Welcome 2014… winter seed sowing

Remember this idea I referred to last Mother’s Day? I had first seen it on Pinterest, and then tracked it back to this blog. In general, Kevin Lee Jacobs describes creating miniature greenhouses in reused plastic milk jugs. He also attributes the idea back to Trudi Davidoff. Thanks, Kevin!

We started saving our gallon milk jugs in the fall. It seems we’re always nearly out of milk, so I was really surprised that it took several months to accumulate 24 jugs. When they were emptied, we rinsed them out so as not to be too heinous-smelling come winter. Using Kevin’s directions, we cut them in half with a knife (kind of time consuming), leaving about 1″ hinge. KP used a drill to create the drainage holes in the jugs. We then used big tubs and put drainage holes in those too.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

I filled each with 3-4 inches of seed-starting soil, and then sprinkled a healthy amount of seed into each little bed. After covering the seed with about another inch of soil and dampening with water, I quickly (!) labeled each one with the plant, species, and date of planting.

For the first batch – 12 jugs, I used 3 different kinds of celery (from Rare Seeds), two colors of cleome (collected from the uni), white nicotiana (seed from Lynch’s), two kinds of beans (leftover from the summer’s failure planting), and asclepsia collected from my garden. KP was most assured that we didn’t need to duct tape them as Kevin had instructed. Since we didn’t have any duct tape on hand, I went a long with it :).

Wouldn’t you know those damn raccoon varmints got in the seed and just mucked things up! Needless to say, there were beans all over the deck and in the asclpsia jug, and dirt every-where. I should know better! Remember this?

So, then we went to get duct tape. All that was available at the grocery store was day-glo PINK. See all the dirt mess inside the tub? Amazingly, as soon as the jugs were taped, I could FEEL the temperature difference between the air outside the jug compared to the air inside the jug!


Varmint-proofing the jugs

Varmint-proofing the jugs

…and here they are, all “varmint-proofed”. Twelve jugs are starting, and when I’m back at the garden, I’ve got at least 12 more ready to go! …very exciting and I have visions of sharing lots of baby plants in the early spring.

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing


Review of 2013

The gardening season started with a total re-do of the brick. Thanks to some friendly donations of newspaper, the walkways turned out great with hardly any weedage seeping through the cracks! At the end of the season, the height and spacing appear to have made it through quite nicely. Here’s a pic just following the major leaf clean-up just before Thanksgiving:

Garden “bones” exposed

And so it is the happiest moment when the beds are put to sleep. Richly productive manure wraps each bed in a protective, nutritious layer. Thanks to Jerry and Gail at North Shore Equestrian Center for the black gold!

In reviewing goals I had set out in early June,

Goal 1: creating a stronger visual barrier between the quad and the fence on the south side of the quadrant.

Before view of the south perimeter.

Before view of the south perimeter.

(look past the lovely Crocosmia and red tomato cages, dear Reader!) Work here was tough. Both KP and I were stung by nettles that had sprouted there! Ouch, ouch baby. Not only was it treacherous, but it was also major ugly. It resulted in uninspired photography. Here is one distant capture of the area with joe pye weed and hypericum.

Southern Border (under development)

Southern Border (under development)

With the close of the season, though, KP got a yen to clean out some vines and pesky locusts. Look forward to next season when I can fill in even more desired plantings that aren’t too tall. We want to preserve the view across the channel in hopes of having a viewing platform. Or, since it’s all fantastical at this point, a hot tub.

Goal 2: creating sequential and continual interest throughout the summer.


HD caladium


Dahlia success!

This year was better than previous. I believe the antidote was cutting some stuff back after blooming and filling in with later blooming annuals. Of particular note, loved the Catharanthus roseus (aka Vinca) so I must be sure to look for it next season. The two versions of Caladium were absolutely awesome and 100% worth the few bucks HD charged. Here’s one version (left). These dahlia (right) I picked up from the local nursery, also from a bag, were awesome. No idea (unfortunately) as to the varietal name. The photo on the package also indicated this was more of an orange-ish red, but grew to be a brilliant brick red.

Goal 3: I wanted to do less maintenance along the perimeter and front of house; move detail work to quad so that more of my time and attention is focused on plant maintenance in the quad. The outcome? I did less in those peripheral areas, simply because I didn’t have the time or energy. Essentially, I just ignored them. But with guilt. Some unseasonable weather had given me two sunny days in the 50s so I was able to rake and tidy the nautilus and the south border bed.

What didn’t do so well ?

