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.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hydrangea Surprise—Blue!

'Nikko Blue' flowers starting to open up—and they're turning blue!

I've been popping out to check on my hydrangeas almost every day. I enjoy watching the flowers as they open and color up. My 'Nikko Blue' hydrangea is just beginning to open its flowers and, would you believe it, they're actually turning blue this year!

If you are familiar with macrophylla hydrangeas, then you may already know that their bloom color is largely determined by the pH of the soil they're growing in. It is generally said that more acidic soil produces blue blooms and more alkaline soil produces pink blooms, but there's more to it than that. If you happen to have a macrophylla hydrangea and you, like me, have no idea what you are doing but will spend hours of internet research trying to figure it out, then I have a handy list of terms for you to include in your googling!

Search Terms for Changing Hydrangea Color

  • soil pH
  • water ph
  • aluminum sulfate
  • lime leach
  • phosphorus fertilizer
  • ericacious compost

There you go. Just add the words, "hydrangea color" to each search and you're off on a quest for the perfect color! Of course, there are restrictions on how much you can control the color of a hydrangea. Color intensity is determined by genes, health and climate, not soil pH and all that. If you want a really dark pink or a really pale blue or a really deep purple, you need to start by selecting the right cultivar. Also, don't buy a white hydrangea and go mucking about with the mineral content of the soil trying to turn it a different color. Ain't gonna happen. Again, read up on your species and cultivars so you know what you're looking for and, to be certain it wasn't mislabeled, buy the plant while it's in bloom.

(Disclaimer: I know very little from experience; I just do an extensive amount of googling. If you want to talk to experts and people with real color-changing experiences to share, visit a great forum like this one: GardenWeb Hydrangea Forum)

Anyway, back to my Nikko.
I planted this mophead hydrangea in May of last year, and all that summer it had flowers of a primarily pinkish hue, with some purple on the side. In my googling, I've learned that the color may vary the first year after planting, simply because the plant is adjusting to the change in locale. I wasn't expecting much of a change this year, but now that I've seen this first cluster of blue-tipped flowers, I'm hoping that it's a promise of more blue to come.

...If not, I'll add hydrangea blueing formula to next year's garden shopping list. For now, I'm too curious to see what I'm going to get without any tinkering. Wish me blue!

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Step in my Shamble

My progress in the garden, as of late, has been a slow shamble. There is much awkwardness, much dragging of the feet. There is also some movement, mostly in the intended direction. Otherwise, it wouldn't be progress at all.

At least I've accomplished some weeding.

The sun stayed firmly behind the clouds yesterday, until I finally went out of doors and knelt before the gas meter with the intention of rescuing it from the weeds. Then it, the sun, glared hotly at me until I had completed my task. I cut and tore away at the mass of long grasses and catchweed until I could see where they met the ground. Then I pulled out as many rooted unwanteds as I could lay my gloved hands on. I even pulled the horsetails from the neighboring bed, a task I despise for two reasons: one, because it seems pointless and two, because the cats habitually crap over there. Yuck. Nevertheless, it is done … for now.

BEFORE: I rather think it looks better this way, but the ugly thing necessarily must be seen. And, if the weeds were left to swallow up the meter, they might gain confidence and try eating the house, next.

AFTER: Hello, meter! I haven't seen you in awhile. What's that you say, meter? I must give money to the gas company? Oh, you always say that.

There is plenty more to do if I am to get the weeds in this area under control, but one must start somewhere. This, at least, is a step in the right direction.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Late Spring Ramble

Lordy, this Jack in the Box coffee is terrible! I had hoped that adding creamer would noticeably cut the acidity, but I think said creamer just sank to the bottom of the cup and died. So, now my coffee tastes like fermented roastiness with just a whiff of creamer-ghost. Oh, man. I can actually feel the hairs sprouting from my chest. A primal howl is bubbling up from my throat and I suddenly feel the urge to fling excrement at passersby. My fingers fumble at the keyboard; my knuckles begin to drag acrofds6^@fjlop90&;iqw!?


