Monday, December 30, 2013

Unexpected Winter Color

Here we are at the ass-end of the year, a time when much of the garden is dry sticks and sickly-looking yellowed leaves. It's times like these when a cluster of colorful evergreens would be a welcome sight from any window in the house. I don't actually have anything like that, but it would be nice. What I do have is a few scattered blue spruces and some tiny hollies. Yawn.

And then there are the 'Sweet Tea' heucherellas. Just a couple of colorful little blotches tucked away in an otherwise brown and crispy corner. Anyone who's been bitten by the hoochie bug knows that heucheras and heucherellas come in a rainbow of fantastic and surprising foliage colors. 'Sweet Tea' has dramatic dark veins and beautiful cinnamony orange colors in the summer. I picked up a couple of them from the Home Depot just when summer had given way to fall. The leaves were lovely then, with their spicy oranges, cidery yellows and peachy pinks contrasting with magenta undersides. You should have seen 'em ... but I didn't think to take pictures.

Then the weather really cooled down and most things in the garden started looking rather tattered and soggy. That's when 'Sweet Tea' took the opportunity to grab the spotlight and went totally and brilliantly ... red.

 What a delightful surprise! Now, in late December, these gorgeous little beasts are still dazzling in bright, bold reds and rich, raisiny burgundies. I'm so glad I thought to take pictures this time. Clearly, I'm going to be needing some more hoochies in my garden next year.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Notes on Quick-Drying Hydrangea Flowers

This post is a follow-up on the wreath of dried flowers that I made last month.

For anyone curious about drying flowers and maintaining them in a decorative arrangement, feel free to learn from my abecedarian experience. (Also, feel free to look up the word abecedarian, a fun little gem from Merriam-Webster.) As you may remember, I wired freshly cut hydrangea flowers to a wreath frame without first removing the leaves or going through the drying process. Feeling like a prize idiot, I then resorted to quick-drying the wreath, leaves and all, with a desiccant in a dark closet.

In my research I found that desiccants frequently used to dry flowers include silica gel crystals, a mixture of Borax and cornmeal, various cat litters, and calcium chloride. Being in a bit of a hurry, I chose the product that seemed to me the simplest to acquire and put to use. DampRid is a calcium chloride based product that is relatively cheap and required no mixing on my part. I didn't have to fill an entire box or bag with the stuff and I didn't have to risk crushing the flowers with the desiccant itself. Product reviews suggested that the DampRid hangers, which are meant for keeping closets fresh and dry, yielded faster results than the higher-capacity buckets from the same manufacturer. Also, it was convenient to have them hanging right up next to the wreath, which I clipped to trouser-hangers and hung upside-down from the closet rod.

I was pleasantly surprised that the quick-drying method worked. Otherwise, the wreath would have turned wilty and disgusting after a few days. That would have sucked.

Quick-Dry Timeline

Day 1: I cut the flowers, wired them to the wreath frame and hung the whole thing in a closet in the late evening.

Day 2: I bought the DampRid hangers and put 2 of them in the closet with the wreath.

Day 10: Nine days after harvesting the flowers, they were dry. The leaves had curled in the drying process and some of them weren't yet completely crispy. Good enough for me, though. The wreath went on the door. This is the day I took the pictures featured in the previous post.

Day 19: The front door is adequately shielded from the weather by the porch roof. Wet-hot days and late summer thunderstorms have not managed to damage the dried flowers. However, morning sunlight has bleached the subtle pinks and greens to ivory and the sunburned portions appear brown. If you want your flowers to retain their color, be sure to place them somewhere they will be protected from the sun's rays throughout the entire day. The following pictures are from Day 19.

So, I guess this means you don't have to wait until fall to harvest your hydrangeas for dried arrangements. I wonder how long the flowers would have held their colors if they had been protected from the sun. Krylon makes a clear UV-resistant aerosol spray that comes in glossy and matte. Perhaps it would be worth a try ...

Do you have a flower-drying experience to share? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rhapsody in Orange

Two weeks ago I cut a bunch of flower heads from my Phantom hydrangea and wired them to an 18" wreath frame. Then I realized that I should have removed the leaves and dried the flowers before assembling the wreath. Crap. So, I did some research (Hello, Internet!) and decided to try quick-drying the whole wreath in a closet with DampRid hangers. Ta-daa! Success. Check this shit out.

