Posts Tagged ‘plants’

Frugal Gardening

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In past years, many spring weekends would find me at a local nursery, loading up on plants, eager to bring home the latest and greatest. More often than not, what I chose did not flourish in my mostly shady but dry garden. Finding plants that thrive in shade with little water has been quite the undertaking since most shade-loving plants simply drink up every drop of water you offer them. As I’ve become more and more aware  of this precious resource – not to mention my pocketbook – I’ve searched out drought-tolerant plants that do well in sun but can also prosper in a bit of shade.

My biggest success has come with a striking plant called Calandrinia grandiflora, a gift from a like-minded frugal-watering friend. When I saw these plants for sale at our local water conservation garden, I figured Calandrinia would fit right in with my limited watering scheme. And boy was I right!

The first year I planted it, I was rewarded with nodding stems of hot pink flowers emerging from beautiful grey green foliage shaped like flowers. I fell so in love with this plant that I wanted to have it in other areas too.

By using another economical gardening tip, I filled one hillside with my new favorite plant. Since I’d had success growing more succulents by putting broken-off tips into dirt, I thought I’d try this method on these plants too. One day, I broke off pieces of the mother plant and poked holes in the moist soil (kids love to help with this!). I watered the hillside sparingly, and while I lost some of the plants in my first season last year, most of them grew and even flowered.

This spring, I was rewarded with almost the entire hillside covered in spiky grey green shoots, covering so much of what had been bare soil (most of the ivy trailing down this hill had withered with my less-is-more watering plan). I’ve already planted Calandrinia in another area this spring, in hopes I’ll have even more flowers next year.

Anyone else have water-saving gardening tips? No doubt you’ll be helping other gardeners who want to conserve water but still enjoy a lush landscape.

For gardening with children, we recommend A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier. This book will inspire you to give your children the gift of growing up in direct contact with the natural world.

Happy May Day

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Can you believe it’s already May??? Ever since I became a parent, time just seems to fly by at record speed. One day our family is celebrating the new year, and then, with Houdini-like magic, it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then my twins’ birthday, then time to sign them up for summer camps. Isn’t it crazy?!?

Anyway, I digress… the photo is of the May Day 2009 Bloom from Susan McKinley Ross, toy and game designer. Check out our interview with Susan from last week for more information.

Here’s to life slowing down just long enough so we can catch our breath.

May Day History and Significance (from TheHolidaySpot.com):

Well, it is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet, it does have a long and notable history as one of the world’s principal festivals. The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.

For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year. Because, it was when the festival of Beltane held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. Those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.

Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers . It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.

May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.

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Attack of the Robot Gardeners

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

(Or The Cherry Tomato-nator)

While I’m hoping to be proven spectacularly wrong here, I can’t help but hope a gardening article I recently encountered is not one of those deeply ironic signs of some ridiculously unnecessary science fiction-themed Armageddon heading our way.

I, robot — and gardener: MIT droids tend plants

By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer - Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:25AM EDT

These gardeners would have green thumbs — if they had thumbs.

A class of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a set of robots that can water, harvest and pollinate cherry tomato plants.

The small, $3,000 robots, which move through the garden on a base similar to a Roomba vacuum, are networked to the plants. When the plants indicate they need water, the robots can sprinkle them from a water pump. When the plants have a ripe tomato, the machines use their arms to pluck the fruit.

Even though robots have made few inroads into agriculture, these robots’ creators hope their technology eventually could be used by farmers to reduce the natural resources and the difficult labor needed to tend crops.

Last spring, Daniela Rus, a professor who runs the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, began a two-part course. In the first semester, the students learned the basics of creating and using robots. By the fall, the students were ready to have robots tackle a real-world problem. Rus and Nikolaus Correll, a postdoctoral assistant in Rus’ lab, challenged the students to create a “distributed robotic garden” by the end of the semester.

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The Magic of Good Soil

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Years ago when I was new to gardening, I would read books about amending the soil and be absolutely mystified about this. What was organic matter and where do you get it? Since I wanted flowers, I went ahead and dug a hole and plopped my rose bushes into the ground. When they barely bloomed, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

A few years later, we were in the process of buying a house with a much larger garden and discovered that the owners were meticulous gardeners, with plans and drawings of their garden from bare dirt and stories about what worked and what didn’t. When I marveled at the huge trees, they mentioned the trees were planted from one-gallon pots, lovingly watered and regularly weeded.

One day while we were visiting (these generous souls had us over practically every weekend, while our house was still their house,  to share stories, show us their manuals for practically everything, and — now that I look back on it — gently ease their way out of their home of 38 years), I noticed a huge mound of leaves at the end of the driveway. Doris and Glenn proudly showed me their compost heap. They added leaves, water, and this and that and ended up with this marvelous dark rich soil – black gold, they called it – that they added to their soil. Even though they lived in an area known for loose-draining soil, theirs was rich and held water well. This was their secret to the majestic beauties that made this yard more of a park.

Just like in cartoons, a light bulb went off above my head and I “got” what amending the soil was all about. Compared to what I read in books, this made a lot more sense. And perhaps, even more importantly, I now understood the benefits, since the evidence was right in front of me.

We’ve now been in this house and garden more than 20 years, but I fondly remember the story of how those trees grew from something so small into something truly majestic. Now that I know the secret, I have a lot more garden successes, with my trusty compost heap to help me along the way!