  • The anemone didn’t do so well, but that may be because it is year 1. The purple “Mr. Fokker” came up white. Hope springs eternal for better blooms next season!
  • One practice I don’t want to repeat for next season is salvia in the quandrant. I edged the southern end of the quadrant with this tall beauty. You may recall the tiny babies (left) that grew huge and attracted many bees. It was a bit intimidating to walk through the gauntlet of nectar-collecting bees! No one was stung, but the size and magnitude of the salvia probably contributed to the tomato delay. Since the picture on the right, I’ve cut them back and mulched them. If any of the plants overwinter, I’ll move them to the perimeter.
Salvia "indigo spires"

Salvia “indigo spires” Memorial Day weekend


Salvia “indigo spires” -late September

  • In mid May, I sowed directly two varieties of carrots and beans around a configured repurposed trellis. The beans were failures. Only one trailer ever reached the top of the trellis and bloomed. The carrots didn’t need the shaded, protected area I created by the lean-to’s. They too (like the tomatoes) didn’t produce fruit until late September. The Atomic red’s were somewhat disappointing but the Amarillo yellow’s were quite profuse. As directed on the seed packet, I planted a smattering late in the summer. I’ll check to see if they’ve matured and been fruitful when we’re back in Southampton.
Amarillo carrots

Amarillo carrots

Tomatoes, September 22

Tomatoes, September 22

      • The tomatoes suffered from their late start. Almost exactly around mid-September, I noticed that the tomatoes were all of a sudden growing differently. I believe that because the sun was lowering, the tomato plants were missing the early morning sun, and then had to compete with the salvia for the afternoon sun. I didn’t see green fruit until late August, and no ripe fruit until late September. By that time, it was getting too late in the season for any profusion. While I neglected taking photos of the ripe fruit (drats!), the tomatoes were beautiful and very, very tasty. Here’s some shots of their evolution:

P.S… The tomato cages from Gardener.com lived up to their advertising. I didn’t have to tie any plants to the cages, and they cleaned up so nicely at the end of the season. Easy squeezy.

Tomato plants in August

Tomato plants in August

      • The celery seeds and the celery seedling plants I bought were a disappointment. The seedlings I started didn’t survive, and the seedlings seemed a bit deformed. Out of a full flat, only 4-5 survived the early fall. I’m now wondering if their proximity to the hellebores caused that (given the density of anti-freeze the hellebores produces, maybe?)
Sad celery

Sad celery

Perhaps the annual and perennial lessons gardening teaches is to look to future seasons for future successes. It is with those hopes in mind that I first offer thanks to all friends and neighbors who contribute to my happy gardening experience. With love and peace to all,

Visitors who stay: Foo Man

We had thought this visitor was Shadow kitty, introduced here. The story is a bit sadder, I’m afraid. When trailerman moved, I suppose he couldn’t capture the poor soul and so left him behind, explaining why the cat looked scrappy and was always hungry.

I named him Foo Man a long time ago. While we were here full-time, this cat would hang out in the garden and seemed to have a Chinese-style beard that hung low. What I didn’t know then that we have since figured out is that Foo Man is deaf, the poor soul. We learned this by noting we could walk up on him while he was sleeping, making all kinds of noise on the approach. To wake him so he would move before being sprinkled or tossed off a cushion, I would touch him which would cause him to bolt several feet up in the air. Then we really started observing him, noting that while at rest, his ears do not move like cats’ ears tend to do while resting: twitching and moving in micro-directions as they track various sounds. I also began to notice he doesn’t pick up on KP’s approach until he sees him. Not our noisy back door nor our awkward human steps alert him, but rather he takes note by sight only.

In the ensuing weeks, KP took to feeding him. In time, he had Foo Man eating dry food from his hand, and then scratches and petting followed. Foo took longer to warm up to me. (My own fault; I used to startle him out of the garden. Zeke has first right of refusal, don’t cha think?) But this weekend, KP brought out a brush and we both did some grooming on him. (with much more needed!)

I’m glad he found us. I’m glad we can help. I’m not sure what we’ll do come winter. Here’s a happy Foo yesterday:


Felis silvestris catus “Foo Man”

Belles of the Midsummer Ball

Happy late summer. I’ve been busy caring for and watering lots which is a feeble excuse for not updating the garden’s progress. So, here goes…

These are plants that I actually look forward to each and every summer. First, the crocosmia…

Crocosmia "Lucifer"

Crocosmia “Lucifer”

My son picked this plant for me one mother’s day. Perfectly named for him during his early teen years (Lucifer), wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it was early in the season and the plant had not yet bloomed. But when it did, I fell in love.

