Sunday, January 24, 2010

Garden Rainbows

Rebecca at In the Garden, whose blog I just found today, challenged readers to create a garden rainbow to help us get through the winter. Like Rebecca, I enjoyed the excuse to sort through my garden photos from the last year. I must really have spring on my mind, since the pictures below are from March (1), May (4), June (1), and only one from fall (November). Here goes:
Red: My one dahlia, didn't even think of blooming until November.

Orange: Asclepias tuberosa, blooming in June

Yellow: Oenothera missouriensis, Missouri primrose, blooming in May. There is nothing in the world more yellow than this flower.

Green: Peas are my favorite edible sign of spring.

Blue: Sisyrinchium angustifolium - Blue-eyed grass blooming in May.

Indigo: I admit to not really knowing what indigo looks like. But this Baptisia australis, blooming in May, is called False Indigo. So it must be indigo.

Violet: a Hellebore that I hope to see blooming again very soon!

Snow? Still?

Remember the "Snowpocalypse" that covered the mid-Atlantic in December, dumping 2 feet of snow on my yard?

Well, despite many days of temps in the 50s, and a few days of solid rain, some of the snow persisted. And persisited. Four weeks later (a week ago), there was still snow in my yard. Unheard of here in Virginia!

Ok, so the snow in the picture above is from where we piled all of the snow from clearing the driveway. It was really packed, so I'm not surprised it lasted a while, especially in a partly shaded area. And yes, on the left side it is covering that rudimentary compost pile I intended to move in in early December. But the snow in the next picture was completely untouched, virgin snow. It still covered an entire perennial bed bordering my patio (where, btw, I grow sun-loving plants). I can't figure this one out.

Both of those pictures were taken a week ago, but I never got around to posting them. All of that snow is now gone. To make this post more current, here's a picture I took today, five weeks after the snow:
I wouldn't normally show off the trashy little space between my garage and the neighbor's fence, but in this case I just had to. FIVE WEEKS, and there's still snow!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yard Art

I'd never been fond of "yard art". Random, non-organic things have no place in a garden. At least that was my belief for a long time. Over the last year or so, I've become more tolerant of it, even appreciating the strategically placed obelisk or urn to add another dimension to the garden. I still have no use for gazing balls, gnomes, or critters. And neither does my mother.

So when, after I'd helped my parents clear out an overgrown patch of their Florida Keys yard, my mother said she thought she'd like a stone turtle to sit there, I balked. She couldn't be serious. But she was. Well, I figured the best way to handle this was to shop for one myself, maybe find something that looked more like a rock than a turtle.

It turns out turtles are not the most common of yard decorations. Now, if you want frogs or toads there is quite a selection. Or birds. I actually saw some cranes I wouldn't mind in my own yard. If I lived in a place where cranes occurred naturally, that is. But turtles were rather scarce.

I found this horribly cutesy reason-I-hate-yard-ornaments thing:

A turtle that doubles as a solar light:

A Trio of Tiny Turtles (about 2" high!):

Then, finally, a tasteful mosaic turtle:

From It's really cute. I'd have bought it in a minute if I'd been looking for a turtle for Mom's Massachusetts home. But I've never seen a box turtle in the Florida Keys. Mom needed a sea turtle.

Finally, venturing away from stone, I found it. A cast aluminum sea turtle:

It's available from several retailers. I bought Mom's from It, and Mom, arrived in the Keys yesterday. I hope she'll send a picture of it in place guarding the front steps. For now, it's hanging out on the dining table:

Thus ends my foray into yard ornaments. For now.

disclaimer: I do have one pink flamingo in my yard. It came with the house, and I didn't have the heart to trash it. But it is well-hidden (except in winter) by some tall sedum.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Life of a Loofah

In the fall of 2008 I read about growing loofah, or luffa gourds. That sounded like a neat garden experiment that might even produce some home-grown gifts. So I started planning for spring. Here's what happened:

In March, I started seeds of Luffa cylindrica indoors. Here are the seedlings April 25th, just before I planted them out.

I hung some trellis netting from the garage roof for the vines to climb. Thanks to a very cold and wet spring of 2009, the luffa didn't do much for a while. Two months later, the plants were barely taller than my little Easter lilies:

The stunted growth would be important later. Things warmed up in July, and the vines finally started climbing.(apologies for the bad picture, I had to do some serious cropping) Looks like they also needed water!

At the end of July, I finally had a flower. One flower, and it was male. It would be another few weeks before I saw a female flower. Would there be time for the slow-growing luffa fruit to develop?

Out of four luffa plants, I got 8 luffa gourds. Here are some on the vines at the end of October. Not ripe yet:

I'd hoped the long fall without a frost would extend the growing season enough to make up for the slow start in the spring. But I think it was too cold, and the gourds never did ripen. I finally harvested the first one in mid-November and the rest over the following month. Here's my first luffa:

Now, what to do with it? In order to turn this zucchini-looking gourd into something useful, it must be peeled, washed, and dried.

Peeling the luffa:

Hanging up to dry after washing with a hose:

Look at those nice fibers! Not too bad for one that wasn't ripe yet.

Now what to do with it? The basic luffa can be cut into sections and strung on a rope for use in the shower. I opened up several of the luffas and removed the inner fibrous core so I would have some flat material to work with. I also extracted all those pesky seeds that didn't come out whith the washing. If the luffa had been ripe, the seeds would have been black, and I'd be able to save them for next year. But that was not to be with my luffas - I was left with white, unviable seeds.

I folded over the flat luffa pieces and sewed around the edges to make scrubby cloths for the shower. I put some of the small luffa pieces in decorative soaps. Some of the inner cores I shredded and added to soaps for some extra exfoliation, and the remaining cores I sewed into coils for use as kitchen scrubbies. Xmas gifts for the whole family! Here are some examples of the finished products:

This was a fun year-long project, but I probably won't grow luffa again next year. Cleaning and preparing the luffa was a lot more work than I expected, and had to be done at the wrong time of the year. I'd planned to make the gifts in October, but because I was waiting for the luffa to never ripen, I was still processing these things on Christmas Eve! And while one luffa Xmas was a fun novelty, I think my family would appreciate some variety in their gifts next year.
Any suggestions for a garden experiment for 2010?