Monday, April 23, 2018

First garden pictures of spring

These pictures were taken just over a week ago, on April 14. I should have grabbed some new pics this weekend, because this time of year the garden changes amazingly quickly. That clematis that was 4 inches high on Wednesday is 8 inches high by Sunday. Buds open, blooms fade, perennials break ground, and the !@#$% grasshoppers hatch and start chomping. Yes, this has happened. We have tiny nymphs about 1/4 inch long. They're almost cute. They'll be a horrible garden-eating plague in less than a month. Ah, spring...

OK, back to the pictures, none of which contain grasshoppers (yet).

Look! Green! It's so exciting to trim away the brown, dead foliage and discover green treasures underneath.

Living in a place with a short growing season has made me appreciate anything that blooms early--like these daffodils and grape hyacinths.

We planted this apple tree our first spring in Flagstaff. I think it's a Fuji. This year it put on a lovely display. No clue if we'll actually get apples. As soon as it started blooming, we had a hard freeze (because of course we did), but it's still lovely.

We have crabapples too, which are a bit hardier in our less-than-optimal climate. Mine have survived on way too much neglect. This year I've resolved to actually water them regularly. Still, the blossoms are beautiful:

We even have a few (very few) edibles already, mostly chives and onions. Here are the walking onions that survived last year's horde of grasshoppers (grasshoppers seem to love anything in the onion family):

That scruffy thing to the left is a leek I planted last spring and forgot to harvest. Some garden handout I read when I moved here said that leeks are, "not adapted" for our climate and/or altitude. Good thing plants don't read garden literature.

I planted garlic last fall. We had a very warm fall, so it sprouted in about November. I worried that our cold winter temps would kill it, but nope. It's standing tall, at least till the grasshoppers show up.

And finally, there's the pond. All ten fish (6 goldfish, 4 koi) survived the winter - hooray! They've starting coming out of hibernation in the last couple of weeks and seem to be doing fine. I've had a heckuva time keeping debris out of the pond (gotta love windy spring days), but it's starting to look tolerable. The day I took these pictures, it was full of algae (blech), but here's a pic of an area onshore that's starting to look spring-y. Just ignore the nasty algae-covered water in the background. It looks better now.

Spring is springing!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Today's estate sale bargains

Daylily 'Custard Candy'. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
 If you know me at all or have read this blog much, you know I'm a bargain hunter (see my series of posts on frugal gardening for evidence). I find some of my best non-plant bargains at garage and estate sales--pots and other containers, garden tools, garden art, and other odds and ends that make this gardener's heart happy. Every now and then, I score plants that way too, usually pathetic-looking ones well on their way to that great garden in the sky. As you also know if you read this blog at all, winter is not my favorite time of year. I've probably spent about a third of my posts complaining about the cold, complaining about the snow, and complaining that I can't garden because of the cold or the snow. Time to add another complaint: there are almost no garage sales in Flagstaff in the winter. Today, though, it seemed like garage sale season might be starting. I found three--count 'em, three!--estate sales, and one had a big ol' pile of pots and other gardening paraphernalia. $10 later, my pickup bed was full. Among the various containers, bags of soil, moss, and other stuff, I found several boxes of bulbs and bare-root plants. I figured they were from last spring and probably DOA, but I took them, since they were part of my $10 pile.

When I got them home, I discovered that they are from 2016, or so the mailing label on the box said. So they're pretty much a lost cause, right? Might as well pitch them onto the compost heap and move on with my life, right? Sorry, but that makes too much sense. Instead, I spent the last hour planting every one of them that wasn't completely crispy. And it's raining, so I slogged around in the rain to do this. Yes, I am insane.