Thinning Out the Garden and Our Lives

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Spring finds me out in my garden every chance I get. Nothing is as nourishing to me as working the warm soil, seeing new growth on trees, and stumbling across new shoots of plants that looked all but dead in the torrid days of August. Few other things are as much of a delight as receiving my order of seeds from my favorite seed catalog, sketching the vegetable garden layout, and then preparing the soil. My son, Evan (a.k.a. Mr. Dirt), loves to help me. He’s the self-appointed organizer of the earthworms, and as we move along digging in the soil, he picks up every one, says something admiring to it, then places it exactly where he thinks life will be good to it. The cats drop by to visit us, mourning doves touch down a safe distance away to check us out, and if I hear our phone ringing, too bad. When I’m in the garden, I’m immersed in another world.

When it comes time to plant the seeds, the dirt is so fine and smooth that all we need do is run our fingers through it, making a shallow line. Evan’s the expert at distributing the seeds, and does so one by one, no matter how tiny they are. (Last year, he admonished me for shaking the seeds directly from their package into the soil, explaining that each seed needs to be touched by the person planting it. “That makes sense,” I think to myself.) So the seeds go in, the rows are reasonably straight, I note in my gardening journal exactly what went where, and finally we lightly mist the soil, wishing the seeds a healthy life. Few times during a year do I feel as alive, as accomplished, as good as I do when I’ve planted my garden with care. Then, about two weeks later, the sprouts appear, and soon it’s time to thin the seedlings according to package directions.

Now, as anyone who gardens knows, “thinning” means plucking out sometimes three quarters of the baby plants so that the ones left will have enough room to grow. It’s my least favorite part of gardening. In fact, most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t simply discard what turns out to be most of the seedlings-healthy seedlings-that have sprouted, at my beckoning, in the soil I’ve so carefully prepared. Nope. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. “Somehow, they’ll all manage to survive,” I tell myself. But, of course, what always happens is that as the plants grow, they eventually crowd each other out. Not having the space or nutrients they need, all of them become less pest- and disease-resistant. Gnarly and mottled, they die an early death, and even though I know from experience that this will happen, I still can’t bring myself to thin the rows of seedlings.

Yesterday afternoon, as I scrutinized the dense new strips of one-inch tall sprouts, I was struck by the similarity between those crowded rows and a pitfall of modern family life. In an effort to expose our children to the right things, we expose them to too much, in hopes that a few of their encounters will “take.” But what really happens is that life gets too crowded and nothing really flourishes. It just seems to be made up of a bunch of experiences, all of which turn out to be shallow, because there is no time in between them. There is no time to daydream; no time to be with one experience (or toy or whatever) before the next experience is plopped in front of them; no time to dig deeply enough into anything and realize that it could grow to be a passion if it were well-tended. It is so easy to lose focus of the fact that just as seedlings simply need good soil, the right environment, and room to grow, children have equally simple needs: love, respect, and space to be themselves. Life can get so cluttered, and then it’s hard to thin it out- just like my rows of seedlings.

Early this morning, before it was light, I heard the unmistakable sounds of one of our neighborhood skunks rooting through the garden. I sneaked out our bedroom door and sat for a long time on the steps in the warm night air, straining to see him (her?) in the darkness. I didn’t want to scare him away, for I knew he was up to something very important, indeed. In dawn’s first light, he finally left, and I made my way over to the garden, knowing what I would find. Sure enough, he’d been feasting on grubs and things, and in doing so, had uprooted most of my seedlings. Granted, the job wasn’t quite as orderly as I’d have done it (had I ever done it), but my rows were now thinned, and each plant would have enough space, soil, sun, and fresh air in which to thrive. I chuckled, and wondered if some giant skunk would ever lumber into my life and thin it out!

The Joy of Plants

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I looked up at my calendar yesterday to discover that it’s Plant a Flower Day on March 12. What a great idea to have a day devoted to plants! Just think of all the joy plants bring us, and they sure make our yards, decks, patios and offices look beautiful. Not to mention the benefits of having plants indoors to freshen up our air, literally.

If you want to encourage your kids’ interest in plants, try something easy like succulents. These plants thrive with little water, come in a myriad of colors and styles, and are extremely forgiving with little hands. In fact, if an eager tug results in a broken piece, just put that piece in the dirt and more times than not, it will thrive.

In fact, one of my fondest gardening memories with my boys was when they had a friend over and they all “decorated” a mound of dirt in a rusty old wheelbarrow with broken-off pieces of these wondrous plants. I was not sure how long their creation would last, especially since I was quite a newbie gardener back then. Years later, that wheelbarrow is spilling over with a beautiful assortment of succulents that at times is almost breathtaking. Just looking at that wheelbarrow brings back the excitement of that afternoon.

So enjoy some of nature’s finest plants with your kids now and you’ll be making some beautiful memories — as well as some pretty cool plants!

These Boots Were Made for Walking?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

My girls love to recycle things — and we often discuss the many different ways to recycle. A couple of our favorite methods of recycling are donating to others and discovering a new use for stuff we no longer use in the original way. While sorting through clothes & shoes recently, we decided it was time to give away the rain boots that I bought for the girls three years ago (they still had to try to squish their feet into them one last time, but it ended up looking like Cinderella’s step sisters trying to force on the glass slipper).

I brought the boots to work, along with many other “treasures,” and placed them on our “Free Table.” As you can see from the photo, the boots were given whole new lives as planters. This was Cheryl’s incredibly creative idea. These would make excellent gifts, especially during the springtime. What an excellent way to recycle! My girls will definitely give their seal of approval.