This plant is so exotic and tropical looking, but it is perennial in this zone (zone 7ish). Hummingbirds LOVE this plant and so I’ve moved it several times to allow for them to visit and suckle from a vantage point we can watch without interference.  The plants are quite stately and do not require staking. Even after the blooms fade, the seed pods are architecturally interesting and stay strong from weeks afterward. Before the end of August, I will cut them back at the soil level, just to give other bloomers more space.

Since its introduction to the quadrant, I’ve added more (more is more, in this case!) by purchasing the bulb packets in early spring from HD. Must be careful though, because these cheaper packets aren’t always labeled with the specific color. Some of these packets have less red, orange-ish colors. KP’s Canon has difficulty with these intense colors, unlike my as-yet-to-materialize-Nikon-7100. But I took one of those shots and posterized it, and this view enables you to see crocosmia’s beautiful structure:

crocosmia "posterized"

crocosmia “posterized”

Absolutely, 100% in love with the Casa Blanca lilies…

Lilium "Casa Blanca"

Lilium “Casa Blanca” nearly ready to burst open

…and I didn’t know until this post that this species is part of the oriental lilies, like “Stargazer”. I always assumed it was part of the Hemerocallis family – a style of lily I always thought I preferred.

Lilium "Casa Blanca" in full bloom

Lilium “Casa Blanca” in full bloom

These show girls bloom every year in the last couple weeks of July, serenading quadrant parties with their fragrant wafts of perfume. Some find the fragrance cloying, but then again they’re not in the quadrant!

As you may have noted, these blooms become top-heavy very quickly and have to be staked. Here’s another shot in combination with plain ole fancy-red dahlia’s and the caladium:


Mid-summer is also a time when holes start appearing in the garden, hence the red dahlia. Behind it, I’ve since planted a deep purple “dinner plate” dahlia, which I’ll show you when it starts taking off.

Among other combo’s I’m enjoying this summer are the black-eyed Susans, with the sedum as pictured here:

Rudbeckia fulgida "Goldsturm" with sedum

Rudbeckia fulgida “Goldsturm” with sedum

This was moved to the quadrant, in accordance with LTEG 1 as noted here. Yes, I do take my garden planning very seriously 🙂 The rudbeckia is doing really well in the quadrant and the haphazardly placement among the slowly maturing sedum is making me happy.  BTW, this also satisfies LTEG 2, too, in that these two plants are coming into maturity just as the Alaskan poppy is dying out. It did leave space next to the roses, and so I’ve filled that in with a *NEW* (yes, NEW plant!) species – an annual vinca. Here’s a close-up of this hot coral color:

Catharanthus roseus "cora red"

Catharanthus roseus “cora red”

Absolutely love the little white eye in the center. Too bad these are annuals; must remember to adopt early next summer. To completely fill up the space, I also added some cosmos “Sonata Carmine.” They’re looking a bit ragged from the mid-summer on-sale bin, but hopefully they’ll perk up and add some color towards the end of the season.

What I’ve learned? Loving the hot colors: can’t have enough reds, oranges and magentas. Also, time to credit two sources: 1-a great online plant finder for the Latin names, and 2-KP for taking the photos.

Managing expectations

One achievement of a well-established garden is having a full, lush garden with constant interest throughout the season… or so that’s what my fantasy always said! I was looking for relief from feeling the need to have all the blank spaces filled with gorgeous foliage and color. Having always been on a budget, here are some of the ways I’ve been able to fill in spaces and provide interest without spending a bunch o’money.


Alcea rosea (hollyhock)

1. Growing from seed requires a bit more patience and planning. For example, here are the hollyhocks.  I have ‘Nigra’; the other is a pretty pink (as pictured).

Hollyhocks are biennial, and will bloom the second year only, in my experience. They self-seed, so after growing the first year, you can discard or move plant colors to a location that works for you. They are tall and well-behaved. These grew to be nearly 6’.  I’ll let the seed heads dry out and then replant in  another spot for blooms in 2015!

I do the  same to propagate Asclepias, butterfly milkweed. This is an important plant for monarch butterflies, and can be found alongside highways and roads. It is a protected plant in NY state. I have two varieties:


Asclepias curassavica

This is Asclepias curassavica or “red butterfly” which is taller than the other I have – Asclepias tuberosa. I let the plant die back and in the fall when the seed pods brown and split open, I replant the escaping seeds that have a winged feather attached to help disburse it. Once established, they’re perennial bloomers.