On to the garden!

It's the first dry, sunny day we've had for some time. My mood is uplifted and my camera is at the ready. (If only my husband were feeling uplifted and at the ready, maybe the blinking lawn would get mowed. Alas, he is lately impaired by a migraine that it seems we cannot assuage. All the king's aspirin and all the king's ibuprofen couldn't put Hubby together again.) Despite the sunlight glinting blindingly off of the LCD, I got a few pictures of the things that are growing outside. I had stupidly brought my coffee outside with me and, therefore, had to carefully juggle my cup and my camera in order to avoid spilling the hideous beverage onto the lawn. (It might've burned right through the grass and created pockets of [possibly radioactive] dead space that nothing would grow in ever again.) Here follows today's selection of photo-growy-planty-pics.

VoilĂ —violas!
First, the only annuals in the garden: my little pot of violas. They were cheap and brightly colored. How was I to resist? I did a quick and shoddy job of potting them. There are empty spaces between each root bundle. I should have waited for the soil to settle after the initial watering and then added more soil to fill in the gaps. Of course, you can only see that there are gaps when they are wilty and they only become wilty when they haven't been recently soaked. So, I tried to drown them shortly before taking this photo and—voilĂ !—instant perkiness! If only I could achieve similar results by watering my own breasts.

Perhaps "hydranip" would be more apt.
Another potted plant with an almost masochistic desire to be watered mercilessly and often: catnip. This little pot of nip was looking pretty scraggly just before the week or so of intermittent pouring rain we just had. Now it, too, has perked up and sprouted some happy, new growth. You should have seen the way it flourished at the beginning of the year. "Drown me, drown me! Spank my naughty leaves with your massive, wet raindrops! Aw, yeah! Gurgle gurgle!" Too bad it doesn't equally enjoy being mauled by cats.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Wim's Red'
Here we have my newest acquisition: Hydrangea paniculata 'Wim's Red'. I have hesitatingly stuffed this hydrangea into a pot because the spot I want to plant it in is currently occupied by a Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nikko Blue' and I dare not transplant the latter until its dormancy period, for fear of setting it back a couple of seasons or losing it altogether. Meanwhile, I shall have to monitor the 'Wim's Red' closely and water it frequently. I love terracotta, but it does dry out quickly.

I can't wait to see the color-changing blooms this cultivar promises.
I look forward to studying the bloom cycle of this hydrangea. Its flowers are expected to open creamy white in early summer, then turn pink in mid-summer, and finish deep red in autumn. After months of sighing over images of 'Vanilla Strawberry' and other color-changing panicle hydrangeas, I happened across a batch of 'Wim's Red' while perusing shrubs at the local Home Depot. These plants were hard to miss. Picture a pallet crammed full of very upright, bright red stems, covered in bright green, easily recognizable hydrangea leaves and thousands of tiny flower buds. At about $18 apiece, I had to work to restrain myself from buying more than one. It's not as though Hubby would have stopped me. He just smiles and laughs at my plant-induced mania.

They're not even the magic kind.
Weeds. It's bad enough when your lawn seems to be made out of nothing but crabgrass and clover. The unexpected appearance of mushrooms is really quite unnecessary.

You've come to the wrong neighborhood, Weedy MacWeedster.
Catchweed bedstraw. Sounds like the name of a bucktoothed, backwoods, inbred porn-star. Oh, no. Oh, no thank you. I'd better pull out this horrible mess before it seeds itself all over the bed. There's a gas meter in there, somewhere. Puget Sound Energy will probably add a fine to my bill if they have to pull aside a mass of weeds every month in order to read the meter. Oh, joy.

This concludes today's photo-tour. Perhaps tomorrow I'll get off my rump long enough to clear away the weeds around the gas meter. I've got plenty of garden maintenance jobs to perform, more than enough to warrant a Before & After post. The question is, how long will it take me to get it all done? I'm shooting for anytime before the end of June. May the weather gods grant me an agreeable atmosphere in which to work. Amen.