Those ivory, green, pale pink and rusty orange colors are the original summer colors of the flowers. They faded very little in the drying process. The leaves dried nicely, too. The rust color is from sunburn, but I like it. I think it works well against the terra cotta of the door. Meanwhile, the Phantom has flowered so prolifically that you wouldn't even know I'd removed some of the blooms.

In other news, the carving pumpkins are coloring up from yellow to orange and they have just begun to develop ribbing. They're not huge, but they are big enough to make into jack-o-lanterns. I'm so pleased that these two have made it this far. That's one for Flan and one for her man. We just love Halloween, and pumpkin carving is an important part of our traditional family festivities. Of course, if I don't get enough "meat" for baked goods out of the small sugar pumpkins, these two will end up being roasted and pureed instead! We can always buy pumpkins to carve, but homegrown pumpkins are so much better for eating than store-bought.

P.S. The powdery mildew was slowed to a crawl by my timely and thorough application of neem oil. I plan to administer a follow-up dose late this evening when there's no chance of leaf burn. Big thanks to the Green Light Company for this excellent product. None of my pumpkins were harmed. I'm gonna put that experience in the win column, especially since all the neighbors' pumpkin plants look worse off than mine. Sometimes it just feels good to see some evidence that your efforts are paying off.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Plant of Many Little Golden Fish

My goldfish plant has finally flowered!

This Nematanthus gregarius started out several years ago as a cutting only a few inches long. (Thanks, Mom!) The cutting was easily rooted in a glass of water and eventually transplanted into this hanging water hyacinth basket. It seems to enjoy its location over the kitchen sink. It gets all the light this east-facing window can offer. I water it regularly and it gets some humidity. Over the years it has grown plenty of glossy green foliage that trails over the edge of the basket (and into my face while I'm washing dishes), but it has never flowered for me. Not once.

So, what did I do differently to suddenly end up with all of these amusing goldfish-shaped blooms? All I know is, I've watered it deeply a few times this summer and I vaguely remember offering it a little fertilizer once. That's all that's changed. I guess the poor thing had been feeling neglected and just wanted a long drink and some food! Silly me. Now I know. I think our relationship will improve from here.

*GASP!* Gimme a drink!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The August Urn O' Green & Magenta

My First Serious Crack at Planting a Container

"Serious Crack" sounds like an oxymoron ... Anyway, this is written out as steps, but it's not exactly a how-to. It's really more of a here's-what-I-did. Skip down to the bottom of the post for a list of the plants that went into this container planting.

Step 1: Make your husband chase you around your local garden center with a cart full of plants, potting soil and an urn planter. This step will take a good hour or so and should involve lots of oohing-and-aahing to your husband, hemming-and-hawing to yourself, and back-and-forthing around the store with husband and cart in tow.

Step 2: Fork over lots of money for said goods (definitely enlisting the aid of Hubby's military discount and your birthday money from your grandmother).

Step 3: Thank Hubby profusely for his invaluable help and "patience," then pile everything into the car and when you get home drag it all back out again yourself. You don't want to push the poor man too far.

Step 4: The next day, don't get up at 5 AM, because that's just silly. Instead, wait 'til 6 and then take your sweet, sweet time drinking your coffee and reading your gardening magazines in the comfy chair with your huge, cuddly cat. Then cook up some bacon and eggs while you complain to yourself about how chilly it is in the house this morning.

Step 5: Now that it's around 8 AM and the sun is starting to cook your house, it must be the perfect time to do some manual labor while standing between the house and the sun. Let's get sweaty!

Step 6: Drill a drainage hole in the bottom of the urn. Good on you for remembering to do this step before filling up the container with stuff!

Step 7: Dump some rocks into the bottom of the (lightweight resin) urn to add weight for stability, to help with drainage, and to fill in some extra space that would otherwise be a waste of potting soil.

Step 8: Fill the urn two-thirds full with potting soil, plus lots of perlite because good drainage is important.

Step 9: Dump about 2 tablespoons of water crystals in there, 'cause it's flippin' hot this summer and you don't want to be out there watering this thing twice a day. Plus: over-watering protection! Speaking of watering, now you need to do so. Water the mixture thoroughly and watch the crystals expand! Wheee!

