Archive for April, 2011

April 26, 2011

Window peepers

As I sit working on a plan, my poor dog is stressing.  She keeps trying to go up and lay on my bed to sleep but every few minutes she hears something outside and comes back down to check it out.  She heads straight for the side window, paces around the table, looks out back, paces again, whines just slightly, then sighs.  After a few minutes of looking into the darkness with her head cocked, she gives up and heads back upstairs.  Minutes later the whole thing starts over.

A few days ago this went on for a couple of hours in the middle of the night/early morning.  It’s hard to get much rest with all of this going on.  Not to mention I get tired too!

My house is made of natural stone, not smooth river stones, but kasota and limestone.  The side of the house isn’t smooth.  Each stone steps in or out just enough to create a great climbing wall for raccoons.

Lately the raccoons have been spending a little too much time hanging out again, so I’m trying to figure out a deterrent for them.

Garden stuff I can handle, even when they climbed the Shepard’s hook that holds the bird feeders and bent it like it were a piece of wire I can handle it.  It’s when they’re peeping in my bedroom window that I get a little freaked out.

The problem is that they’re bold.  They’re afraid of nothing.  They’re not afraid of my dog or I’d let her out to chase them away.  Plus they’re almost as large as her, so I’m afraid they’d just hurt her. (Unfortunately I’ve seen what raccoons can do to pets.)  They’re also definitely not afraid of humans. I’ve been nose-to-nose with them on more than one occasion only separated by a pane of glass.

Having them transplanted would be pointless.  I live behind a nature center, so where there’s one, there are definitely more.  And as I’ve mentioned before, I typically don’t mess with the critters, and I don’t really want to mess these either.  I would just rather they reside in another portion of my yard.  Perhaps under the shed with the 60 lb. woodchuck.

So, I’m off to find some deterrent to sprinkle or spray to the perimeter of my house and roof.

I’ll keep you posted.


April 23, 2011

History, gardening and experiments

History was never my strong suit while in high school.  In fact, I remember many classes struggling to keep my eyelids propped open.  I never understood the point other than learning from it so we don’t make the same mistakes twice.  But really…why were we studying this?  How would it ever apply in life?

It wasn’t until I was in college and selected a major that I started to get intrigued by history.   I was a German major my first go around, so I was learning all about German history and was actually interested. Then I decided to study abroad, in Austria.  Naturally my next round of history classes were about Austria.  I found this equally interesting because I would be going there.  I could apply it to something.

Now, I don’t proclaim to have memorized all the details.  I’m more of a big picture person in pretty much every facet of my life.  I couldn’t repeat detail for detail what happened, but I can tell you the overall concept and the impact it made.

Fast forward about 15 years and I went back to school again focusing on Landscaping and Horticulture.  It seemed like a natural fit for me.  I’ve always enjoyed gardening.  I grew up helping in the veggie garden, planting flowers and even “propagating” Hens and Chicks when I was quite young.  I remember being 7 or 8 years old and realizing that if I gently removed the “chicks” from the “hens” and nestled them into open soil, they would begin to grow quite well there.  It wasn’t long before we had a nice crop of them just outside the back door!

I also vividly remember growing my green bean in a cup in elementary school and trying to grow avocados from the pit on numerous occasions.  The excitement I got from this was ridiculous.

Ever since I’ve had a place of my own, I’ve had far more “house plants” (plants I grow that happen to be in the house) than most normal people.  I’m constantly trying to grow something new, just to see if I can. In fact, when I moved out of my apartment (which I shared with a roommate) to our first home, there were 3 pick-up bed loads of plants to move.

So you see, I think I’ve been a plant geek pretty much all my life.

How does all of this tie into history?  Well, somewhere around the time that I was thinking about going back to school I went to visit my mom in Washington DC.  She took me to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, plantation and gardens. If you ever get the opportunity – go there! It’s by far one of my favorite places. I fell in love.  I think that’s when it hit me that my fascination with plants isn’t so odd, or, if it is, at least I’m in good company.  Learning about Jefferson’s gardens, micro-climates he created to grow olive trees and grapes that never should have survived in Virginia was so inspiring. Again, history had a place for me.

Thanks to Jefferson, I continue to try grow new things all the time.  I’ve now got my own grapes, pears, apples and hardy kiwi not to mention the veggie garden and perennials.  I’m never afraid to try growing something new, that’s how I learn.  Besides, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

My next experiments are going to be an olive tree and date palm (grown from seed) and I recently heard there’s a banana tree hardy to our area.  I just might have to try that too!

Happy experimenting!


April 22, 2011

Earth Day – What can I do better?

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day.  The first Earth Day was in 1970 and essentially began the environmental movement.

Those who know me, know that protecting the environment is something very important to me.  We need to take care of what we have so it will still be around for our children and children’s children.

When I was young my parents taught me not to waste.  For as long as I can remember we recycled.  Mostly cans and newspapers.  We had a can crusher.  Remember those?  I had a blast crushing cans!  Talk about making recycling fun. Okay, I’m an only child, sometimes it doesn’t take much to entertain me.