2. Another means is by purchasing packets of bulbs and tubers from places like HD. The caladium(s) (caladiae?) I planted earlier in the season are coming up. Very happy with how these are faring and will get more next year. The white and green ones would be especially nice. Inexpensive with in-season gratification for not a lot of cost or care. (P.S. This is how I have also built up my crocosmia collection too.

Caladium “bicolor” (don’t mind the garden ornament!)


Caladium “fancy”

3. By trading with friends and neighbors, you can propagate many species. The gooseneck loosestrife were gifted from another’s garden… the friend of a neighbor, actually. When in bloom and planted en masse, they are cheery and seem to bob their heads in unison when a breeze blows. A caution about this plant: it propagates like crazy and can be hard to control as it sends tubers out and will sprout up in shrubs and other plants.

Lysimachia clethroides "gooseneck loosestrife"

Lysimachia clethroides “gooseneck loosestrife”

Other plants I’ve received this way (and also shared in turn) are the irises that bloom in the spring: Two varieties from an aging neighbor who has now passed, and two smaller varieties from a dear artist friend.

Garden Visitors

Hello again! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. We went to South Africa for a couple of weeks in June, and our mutual employer has instituted some changes that have rocked our world, but the garden remains a tranquil anchor. And what a riotous blast of color and texture one can experience at this time. Until I have some pictures and a new post ready, I thought I would share some thoughts on some visitors we have.


Terrapene carolina

This box turtle was attracted by some watering I was doing. The markings on his shell are just gorgeous. He (why anthropomorphize with the male gender…hmmm) wandered in for a shower and a drink. KP chased the poor critter down to get this and many other shots. Here he is leaving the garden:

Another visitor of late is Shadow kitty from a neighbor’s house. Not sure of its gender; KP thinks its a “he” while I think it looks like a “she”. A very timid creature and always looking a little tousled, Shadow waits for us to place a little food outside and very gingerly accepts the gift.


Felis silvestris catus “Shadow”

Update! (July 28, 2013) We’ve seen civilizations of dragonflies this year, perhaps due to a wet early summer that launched a bunch of mozzies and nasty green flies. Thanks to the dragonflies, these pests have been controlled. We love them for their pest control abilities and tend to idolize them architecturally. But it wasn’t until I read this post that my esteem was equalized by respect. In the garden, they appear to spend time resting (!) while holding onto a plant or lighting upon a surface. Once on a surface, their wings fold down as if in rest.

Odonata Anisoptera

Odonata Anisoptera

Oh, the illusive hummingbird! Always attracted to the crocosmia, they are ever so difficult to capture in photo. You can barely see it in this shot, but it is a gift to be relaxing and visited by these amazing creatures.

Trochilidae "Green Violetear"

Trochilidae “Green Violetear”

Added later: After a rainy morning, I watched in complete astonishment as this little bird preened and stretched in the afternoon sunshine. I have absolutely never seen anything like it. He lifted his wings, shuddered, stretched, posed – it was like he was doing yoga. Naturally, the camera was no where nearby. Startled when I did get up to fetch the camera, I didn’t have to wait too long for its return. But, the bird was entirely aware of having the camera aimed at him and this is the best I could get:

Dumetella carolinensis "Grey Catbird"

Dumetella carolinensis “Grey Catbird”

Spring shoots leaving and moving

The end of spring is drawing near. It’s a wonderful time. A good garden dose has been distributed and yet there’s MORE. So much more to enjoy.

The end of spring is a deadline of sorts. By the start of the first day of summer, the general assumption is things had better be pretty set. No more moving of shrubs, planting of trees. There’s lots of time for heaving in of annuals, but if you’re a good gardener you’ll be wanting to have major tasks out of the way by summer soltice.

So I started thinking about my own progress with spring preparation goals. Most interesting when I reflected on this was that I did indeed have goals. Similarly surprising, I hadn’t yet articulated my goals for the spring. (blogworthy benefit)

Here are/were my goals for spring 2014:

Goal 1:   create a stronger visual barrier between the quad and the fence on the south side of the quadrant

Goal 2:   create areas with sequential and continual interest throughout the summer

Goal 3:   do less maintenance along the perimeter and front of house; move detail work to quad so that more of my time and attention is focused on plant maintenance in the quad.