Step 10: Dear lord, are we at ten steps already? So that you can arrange and rearrange them until you're satisfied with the configuration, stick your new plants into the urn while they're still in their plastic nursery pots. Then surprise yourself by having arranged everything perfectly the first time. Photograph the arrangement from several angles and pat yourself on the back for being such a brilliant artist. You weren't really surprised, were you? Nah, I didn't think so.

Step 11: Take everything back out again. Well, just the plants. Not the soil and other stuff. Duh.

Step 12: Carry this message to other addicts ... Wait, no. Just ignore the step numbers.

Step 13: Starting with the tallest plant for the center of the arrangement, remove that sucker from its pot and loosen the rootball yadda yadda yadda. PUT IT IN THE URN.

Step 14: Here's where it gets tricky ...  PUT THE REST OF THE PLANTS IN THE URN, TOO.

Step 15: You get the idea. Really, the most difficult part is jamming that many plants into a 20" pot. I mean, you really have to jam them in there! ... But then it looks fabulous.

Step 16: WATER. Water until a big ol' puddle forms under the urn.

Step 17: Dust the dirt from the foliage and wipe down the urn. Set that mother out in the sunshine with the less sun-tolerant plants facing roughly northeast. Admire. Take more photographs of your fantastic creation. It really was worth it. You are done.

Step 18: ... Nah, you're not done. Pretty soon the mum and the coreopsis will pop open with lots more flowers and you'll totally need to take pictures of that, right? Plus, this big ol' thing is gonna need some more water in a day or so. Then there's deadheading and pruning to keep everything nice-looking and within bounds. Then, eventually the perennials will fade and you'll need to decide what to do with them. No, you're not done yet. You'll never really be done. And that's okay, 'cause that's just gardening for you.

What's in The August Urn O' Green & Magenta?

By gosh, I'll tell you.

Purple Fountain Grass
Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'
White-Flowering Heather
Calluna vulgaris
Magenta-Flowering Hardy Mum
Chrysanthemum morifolium
Coral Bells
Heuchera 'Melting Fire'
Coreopsis hybrid Big Bang™ 'Mercury Rising'
Burgundy Periwinkle
Vinca minor 'Atropurpurea'
Dragon's Blood Stonecrop
Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'

... Butterflies included!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Know Your Enemy


Not so swell news from the pumpkin patch: a sudden and extremely unwelcome case of POWDERY MILDEW! It just showed up this morning, suggesting that it may actually be sentient and have a sense of irony. This is unwell news. Hell news. Makes me want to yell news. Time to quell this evil spell or bid my plants farewell news. I will be spraying the tops and undersides of the leaves with neem oil this evening. I've read mixed reviews about using a diluted milk spray instead, but I'm more comfortable with neem. If you have experience using milk to control powdery mildew on pumpkins, please share. I'm all ears and eager to learn.



Meanwhile, I finally bothered to identify those pale greenish-yellow ladybug-like insects that have been hanging out in the pumpkin flowers. Actually, I didn't even bother to do any active identifying. I was just reading a gardening tips book from my mother and happened to come across an illustration of a bug that looked awfully familiar: CUCUMBER BEETLE. Unfortunately, it's not a good bug to have in the garden. I'm a little surprised, since all I've ever seen of them suggests that they are incredibly lazy and just like to sit around inside of large flowers all day. In reality, this is not so. Apparently, when I am not looking they actually eat said flowers. They eat the flowers and the leaves and their evil baby larvae tunnel through young plant roots. Destruction everywhere.

I couldn't get ahold of this spotted cucumber beetle to squish it because this
honey bee was so dedicated to her work that she wouldn't let me into the flower!

So, I will be hand-picking these spotty little monsters in the mornings (something I should have been doing for the past several weeks!) and continuing to research more widely effective ways to insure their demise.

An Ounce of Prevention

In yesterday's post I showed you my two ripe Small Sugar Pumpkins and shared my hesitance to pick them. This morning's appearance of the dreaded PM was all it took to make up my mind. With sharp pruning shears I snipped those two darlings from their vines and then I disinfected my shears with rubbing alcohol. Since there were no other viable fruits left on one of the vines, I pulled up the whole plant and immediately threw it in the garbage can. Powdery mildew spores are carried on the wind and I have no intention of idly allowing this fungus to spread around my garden or my neighborhood, especially since I am not the only person growing pumpkins on this block.