Today I have mixed recycling that gets picked out at our house, #5 containers go to Whole Foods for the  Gimme 5 recycling program, plastic caps go to Aveda, fruit and veggie scraps, paper products, coffee grounds, filters, etc. all go out to the compost bin (future black gold for the garden!).  I try to be environmentally conscious with everything I do.   There are still many things I could change or improve upon.  Although I try to make a point to walk to places that are close to my house rather than driving, I still drive a car and fill it with gas.

When I was in college I was fortunate enough to go on an exchange program in Austria.  Aside from really improving my German skills, I learned a lot about life.  When I first got there, I was frustrated by the lack of convenience.  It took a while to adjust to the fact that I couldn’t shop when I wanted to.   When I shopped I couldn’t just go to the grocery store for everything either.  I needed to go to the butcher for meat, the baker for bread.  Oh, and I still haven’t found bread like I had in Europe. I LOVE good bread!

On Tuesdays I couldn’t wait to get out of class.  I would race through town, trying not to sprain my ankle on the old cobblestone streets. As I rounded the corner I prayed he would be there.  On the corner outside the bookstore, there would be a man with a waist-high basket filled with fresh pretzels.  These pretzels were like nothing I’d ever had before.  Slightly crisp on the outside, light on the inside, a dusting of flour on the surface, and the flavor was wonderful.  If I got there at the right time, they would still be slightly warm too.  If I was a few minutes late, he would be gone.  Sold out.  I hated those Tuesdays!

As I adjusted to life in Austria I really came to love it and appreciate the simplicity.  My host family was wonderful.  I learned so much about so many things that had to do with the culture, but also just about life.  I learned what the rest of the world thought of the US, unfortunately not all of it was good.  When I traveled on the weekends with friends we would be warned not to tell people that we were Americans.  Tell them you’re Canadian.  Europeans saw us as wasteful, driving big cars, living in big houses, eating lots of ketchup and using and abusing the planet.  At first I was offended, it hurts to hear those things, but then I realized, sadly, that much of it was true.  My goal was to let them know that not all Americans are like that.  Some of us do care, a lot and not all of us have ketchup with every meal. At the same time, I realized that there were some things I could be doing better.  I chose to learn from their stereotype of us and try to live more mindfully upon my return home.

Each year, for whatever reason, Earth Day reminds me of this experience.  It’s a day I reflect.  I try to figure out something I could do better.  Something to live more mindfully, sustainably.  It’s hard to change your entire way of life and sometimes it’s not practical.  For example if you work 25 miles from home, it probably doesn’t make sense to ride your bike to work every day, especially if you’re a sales rep. but maybe because you drive a lot during the week, you make a point to drive less on the weekends.

I haven’t decided for sure what I’ll do this year, but my goal is to leave this place better than the way I found it.

I’d love to hear what you are doing.  Share your thoughts and ideas.  It just might spark something for someone else.



April 20, 2011

Forcing spring – the silver lining

A couple of weeks ago when I went out to cut back my grasses and do a little clean-up in my yard, I was greatly disappointed to find one of the larger branches on my Rhododendron had gotten broken off over the winter.  I’m not sure whether it was just the snow pack or if it had gotten stepped on, but whatever the case, it was a disappointment.  Under closer inspection I found that the flower buds of this branch were not dried out and in fact looked ready to open. Not wanting to waste the beauty of the blossoms and to help ease the pain of the awkward shape of what’s left of my Rhododendron, I invited the branch inside.  It happily accepted.

This lovely little branch now resides in my sunroom in a vase of water and some of it’s dismembered little friends are in a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill.  Within the past few days the buds have popped and I now have ruffled lavender blossoms brightening up my house.   The rest of the Rhododendrons outside have yet to bloom, so I will get to enjoy their splendor once the weather finally warms up a little more.

While I definitely don’t recommend running out and clipping branches off of Rhododendrons, especially because their growth habit does not respond well to pruning, I do recommend forcing branches.  If you would like to invite a little spring into your house, forcing branches is very simple to do.  You can force nearly any kind of spring blooming fruit tree, including apple, flowering crab, apricot, etc. The benefit of the fruit tree blossoms is that they have a lovely sweet scent as well.  Spring blooming shrubs, such as Forsythia, also respond well to forcing (but don’t have the scent).

When cutting branches, please be mindful of the long-term health of the tree or shrub.  Select a branch that with help the overall shape of the plant, not just one that would look pretty in your house for a couple of weeks.  Use a sharp bypass pruner* (not an anvil pruner**) and cut just above a node (the spot on the branch where it will naturally bud).  Make sure not to hack at or tear the bark as that will leave an opening for insects or diseases.  Clean cuts will heal over quickly to protect the plant.  After cutting, bring the branches inside and put them into a container with fresh water.  Change the water every few days to keep it from getting “funky” and within a few days to a week you should have blossoms filling your home.



*Bypass pruners have 2 blades that pass each other like a scissors. Best used for live branches.

** Anvil pruners have 1 blade that chops against a metal or plastic plate.  Best used for dead branches.  Anvils will crush live stems.