Here's the haul:

  • Dragon's Eye
  • Mildred Mitchell
  • Custard Candy (the one pictured above)
Roselilies (Note: I'd never heard of roselilies before. Turns out they are double-flowered, pollen-free Oriental lilies, and they are gorgeous. See this article from Greenhouse Product News for more info.)
  • Natalia
  • Carolina
  • Elena
Hardy gladiolus (I didn't know about these either. I've mostly avoided planting glads in Flagstaff, because I'd have to dig them up every winter, and our gale-force winds would blow them over five minutes after they started blooming. Hardy glads are shorter with smaller flowers (a better choice when you live in a wind tunnel) and are hardy to zone 5 with winter mulch. Missouri Botanical Garden has a page about them.)
  • Nathalie
  • Elvira
  • Impressive
  • Halley
  • Atom
  • Mirella
I'll report back in about June on whether any of these actually grew. Even if they don't, I got some exercise and discovered some bulbs I'd never heard of. Not too bad for a rainy winter day.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Winter finally put in an appearance

After being AWOL since last year, winter finally showed up in the form of a few inches of soft, powdery snow. The last morning in February was the kind of snowy morning I love: still, peaceful, not too cold, with snow falling softly and transforming the sad, scraggly winter garden into a wonderland. Too bad I had to go to work. I did take a few minutes to snap some pictures, since the way this year is going, this could be our only real snowfall. I'm glad I got those pics, because the snow was mostly gone by the time I got home that afternoon, the snow was mostly gone. Beauty is so often transitory, especially in a garden.

Near the front door:

Front side yard:

The pond! Part of my motivation for building a pond was the thought of seeing it surrounded by snow. And here it is:

Looking toward the potager:

This post is backdated, because as usual I didn't get around to posting the pictures in a timely manner. It's now March 9, the snow is gone, and the temp today is supposed to be pushing 60. What lovely gardening weather! Too bad I have to work.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Pond is for the birds

 Happy New Year! I've been traveling and lounging, because that's what one is supposed to do during the holidays, so I don't have any exciting gardening updates. What I do have are birds. Lots and lots of birds. This is our first winter with our pond, and apparently the feathered population of Flagstaff has decided it's a giant birdbath. We have flocks of birds hanging out in our front yard, and every morning, they're in the pond, bathing and drinking and being generally hilarious. We love the entertainment, though our driveway is now festooned with a fine glaze of bird droppings. Ah, well: everything has a downside.

Another downside: it's hard to get decent pictures of our feathered visitors, because as soon as they see me come out the front door, they scatter. So I've started taking pictures of them through one of our living room windows. The only problem is, our living room windows are dirty. I haven't cleaned them properly in well over a year, because I'm lazy. So my bird pictures aren't as sharp and clear as they could be if I put down the camera and cleaned the damn windows. Ah, well. No one ever said this blog was operated by National Geographic.

All of the pictures above were taken yesterday morning. This one was taken in early November. We came back from a walk to find a roadrunner drinking from the pond. An honest-to-goodness road runner. No sign of a coyote or any packages from Acme, thank goodness. He fled at sight of us, but we were able to get a couple of pics thanks to a good zoom lens.

So far we're loving the pond. It's a bit of work, but it's kind of fun to have the local avian spa. I hope the birds hang around for grasshopper season. I need all the help I can get with those things.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Winter has been canceled

Today is Boxing Day. You know, the day after Christmas. A few days after the Winter Solstice. Late December. According to my calendar, it's supposed to be winter. And in case you forgot, I live in Flagstaff. 7000 feet elevation. Snow. Cold. One of the places in Arizona that's supposed to get actual winter. Note for Phoenicians and Southern Californians: 60F is not a winter temperature--or it isn't supposed to be. According to the National Weather Service, it's 58 today. I just came in from the garden, and I was comfortable in a short-sleeved t-shirt, so it's probably more like 60. On December 26. We got a whole half inch of snow a few days ago, and that's the closest we've come to anything resembling winter. I'm certainly not complaining - I'd much rather shovel manure than snow - but it's pretty weird. 

