighten the larger loop of the paper clip.

Then, straighten the smaller loop of the paper clip, thread your sign halway down the short paper clip end and bend the paper clip in a small loop to secure.

You could leave it like this, but I was worried my children would hurt themselves on the pointy top of the sign (or that I would gouge myself on it while weeding) so I used pliers to bend it into a loop.

These little signs are fun and easy to make, inexpensive and easily customizable. You can punch anything you like and just cut the tape to fit. Up to 50 yards if you really wanted to! You could put the Latin and common names, care instructions, date planted, etc. A file label for the garden!

Happy punching!

 Posted by on May 4, 2012 General Tagged with: ,
May 012012

Spring blooms continue . . . rhododendrons!

If you are surprised that today is the first day of May (May!), join the club! April for us was jam-packed and flew by altogether too fast. Easter, Spring Break, dog sitting, boom, end of the month! Sadly, I am nowhere near done with what I needed to get accomplished in April. I have more things to do and say about my gardening and outdoor efforts. I still have plants sitting in my kitchen sink awaiting their permanent homes. I still have projects to try and tell you about.

I can’t control time, except in the context of this website, so I am going to grant myself a Ruly extension into May! I will continue on with the gardening efforts and we will weave in a few other fun things as well.

If you have noticed my hiccups in posting this month, I apologize. In addition to the special events calendar, I have another excuse . . .

We’re remodeling!

It’s “just” the master bathroom but this being my first ever major remodeling project it is taking a lot of my time and energy to organize all the logistics. Yes, it is an indulgence to get a brand new master bathroom but we’ve earned it, literally! We have been in our house for 9 years now and dutifully saving up to remodel (since our household policy is that remodeling expenses should be paid in cash). If you have been reading my blog since the beginning, you have seen all the ways we have tried to save money, from eating at home, to saving on holiday clothes for our children, to putting in the elbow grease to refinish old patio furniture, and scrub the playroom clean.

So, finally we have arrived at a reward point! Remodeling gets expensive very quickly so we still have to watch expenses and make sure we stay in our budget. We are really looking forward to the results. I am sure the remodeling process will cause further hiccups in my posting schedule in the future but please hang with me.

In April, I did make a little progress in the garden and shared the following posts:

I received some wonderful comments this month on these posts. My native plants status post earned a retweet from the grande dame of DC gardening, editor of Washington Gardener magazine (and one of the most generous Tweeters out there), Kathy Jentz

as well as from Martha of The Soil Toil, who has an amazing DC gardening blog

and Roland Park Native who promotes use of native plants in the Baltimore area and compiles a native plant daily from stories found on Twitter.

My “slate” patio makeover picked up several comments, including a kind comment from Alison Rice of “L is for Latte” (who is currently blogging about her house selling and moving adventures)

and diadia, my devoted reader who hilariously commented:

“Amazing & inspirational–only a chemist w/JD/MBA could detail this accomplishment. Where is the editor of Architectural Digest?”

And the best compliment of all. . . Behr Paint gave me a compliment when I shared the project on Twitter.

Sometimes in the blogging world, it is not about getting the most comments but the right ones. This month’s comments certainly gave me a big boost and I thank everyone for taking time to put your thoughts here.  I do read each and every comment.

On the lighter/personal side, I posted a few tidbits of our life:

The Easter dresses have been fun. I ended up making a third dress from the leftover fabric for my niece and we learned through extensive testing that a) this design is perfect for playing “horse.” and b) this quasi-outdoor fabric holds up tremendously well to a dip in the ocean.

We also took the dresses to the ballet this past weekend, paired with a ballet sweater for the chilly, rainy weather and the girls received many compliments.

The Easter dresses also worked well for a spring ballet with a ballet wrap top and silver sandals.

The ballet itself was an organizing marvel. It was a joint affair between the Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Ballet centered around the theme of the American West. The symphony members wore bandanas, plaid shirts, belt buckles and cowboy hats. They played music synonymous with Western culture and movies, including the William Tell overture. Interspersed with the music were wonderful dance pieces, including Agnes de Mille’s delightful “Rodeo” and a children’s piece involving students from the public school system. It was one of those moments where you just sit and feel lucky to witness such creativity and beauty.

Elsewhere on the web . .

Artist (and Ruly character creator) Angie Jordan, had an event with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra doing live illustration of Babar the elephant! So wish I could have seen this one!

It was Earth Day on Sunday, April 22nd and alas, I didn’t find the time to note the occasion. I did get pitched with several blog stories that sounded interesting and so I am passing them on:

  • Vegucated – A new documentary film called “Vegucated” debuted that profiles 3 people who take up the challenge to eat vegan for 6 weeks. While I am not vegan, it does sound interesting to learn more about what these people end up eating without meat, dairy or any animal products in their diet.
  • Precycling – Organizing expert Barry Dennis just published a new book on decluttering. He pitched organizing as an earth-friendly activity that counts as “precycling.” What is precyling? “That’s when you return precious resources to the earth by not buying the product in the first place.”
  • Irrigation – Consumer expert Andrea Woroch shared 22 tips on how to go green for Earth Day. One of them is particularly important for this month’s gardening theme: “7. Use an irrigation controller to manage watering. 20 to 50 percent of your water use goes toward the landscape, even more in certain areas of the country. Invest in a controller to schedule irrigation to reduce overwatering.” We all need to think carefully about water use when we are putting any plants in our garden. My personal strategy has been to just see what lives given the sunshine and water that we have available but I will have to water some of the newer plants I will be planting.
  • Little Green – Apartment Therapy also compiled several Etsy seller tiny container garden creations that would work in any space. Gardening meets art!

Hope you are also enjoying your garden and the outdoors at this time of year!

 Posted by on May 1, 2012 Monthly Recap Tagged with: , ,