Lessons Learned

I love Internet forums and gardening publications and tips from friends and family, but I definitely learn a lot of things the hard way, by making my own mistakes. I have had very unpleasant personal experiences with powdery mildew on roses and honeysuckle. There's a different powdery mildew for each type of plant that it infects, but every version of PM sucks giant, hairy monkey balls. On the bright side, because I have learned from experience how to recognize the fungus, I am ready to deal with it at first onset. Additionally positive is the fact that this current situation is helping to prepare me for next year, when I fully intend to put that ounce of prevention to good use and stop PM infections (and those stupid cucumber beetles) before they start.

The Triumph of Productivity

Here sits the beginning of my very first pumpkin harvest! I've decided to let them cure in the sun before digging in and dishing out their pulpy goodness. Supposedly the curing process can further increase sugar content. So, why not?

Freshly cut Small Sugar Pumpkins, their stems a-bleedin' all over the place.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Swell News From The Pumpkin Patch

Look at that goofy cat. It looks like he's wearing a pumpkin leaf
mask over his eyes. Now no one will know his true identity!
The vines gone wild continued to ambitiously set several fruit within inches of one another, but ultimately could not support so many pumpkins. I pinched off the aborted fruits and tried to help the vines focus their energy on fruit production by pruning and burying the ends of the vines. This method seems to have paid off; the remaining fruits appear healthy and are expanding quickly. I now have a small number of steadily swelling yellow globes visible from my living room window. These plants must be of the Big Max or the Jack O' Lantern variety. I'll probably use them for carving, though I am curious about the difference in flavor between these and the Small Sugar Pumpkins.

Speaking of Small Sugar Pumpkins, here they are, all colored up and ready for harvesting! I did the fingernail test and my nail did not break the skin of either of these fruits, so I think that they can now be cut from the vine and set in the sun to cure. Or, since I intend to use their insides for food and their outsides for compost, I think I can skip the curing step entirely. I don't want to make pumpkin pie for another month or two, so I guess it's about time to bust out the blender and do the ol' puree-and-freeze. I'm just so nervous about cutting these little beauties from their vines. They aren't as big as they're supposed to be, but that's probably because I made a lot of lazy beginner mistakes with these plants. Leaving them on the vine won't make them grow any bigger. From everything that I've read, pumpkins are done when they're done. I just hope I'll have enough for a pie. Wish me luck!

Oh, Garden Gods, please grant me enough tasty pumpkin flesh for just one decent pie!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vines Gone Wild

I don't remember which variety of pumpkin plant this is. All I know is that, compared to the others, this plant and its twin have grown thicker, healthier looking vines that spread more quickly and, though they've been the last to develop any female flowers, those flowers are bearing fruit that seems to grow more rapidly. My guess is that it's all about the location. Happy roots for happy vines that produce happy pumpkins. In this particular case, one of those vines shot right through the chain-link fence and started growing a fruit on the other side. I had to gently reroute the end of the vine back through the fence and brace it with a stake. Two or three days later, the vine had fully accepted this new plan and the stake was no longer needed. In about a week the fruit on the outside of the fence had swollen considerably and there was a new foot or so of length on the inside of the fence. That new length already has two baby fruits on it. I expect lots of viable pumpkins from this plant. I'm not quite as diligent about hand-pollinating as I was earlier in the month, but the honey bees have finally made an appearance, and they've been picking up the slack. We've implemented a redundancy system. It's very synergistic and shit.

Here you can see the yellow fruit growing just outside the chain-link.
This vine now has an upper level growing in the opposite direction.
The new growth already includes a pair of tiny baby fruits.
The other plants tend to have only one fruit apiece. Again, I'm pretty sure the location, specifically the quality of the soil in that location, is making all the difference. Those fruits are all older than the yellow bulging babies on the vines gone wild pictured above. Happily, the oldest are all a lovely dark green that is starting to turn orange! For a first-time pumpkin grower such as myself, this is very exciting. You know, 'cause pumpkins are generally supposed to be orange. So, orange must be a good sign, yes?

One of my biggest babies. I know, not very impressive. Still, it's an achievement for me!
Loooook! A little orange pumpkin!
The healthiest fruit so far. Nice, consistent coloration. Just no orange ... yet.

Grow, baby, grow!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

One Tidy Spot ... Just For Now

I wanted to show you a wide shot, and this is the best that I can offer ... for now.

