Archive for ‘Flower Gardening’

September 28, 2011

Take note! (And plan for spring!)

Autumn is here.  It’s the time of year that I begin to reflect upon the past growing season for my entire yard including my veggie garden, fruit trees, vines, perennial beds, containers, lawn, etc.

This is the time to bust out that Garden Journal (or start one if you haven’t already) and jot a few things down.

What was the weather like? If you didn’t make note of it throughout the season, try to recall as best you can and jot it down.  Late spring, lots of rain early, intense heat in the middle of the summer (many 90+ degree days), followed by the first hard frost on Sept. 14th, with a dry, dry fall.  The weather impacts a lot of things in your yard and garden and it’s good to have an idea as to what took place in order to reflect on what plants liked and didn’t like.

What went well? Tomatoes?  It seems to be a toss-up depending on who you talk to.  Yesterday I took a visit to Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St Paul.  What a fun store!  (It is definitely getting added to my list of favorites!)  It’s a small store with pretty much everything you need for an Urban Garden including chickens and chicken supplies.  There weren’t any chickens there yesterday, but we were told that the baby chicks will be in around February or March.  In any case, we were discussing weather and tomatoes (as many gardeners do) and I found out that part of the issue with tomatoes this year was the heat.  However, it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear.  Apparently a lot of heirloom tomatoes don’t care for the intense heat while in bud stage, so many people growing heirlooms experienced bud drop this year, but those growing hybrids did not.  (A reason to grow a little of each.)  I grew both and I’ll be honest, I didn’t pay that close of attention to my tomatoes to take notice if or where buds dropped, but it does make sense because I did get far fewer tomatoes on my heirlooms than I did on my hybrids.

Another thing that did well were my containers on my front steps filled with all things edible – mostly herbs, but also strawberries and Nasturtiums.  All of them went gangbusters.  The key?  Go large – really large on containers.  You will be able to put a lot of plants in without stressing them because there will be enough soil and the container will maintain the moisture much longer than smaller pots do.

What didn’t go so well?  See tomatoes, above.  See also Cabbage, Broccoli, Peas… (see weather, above).

Who’s gotten too big for their britches?  Well, let’s see… for me it would be a mix… raspberries, Monarda and asparagus are quite obvious contenders in this category as, quite honestly, are all of my perennial beds.  I didn’t get out in them enough this year and they definitely need some love.

Who didn’t make it?  Where are the holes that need filling? Which combinations didn’t work together? Who didn’t play well together? Who overstayed their welcome? Who simply needs a new home? You get the idea…

If I take a look at all of my notes while everything is fresh in my mind, I can start a game plan for next year.  I know it sounds insane to be thinking about spring when autumn just started last week, but it really is much easier to plan for next year while you still remember what happened this year!


August 12, 2011

Mother of a Butterfly

For the past few weeks we’ve been caring for another life our house.

It all started on Monday a few weeks ago.  My son brought home his harvest from his children’s garden at the Arboretum.  As he was showing me all the vegetables and flowers he’d harvested, he spotted a caterpillar.  It was crawling on one piece of the vast amounts of dill he’d brought home.  How he spotted it, I’ll never know.

We decided to keep it.  We transferred the caterpillar, along with a few pieces of dill, into a little cup.  He covered the cup with plastic and poked a few air holes in it.

Caterpillar in a cup - for perspective

We continued feeding it fresh dill and cleaning its home daily (we learned caterpillars poop a lot) and literally watched it grow before our eyes.

Caterpillar, dill (and poop)

Having never kept a caterpillar for more than a couple of days, we found the entire transformation absolutely fascinating.  At first it was pretty small and didn’t have a lot of color, but after shedding a couple of layers of skin its color became more and more vivid.  It’s black body had cream-colored spots and bright green stripes.

After less than a week the caterpillar outgrew its little cup so we transferred it to a butterfly/bug box my son had gotten when he was younger.  In its new home the caterpillar continued to dine on its daily buffet of fresh dill until one day, about a week ago, it just stopped.  It stopped eating, it stopped moving.  It scrunched itself up and only moved if we (unintentionally) startled it and at that, it would only flinch.