Here's a scene from my garden as of a little while ago: 
For contrast, here's the same area on Christmas Day last year: 
As a transplanted Californian, I prefer today's weather, but it's pretty bizarre. It feels like early October--or SoCal. Here are a few scenes from around the garden on this freakishly warm winter day: 

Side bed along the driveway: 

The pond:

Snapdragons and pansies in pots against the south wall of the house. I got these virtually free from my local big box garden center at the end of the season, and I'm experimenting to see if they'll winter over here. The area by the south wall of the house is at least a zone warmer than the rest of the yard, so I'm hopeful.  

This is the area I'm currently transforming from field of tumbleweeds and pokey things to a garden, preferably one that won't attack me when I walk through it (Question of the day: Why are half the wild plants in deserts armed with pokey things?) It isn't much to look at now, but I hope to use this picture as a "before" picture next summer to show how much it's improved. 

Tomorrow we're supposed to take a road trip in the desert. When we planned this, we thought it would be a nice escape from the snow and cold. I just checked the weather forecast for Yuma, our first stop, and it's only supposed to be about 15 degrees warmer than here. I'm so confused. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Full on fall

 The following was written October 6, but thanks to some issues making the Blogger post editor play nicely with a Mac--and being too crazy busy to troubleshoot those issues--I'm just now getting it posted.

When I last posted, summer had just ended, but most of the summer stuff was still growing. Shortly after that post, we had a few nights of frost, which finished off the tomatoes, cucumbers, and winter squash. Amazingly, the basil and peppers (in large containers partly under eaves, next to a south-facing wall) are still hanging in there. Aside from those hold-outs, it's beginning to look a lot like fall around here. The aspens are golden, the cottonwoods are dropping leaves everywhere, and most of the summer flowers are done.

Thanks to the aforementioned cottonwoods, I had to climb into the pond to remove leaves, then throw a giant net over the whole thing to keep the rest of the leaves out. Fall leaves look lovely on the ground and sound lovely crunching underfoot. They are disgusting in a pond. They turn the water the color of iced tea, and they rot and foul the water, which is bad for the fish. So I got to spend about an hour up to my thighs in very cold, very nasty pond water. Good times.

I've also started the fall yard cleanup, ripping out spent tomato and squash vines. Soon--like tomorrow--I'll start clearing out weeds and layering manure over both old and new beds. Our cinder-y soil needs all the help it can get. The garden looks a lot different than it did even 2 weeks ago, now that the giant jungle of tomatoes is gone.

I love taking close-ups of my plants, mostly because they let me focus on the prettiest stuff in the garden and hide anything I think is less attractive. There are some especially beautiful combinations in the garden now, because the petunias are still going strong (someone forgot to tell them they're frost-tender), and the mums are in their full glory. The two together make for some lovely combinations. 

And here's a glimpse of the entire side garden with those bright golden aspens in the background. Most of the year, aspens are a bit of a pain: they spread all over the place (mine have managed to tunnel under the driveway--seriously!), are prone to disease, drop weird catkin-like things (I dunno--maybe they are catkins) everywhere in the spring, and generally make nuisances of themselves. But for a couple of weeks in the fall, they glow like candle flames, and I almost forget to be annoyed with them.

It's now two weeks after the pictures above were taken, and the yard looks much the same, though the aforementioned aspens are mostly leafless now. Other than the one cold snap, we've had days in the 60s and 70s and nights in the 40s, so the flowers are still blooming. Tomorrow we're supposed to have a major windstorm (yay for gusts to 40 mph), so I suspect all the trees will be leafless by Saturday. One more slip down the slow slide to winter.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fall philosophizing--with pictures

Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile.
--William Cullen Bryant
Summers are short here in the Arizona mountains. Our average last frost day in spring is June 15, and our average first frost day is September 15. We were supposed to have frost last night, so yesterday I harvested all the basil and made pesto and all the tomatoes and made tomato soup. The tomatoes and basil are still standing, so the frost didn't come, but we are on borrowed time. If you've read this blog at all before now, you've probably noticed that I am not a cold-weather person. I love shorts and flip-flops and beach waves and sand between my toes and sitting in the sun and evening strolls without a jacket. But even for me, there's something wonderful about this time of year. Each warm day, each night without a killing frost, is a gift. And not to wax too philosophical (though fall is a philosophical time), but each day and night are gifts. Fall just reminds me of that in a more obvious way. 