Just for now, just in this one spot as framed by the camera, things are rather neat and tidy. It's nothing spectacular, just a bit of garden bed containing one very happy hydrangea, a potted catnip with an itty-bitty baby japanese maple unexpectedly sharing the pot, a couple of sedge grasses, some just-sheared columbines, and a recently acquired pair of hollies still in their nursery pot. The lawn has been mowed down to a respectable height and, in this one corner at least, edged with scissors. The result is not ultimately the look that I want for this spot of garden, but it is at least somewhat tidy. It's like having an ugly kitchen, but a clean kitchen. It may not be everything that I want it to be, but it's presentable. Good enough for this perfectionist.

The rest of the property is another story entirely.

And so it is necessary that I am content with this one tidy spot ... just for now.

A garden is never finished.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Everyday I'm Pollinatin'

... except today.
Dude, where all da ladies at?

Douchebag pumpkin flower in da house.

Who's your daddy???
My diligent, daily pollinating program is granting me gourd rewards! (Don't you just hate gratuitous alliteration?)

Back in March I planted three different varieties of pumpkin seed (that I managed to leave unlabeled). Now that they're all sexually mature, I've been cross-pollinating them as many different ways that I can (again, without labeling any of them as to the baby-daddy). The three varieties are Small Sugar, Jack O'Lantern and Big Max. I'm hoping to get some good-eatin' pumpkins as well as some large, well-shaped ones for carving. If I manage to identify a thoroughbred Big Max baby, I may just remove his siblings from that vine and grow him as big as I can. I won't get a prize-winning pumpkin, but I could get a neighborhood freak-show pumpkin. Fun!

When you're all growed up, you can go on Jerry and find out who you daddy is.

For now, I'll just keep on pimpin.
... Except for today, 'cause, ya know. Not enough ladies, too many mans.

... and why are all these other guys naked? Wait, is this one of those gay clubs?!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pumpkin Fucking

Makin' babies.
... is totally anti-climactic.

Also, kinda dirty. That's my fault, though. I was a clumsy pumpkin hand-job virgin. I managed to soil the flower a bit. These things happen.

The pumpkin plants don't care, though. It's all about procreation for them. Otherwise, I would have felt really bad about snipping off the male flower's stamen with a pair of pruning shears.

Wish us a healthy baby pumpkin!

... so that someday I can slice it open, rip out its innards and bake it in a pie.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

99 Percent Perspiration

Early this morning I was slouched in a cushy chair in my living room, peering blurry-eyed into space while I sipped at a steaming mug of fresh coffee. You know, because I'm one of those people who don't even count as human until they've had their coffee. Suddenly, my vision was filled with a bright, hot light. It was as though a 500 watt halogen lamp had been switched on right outside my house and was shining neatly through one of the small windows in my front door—directly into my startled face. Apparently, in that moment, the sun had finally surmounted the hill of trees that is my eastern horizon.

ME: Good morning, Sun. I expect you're planning on cooking the shit out of us today, just like you did yesterday.


ME: Yeah, that's what I thought.

The morning pretty much ended right then. It may as well have been two o' clock instead of half past six. In only a few precious minutes the temperature in the room had climbed alarmingly. I soon found myself setting aside my hot coffee. By seven o' clock, I was sweating.

I poured the rest of the coffee over ice.

Work is hard. Play is fun. Gardening is both. On scorching-hot days like this one, though, there's not a lot of gardening fun to be had that doesn't involve an air-conditioned room and a cold drink. Basically, it's hell out there. Unfortunately, my house lacks air-conditioning, so it's hell in here, too. And, without the cold air, the cold drink doesn't seem to help much. I have been sweating my ass off.

So, I figure that as long as I'm already wet and disgusting, I may as well get some stuff accomplished in the hot-n-muggy, itchy-dirty land of weeds that is my yard. I've been popping outside every few hours to snip at the grass with scissors or to poke at the dirt with a trowel. I got a few little things done. Mostly, though, I just sweated bucketfuls.

"Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

—Thomas Edison

I've got the perspiration. Now, for the inspiration.