Preparing to cocoon

After a day or so, it formed its cocoon/chrysalis and there it stayed, attached to the upper part of the butterfly box, for at least another week.


This morning, as I was reaching for a cup of coffee, my son screamed. I jumped, my coffee starting doing acrobatics in the air and amazingly enough, every drop landed back in my cup.  When I turned to see what he was screaming about, he was pointing to the butterfly box, shouting “Mom, look!  Look!  I knew it!  I knew it would be a butterfly!”  And so it was.  Black, light spots, trademark tail.  We’d guessed right.  Our caterpillar was a swallowtail.  At first he was disappointed. “Mom, it doesn’t have the blue like we thought it would.”  We’d spent a little time, looking at pictures of swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies on the web, so he had in his mind what it would look like.  It wasn’t there, yet.  I reminded him that it takes a little while for the color to fully develop on their wings.

Newly emerged Black Swallowtail butterfly

After admiring our butterfly in the kitchen for a little bit, we decided it was time to release “him” (we found out later “he” was actually a “she).  So, outside we went, searching for a good spot.  We tried a little zinnia my son had grown from seed but it seemed a little too small.  We then contemplated between milkweed and a few other flowers.  At last my son decided on the phlox.  We gently transferred him, then headed inside to finish “getting ready”.

Black Swallowtail on phlox

About an hour later I thought I’d check up on our butterfly and see if he’d flown away yet.  I peeked out the window but couldn’t see him.  I decided to go out and look. I found him, not on the phlox, but on the ground fluttering around.  My heart sunk.  Oh, no!  I’d seen the neighbors cat in our yard earlier, I was fearing our butterfly had been used as a kitty toy.  I gently eased him onto my finger. He appeared to be untouched.  I tried to transfer him onto some plants but he didn’t want to go. He kept turning around and walking up my finger and onto my hand.  Finally, I transferred him.  This time to one of the milkweed leaves.  Periodically I would look out the window and see him, still clinging to the milkweed.

Black Swallowtail on milkweed

Later, I peeked out again and didn’t see him.  Again, I went out to find him on the ground. Crap! Did we do something wrong?  Did his wings not grow properly?  What happened?  I eased him onto my finger again, checking him over.  Everything looked okay.  The body of the butterfly was shaking, it had been all morning. My son had noticed the shaking early in the morning and asked me why it was doing that.  I had no idea, I’d assumed it was like a colt standing on shaky legs for the first time.  Maybe he needed nectar? A little sugar to give him the energy to fly.  I set him on the phlox again where his tongue could easily reach for food.  He didn’t eat.

Black Swallowtail on phlox... again

I got distracted (as I often do).  I saw a bee in another phlox and since I just happened to have my camera on me, I started taking pictures.  When I turned back, the butterfly was gone.  I searched the ground fearing I’d bumped him and knocked him off the flower inadvertently.  He was nowhere to be found.  That’s good, right? He was gone. He must have flown away.  Good for him.  Sort of.  I have to admit, as silly as it sounds, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see him take off.  It felt kind of like your child leaving without saying goodbye. I know, I know… It’s just a butterfly.  But still.

Since the weather is so beautiful this week, I’ve been trying to take advantage of it and get outside as much as possible.  I decided to have my lunch outside today (in hopes I might see our butterfly again).  It just so happened that as I was just about to sit down, out of the corner of my eye, I saw fluttering!  I glanced up to see our butterfly – black with beautiful blue and splashes of orange. He fluttered by, sat on my son’s zinnia just for a minute, flapped his wings, then was gone.

That’s what I needed.  I just wanted to know that he was okay.  I smiled.  A proud mom… of a butterfly.