Here’s what I did:

“Goal 1:   create a stronger visual barrier between the quad and the fence on the south side of the quadrant”

To do this, I moved the hypericum from the quad, north side, to new beds created adjacent to the fence. [note to self: add future post on creating new beds!] And I also started moving the Joe Pye weed from the south stretch to the most western south stretch. I added the hypericum from  the north side the quadrant to do two things – alleviate the constant trimming (hypericum can be a vigorous grower) and coax something with a smaller profile in that area for greater color exposure from the new room in the house.

(pic of new back beds not available)

“Goal 2:   create areas with sequential and continual interest throughout the summer”

To accomplish this, I purchased some bulbs from HD:

I planted Caladium underneath the Baptista. It will be shaded by then, I think, between the Crocosmia and Casablanca lilies (wait until you see these lilies)

I planted some anemone on either side of the walkway for section 4 and 3:

"section 3"

“section 3”

"section 4"

“section 4”

Can you see the red circle? Planted there and then in section 4 “The Bride” Anemone. Towards the extreme right in section 4 is Scarlet Flax. Here are snaps of the packaging:



Scarlet Flax

Scarlet Flax

Of course, I’ve already forgotten where I planted “Mr. Fokker”… I think in section 3 somewhere. I may have also missed the timing on the scarlet flax. Will watch and see what shakes out with that.

In case you’re wondering, the big leafed plant adjacent to the anemones in section 3 is hollyhock, a biennial. Started it from seed last year so we should see some gorgeous blooms this year.

Can’t do a garden without some lovely salvia to brighten up the late summer and fall. I planted indigo spires on both sides of the front of the quadrant, just behind the boxwood:

Salvia "indigo spires"

Goal 3:   do less maintenance along the perimeter and front of house; move detail work to quad so that more of my time and attention is focused on plant maintenance in the quad.

Long-term extended goal 1 is to move the plants requiring maintenance out of the perimeter gardens and into the quadrant, because that’s where I want to spend my time. So, the Joe Pye weed is migrating up to the north side of the yard to aid with establishing a perimeter. More pics to follow.

From seed, some of my favorite plants

Papaver orientale

Papaver orientale

Eschscholzia californica

Eschscholzia californica

Some of my greatest gardening achievements have resulted from haphazard seeding. These poppies, for example, are just majestic as they herald the new season in early June. So big and bold… and so well behaved. After blooming, the seed capsules stay big and strong for awhile. Then, the plant relapses into its dormant state until the next spring time, leaving room for other late summer bloomers.

Another poppy favorite that is as loyal and forgiving as “orientale” is Eschscholzia californica, or the California poppy.

There’s something so wonderfully alive and responsive about poppies. For instance, at night and during rain, the plant will fold its flowers to protect its pollen, I suppose. Both of these poppies have allowed me to move them (after blooming) and they continually return. Love them!

Poppies greeting the morning sun

Poppies greeting the morning sun

Review of World Events

Still working on updating the brickwork, walkway by walkway. Almost done! Here’s a little preview:


The process of lining the walkways with layers of newspaper appears to be working. This post describes the beginning. What I hadn’t expected was the tedious process of laying the sections out so they form a uniform base. BTW, re-doing the south walk, I realized why this works: the newspaper becomes a layer of paper mache!

What I also hadn’t anticipated is the review of world events that go into the mindless layering. For example, on the south walk underneath the brick are layers of stories on the Boston bombers, Alec Baldwin’s media blitz for “Orphans,” the 17-day survivor of the Bangladesh building collapse, and most recently, the little boy fleeing the carnage of another bombing in Kabul. I have no desire to join the world-is-moving-so-fast / TMI whining crowd, but I am aware of the impact of reviewing these stories, in the garden, and slowly.

My heart goes out to the scared children and those who suffer. While China is on a debt binge and Google and Apple continue their megalithic climbs for industry dominance, I quietly layer the news to buffer weeds and level my walkways. But not without sending out heartfelt wishes to those who cry and ache for an easier life. Thanks, J-J, for helping me gather the news.

Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds

I mentioned this seed company in an earlier post. Just learned of this WSJ article about their work. Here’s a description of the “heirloom” in Heirloom seeds from the WSJ article:

“Heirloom seeds are those that are passed down from generation to generation, are open-pollinated and aren’t patented or genetically modified. Every week, people from as far away as the Ukraine or as close as Appalachia send Mr. Gettle their own heirloom seeds, each with a story. Customers from St. Louis to Saudi Arabia buy the seeds for small farms, home gardens, schools and public gardens.”