Much of the time that I spent indoors was lavished on web-based research. Just another day, in that respect. I also pulled out the old copy of Garden Gate magazine that my grandmother gave me. I very rarely read magazines, mostly because the ads drive me nuts, and with most of the mags that I've come across, if you strip away the ads there's not much decent content left. Anyway, this mag had content that I found really helpful—and with no ads. What an enjoyable read! I just went ahead and signed up for a free preview issue and (since you always have to agree to a paid subscription to get the free issue) checked "Bill me later." Hooray for the "Bill me later" box! I'm so glad that magazines still operate that way. I felt more comfortable just giving this publisher my name and mailing address than I usually feel when I create an online account with some major retailer offering a loyalty program.

Thanks to that magazine and the internets, I've got some new garden design ideas rattling around in my head. Perhaps soon I will be using the design portion of my gardening journal.

Sooooo... How's the weather where you are?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Red Thumb

Sometimes it hurts to work in the garden.
Sometimes it hurts more not to work in the garden.

For Hubby and me, this week has been a week of WORKing in the garden. Four letters. All caps. That kind of work. The kind that's bloody WORK! Digging up thick sod with a small hand tool. Plucking in vain at evil, nasty horsetails. Mowing and whacking desperately at the weedy, overgrown excuse for a lawn. Snipping at the "lawn" edge with an ineffective pair of overpriced grass shears, then giving up and going back to a good ol' pair of regular scissors. All of this stuff has to be done and done soon, or the problem will only GROW. Four letters. All caps. It wouldn't be so bad if only we had gotten it under control earlier in the year. Sigh. If only. I'm not even going to bother with excuses. It's a mess out there and I only hope that by next year I can show you some wide shot photos of something that you would actually call a garden, instead of resorting solely to leaf-and-petal macro shots intended to keep the ugly backdrop of scary weeds out of the frame.

That's the goal, anyway.

Meanwhile, my thumb hurts. You know how a gardener is supposed to have a green thumb? Well, mine is red! Damned Fiskars "Softouch Grass Bypass Shears" started giving me a blister right away. (Also, they're a bit too weak and flimsy to do much grass cutting.) I wish I had read the reviews on before buying. They are so going back to the store.

Fortunately, I have Neosporin and there was still one My Little Pony band-aid left in the tin.

I also have O'Keeffe's Working Hands, the best gosh-darned skin cream ever! Hubby recommended it to me several years ago when I was waiting tables and now I always keep one in my nightstand and one at work. Some people love their scented lotions and body butters and mineral-based, essential oil-infused, goat milk and shea butter and oatmeal and honey and green tea and coconut yadda yadda yadda products, but I like the simplicity of Working Hands. Just like any other skin cream, it's made of water, glycerin, waxy solids, silicone, emulsifiers, emollients and preservatives (according to my googling of everything in the ingredients list). They just don't bother with the perfumes and colorants and cosmetic additives that either have a questionable purpose or are supposed to do all sorts of vaguely helpful things but won't really be absorbed into the skin (stuff that I found in another lotion that's kind of nice, but feels greasy and isn't as effective).

Working Hands is sold at hardware stores because it's perfect for people with really rough, dry, cracking skin. I use it every night just before I go to sleep. My hands used to be a horrible mess, especially during dry weather and manual labor. Now they rarely ever crack and when they do, Working Hands speeds up the healing. If only my cuticles were as soft as my skin. Next habit to form: oiling my cuticles twice a day!

That's enough of that.

My thumb feels better, now.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Moleskine Gardening Journal

I've been wanting to share with you one of my favorite gardening tools: my gardening journal! Last year I came across this book at Barnes & Noble and was immediately intrigued. It looked interesting—useful, even. It also seemed a little pricey, so I was hesitant at first. When I found myself clutching the journal to my chest, unable to put it back on the shelf, I knew that resistance was futile. I proceeded to the counter and forked over the twenty bucks ... and haven't regretted it since!

Moleskine's Passions collection includes over a dozen different journals for recording and exploring your experiences with topics of interest such as wine, tea, dog, baby, restaurant, home life and travel. Each book contains tabbed sections of formatted pages specifically tailored to that topic, as well as tabbed sections of blank pages for you to customize as you like. Plus, stickers! 'Cause, who doesn't like stickers, right? As is tradition with Moleskine bound papery products, the cover will soften and bend as you fill it up with crap, so there's an elastic strap to keep the thing from popping open. Also, three—count 'em, three!—sewn-in ribbon bookmarks and a double pocket in the back cover. It's all very fun and journaly.