There's also something wonderful about the transition seasons, fall and spring. Winter and summer are fairly consistent. Sure, there are subtle changes from beginning to end--and not-so-subtle changes in the garden from the beginning to the end of summer. But for the most part, it's consistently warm or consistently cold, or at least it is here. I either need a jacket or I don't. The garden is either sleeping or burgeoning. But spring and fall are more unpredictable, and the changes from day to day more obvious. Daffodils appear as if out of nowhere in the spring, followed all too soon by the cursed grasshoppers. Leaves turn color (and fall into my pond) over the space of a few short weeks in fall. I can see the San Francisco Peaks--the highest mountains in Arizona--from my front yard. Every fall I watch the gold of aspen leaves start near the tops of the mountains and spread down the flanks. And then I pick those !@#$% leaves out of my pond and out of the drainage channel. I have a love-hate relationship with leaves. 

I've been trying all year to capture some moments in time in the garden. I tell myself it's so I can study the pictures to improve my garden design, but really it's just because I like looking at them. Gardens remind us that every moment is fleeting. That perfect peony poppy at 7 AM will have dropped its petals by 5 PM. Better capture that moment now. And--again with the philosophy--life is like that too. Hold onto those joyous, perfect moments while you can. Experience every moment. For all too soon, they'll be gone. 

So here are my attempts to catch the garden as it slips gently from summer to fall. These were taken on Wednesday morning, two days before the official start of autumn. You'll see a lot of pictures of mums, because I'm in love with my mums. To give you an idea of why, here's a picture of the garden along the driveway last fall, when I had just planted my $.50 mums from Wal-Mart: 

And here's that same spot as of last Wednesday: 

Not bad for a single year, huh? And yeah, those are the same mums. Proud gardener is proud. 

Here the mums are pushing aside the alyssum and petunias--symbolic of the change in seasons, no? 

This one looks like it's been sneaking steroids behind my back.

Winter-sown alyssum, salvia from the closeout rack at Wal-Mart (maybe $2/plant), and New Guinea impatiens that I couldn't resist. 

I never cared much for ornamental grasses before I moved to Flagstaff. I thought they were boring, and I'm allergic to most of them. I'm not fond of boring stuff that attacks me. But I've fallen in love with them here (though some of them still give me hives if I touch them). They require little care, and they look lovely poking out of snow in the dead of winter. This one started blooming a couple of weeks ago. In about 3 months, it'll be the star of the winter garden. 

More ornamental grasses:

The nasturtiums got off to a slow start, but they are gorgeous now. 

And then there are the tomatoes. Until this year, I'd harvested a full-sized, vine-ripened tomato precisely once in Flagstaff. This year has been amazing. I'll miss the fresh tomatoes when the frost kills the vines, but it will also be a relief. I'm tired of figuring out what to do with them, and they've taken over big sections of the garden. It'll be fun to see what's growing under the tomato jungle. 

I grew the geraniums from seed--really old seed I got for about a nickel at a dollar store in Southern California in 2012. I wasn't sure the seed would still germinate, but I winter-sowed it just in case, and here's the result. The Alberta spruce I snagged on closeout at Home Depot for about five bucks. 

Water mint:

And now for the pumpkins and squash. These are growing in an area of the garden that I just started to cultivate. I didn't do a great job of prepping the soil or mulching, but they're still producing. 

On Halloween last year, I got a huge white pumpkin for very cheap at Home Depot, because they were closing them out. Of course I planted some seeds from it. The resulting pumpkins are much smaller than that monster (like I said--I didn't do a great job of soil prep), but they're still interesting: 

And a Cinderella pumpkin with just a few wild purple asters peeking around it. Can't get much more autumnal than that. 

Happy autumn!