May 12, 2011

… showers bring May flowers…

Today is another cold and rainy day in the Twin Cities, but for some reason it didn’t get me down.  Okay, maybe a little, while I fought the urge to hang out under a blanket and read a book instead of going to my son’s baseball game tonight.  But since they didn’t cancel the game and he was so anxious to play, I went. My jeans wicked water from the bottom to mid-calf and my socks were more like damp sponges, but I got to see my son’s first hit of the season so I couldn’t be happier.  He even got the “game ball” tonight.  No blanket or book could have been better than seeing the smile on his face.  It was a great end to a wet, grey day.

There are many things about rainy days that I love.  I love hearing the cars splash through the puddles.  I love listening to birds sing while they use the rain as their own personal shower.  I love watching rain drops slide across leaves and drip down to the ground below.  I love how the filtered sunlight changes the colors of everything outside.  I love how intense the yellow is on goldfinches and orioles.  I love that rainy days slow everything down.  It takes everything back a couple of notches.  Especially in the spring. Ever since the weather has begun to warm up I’ve felt a surge of energy.  Energy in the plants, animals, water, everywhere.  It’s like everything and everyone has been running in high gear. The rain gives me a chance to pause, reflect and catch my breath.

Rain seems to have the opposite effect on plants though.  Have you ever looked out the window while it’s raining and just observed?  Rain is like an instant energy source for plants.  Give them water and I swear you can watch them grow before your very eyes.  In the past couple of days I’ve watched my raspberries leaf out, buds start to pop on the grape vines and the pear trees go into full blossom.  The asparagus is now ripe for picking, Monarda is popping up everywhere and peonies and lilies are growing taller by the minute.  Tulips, daffodils, rhododendrons, azaleas, hyacinths and Forsythias are all in full bloom, as are the magnolias and some of the flowering crabs.  The best part is… there are so many sweet smells to go with it!

The rain has also made my lawn bloom, literally.  Since I don’t use chemicals and haven’t focused much time on weed control, there is a nice crop of dandelions and creeping charlie in my yard.  We inherited these with the house when we bought it and I honestly haven’t devoted much time to getting rid of them. However, there’s a part of me that thinks of these “weeds” as a gift.  I know, you probably think I’m crazy but the most beautiful time of the year in my backyard is right now.  Resting within the lush green grass is a sea of purple creeping charlie blossoms combined with bright yellow dandelions and splashes of white and lavender violets. If everything is timed just right, in a few days the pink petals from the flowering crab will begin to fall and add yet another color to the mix.  It truly is beautiful.

I promise to provide pictures to prove it!

What have the spring showers brought you?


May 11, 2011

Grab your gloves. It’s (nearly) time to plant!

Wait for it, wait for it…  Go!

The “Average Last Frost Date” for the Twin Cities, Minnesota is May 15th.  Exactly what does that mean to gardeners?  It means planting time…. sort of.

Average last frost date means just that.  It’s an average.  Some years our last frost is earlier, some years later.  (I think last year it was in January.) Granted yesterday was more like a hot summer day in August with temps reaching 90+ degrees and thunder storms and tornadoes last night, but it is Minnesota.  (Remember last week?  We had snow.)  The weather the rest of this week and moving into this weekend is forecasted to be more like a “normal” upper mid-western spring.  Since I left my crystal ball at the bowling alley the last time I was there and meteorologists don’t forecast out that far, we’re not sure what next couple of weeks will look like weather-wise, so go ahead and plant, with caution.

If you’re putting in veggies or annuals, keep in mind that you need to be watching the night-time lows.  If it looks like temps are going to drop down into the mid- to low-30s be prepared to cover your plants and if temps get really low, possibly lose a couple.  The other thing to keep in mind is that warm season crops, such as tomatoes, will not benefit from being planted early and actually will just “sit there” until the soil is warm and the weather is right. Perennials on the other hand, can be planted without much concern.  The worst thing that can happen to most of them is a really, really cold snap can damage their buds and cause them to drop some of their flowers.

So, if you have the hankering like I do.  Go ahead and plant, but have some old bed sheets handy, “just in case”.

Now, get out there and get dirty!