So far, the sections of my gardening journal that I use the most are the plant info pages and the garden log. I have a custom tabbed section just for tips and advice and I really look forward to sketching out my new garden plans in the design section. I also keep all of my loose plant tags stuffed into the pockets in the back cover. Handy-dandy!

What's so cool about the gardening journal in particular is that it actually manages to be thoroughly and genuinely relevant to the needs of the gardener. Based on what I've seen of them, it is my opinion that not all of these journals quite manage to achieve that level of usefulness. I could be wrong. Not every cat owner or coffee drinker is the same. I guess that's why half the journal is simply formatted and theme-less for your own personalization.

So, without further ado, here's what's inside:

  • front reference section with handy drawings of plant habits and leaves, tables of plant dimensions at maturity and common pot sizes, and maps of world hardiness zones
  • "Plants" section with pages conveniently formatted to contain just about every bit of info you might want to remember about a given plant
  • "Pots, Tools, Etc." section where you can write down everything there is to know about your favorite pruning shears and potting mixes and other accoutrements
  • "Design" section with grids for designing your own gardening spaces, be they water gardens, flower beds or veggie patches
  • "Visits" section where you can record the details of an inspirational garden tour and jot down all that stuff you learned at the local nursery but would probably have forgotten if it hadn't been for this journal
  • "Garden Log" section where you can chronicle every planting date, bloom cycle, late freeze and fertilizer application
  • section of blank pages bordered with grid guides, in case you want more grid space
  • section of ruled pages for journaling whatever you want
  • another section of ruled pages, 'cause why not
  • section of pages divided into five horizontal spaces, perhaps for recording daily conversations with the boston fern in your office cubicle
  • section of blank pages for photos or drawings
  • index with a line for each page number, so you can actually fill it in as you fill in the pages of your journal and use it to find stuff later

Cool, huh?
But, wait. There's more.
Once you've purchased one of these things and you've spent some time filling it in with scribbles and clippings, you might find that you've run out of space. Fortunately, you can visit and (once you've pulled yet another random password out of your ass, because you have to create a basic account with their site, first) print out as many filler pages as you need! The templates for all five of the named sections from the gardening journal are available on the site in PDF form, for free.

Aaaand, if down the line you find yourself thinking that this journal would be perfect if it just had a section of pages formatted for recording weather cycles or nursery addresses or successive attempts at hand-pollination, then hit up and, with a little creativity, you can build your own templates (or just fill up the pages digitally) for saving and printing and pasting into your journal.

So, do you totally want one of these, now?

Buy your own gardening journal directly from or!

Disclaimer: Yeah, I know that sometimes this reads like a great, big, gushing advertisement. No, I have not and will not be compensated for my gushiness. I just really like this journal and I think that you might, too. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Early Summer Hydrangea Blooms

My hydrangeas are all in various states of bloom, except for the climbing hydrangeas, which have no blooms at all. The climbers will probably take a few years to establish themselves before they set any flowers at all. Meanwhile, the Limelight is forming panicles of tiny green buds, the Phantom and the Wim's Red (aka Fire & Ice) are starting to open their flowers, and the Nikko Blue now has at least two mopheads that are opening and coloring up nicely.

H. paniculata 'Phantom'
H. paniculata 'Wim's Red'
H. macrophylla 'Nikko Blue'

I'm really enjoying the unusual reddish details of the Wim's Red. The wine colored stems are strikingly lovely and the bright pink details on the flowers remind me of icing on a wedding cake. I ended up planting this hydrangea in the ground two weeks ago, after learning that it can be expected to grow quite large but can be comfortably situated where it will receive full sun. This is fortunate, because I've just run out of sizable shady spots in my yard. Now it sits out in front of the house, where neighbors and passersby will be able to enjoy its inevitable show of color.

The distinct lack of shade on my property is the one and only reason why I haven't snatched up at least one of those fantastic double-flowered Double Delights hydrangeas that I've been drooling over at the Home Depot. They've had cultivars Peace (white with a tendency toward baby pink) and Expression (vintage shades of pink to blue) in for a few weeks and every time I'm over there I poke through them as though I'm going to buy one—and then I don't! Aaaaaugh! It's just not fair! Sigh.

For now, I shall be content with what I already possess ... and strive to maintain it all!

Love that blue.