love spring

I haven’t seen a hummingbird yet,  April 29, which is late for me, but Spring is in full bloom here in South Jersey.DSC_0031Some of the Columbines are over 4 feet tall.  Sigh. I remember when Columbine was just a flower.DSC_0033Aren’t they pretty?

DSC_0037 (2)The bed by the front porch looks to have a promising year.DSC_0040 (2)The bed by the driveway looks pretty good, as well.DSC_0043The raised bed herb garden has some winter survivors as well as popsicle sticks promising good things to come.DSC_0045And here, my dears, is what my beloved party garden looks like on this very day. A sad, sad remnant of our glorious fall season together, as witnessed below.DSC_0006But, happily, my Sad Clematis has hung in there.DSC_0046Love Spring.

winter lessons

lanternWinter has finally come to South Jersey. We had about 7 inches of snow over the weekend and it’s not going anywhere because it’s COLD!

titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

When I went out to feed the birds this morning, I noticed that they were much more tame than usual. Usually they scatter as soon as they see me coming. But today, they didn’t budge until I was about 3 feet away.

sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

I’m guessing the frigid temperatures and blanket of snow have made food such a priority that their usual skittishness is tempered.

nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch

So, after I fed them, I grabbed my camera.  I took the above pictures in about 5 minutes, and then left them to the serious business of eating.

creativity 2 – make mistakes

I never know where I’m headed when I create. Whether it’s a meal, a quilt, a garden, or a blog post, I just have to jump in and see where it takes me.

Sometimes I make something great that doesn’t work.grilling-june-garden-hummingbird-009Despite heroic measures on my part, I was unable to overcome the effects of gravity; the plants kept falling out of the frame. So I gave up.

Sometimes I make something bad that works.dsc_0127I wanted to try free motion quilting, but I knew I wouldn’t be very good at it. I did it on the back side of my daughters bolsters – the side that goes against the back of the couch – so no one sees it.

And sometimes, I just have to keep trying until I get it right.grilling-june-garden-hummingbird-059BEFORE – Here’s a little seating arrangement under a cherry tree. After years of cleaning up petals, pits, and poop (the birds LOVE those cherries), I took out the seats.may-backyard-prom-003AFTER – I used the pavers to make a little wall, filled the area with soil and made a cute little garden instead. Now all of the cherry tree debris just disappears.

too big for my britches

It started with a sad clematis.Sad

Then I noticed a lilac had taken over the party garden.

Lilac good days006

The lilac in happier times.

I decided to dig up the lilac and put the clematis in its spot, where it will get the sun it so desperately needs.

So I dug. And I pulled. And I snipped and clipped. And I dug.

DSC_0001 (2)

This is after day 4. Party garden disrupted. Wall collapsed. Tools strewn about. Lilac stump not even budging.

roots)

This is after day 9. Looks like you could just pluck it right out of there, doesn’t it? . . . Nope

Now

Finally, two weeks later, things are looking up. The clematis is still just a bitty thing on the trellis (right in front of the blue jungle gym). But we all have hopes for a better future.

new neighbors

Even though food is abundant this time of year, I still feed the birds. I like to see who’s new to the neighborhood.July Backyard, Bunting, Wine Bag, Emma Party 013

Mr. Chill is one of five young squirrels who keep me entertained. He spends most of his time flat on his belly in an overstuffed daze.June Backyard, wine bag, beach 006

This is a young red-bellied woodpecker. We’ve had  year-round residents for several years, and this is the second time that I’ve seen them with young.July Backyard, Bunting, Wine Bag, Emma Party 036

And this little beauty is an indigo bunting. I’d only ever seen one in my life, and when my mom saw him in my very own backyard without me, I was a tad jealous. July Backyard, Bunting, Wine Bag, Emma Party 026

Thankfully, he stuck around. I noticed that he ate the inexpensive seeds that I don’t usually buy – so I just keep feeding him that. He’s been here for weeks, but I am still excited to see him every time.

volunteers

I first noticed the gardening term “volunteers” while reading a novel. I immediately took it and made it my own. I pictured little seeds jumping up and down, raising their hand: “I’ll grow!  I’ll grow!”backyard, Dave's Quilt, Sea Isle 010

My lemon balm sends volunteers all over the yard, as does  my catnip. Sometimes I let them be, but usually I relocate them to a place that pleases me more.backyard, Dave's Quilt, Sea Isle 004

The native sedum that my brother planted in my mom’s yard (that I stole a piece of)  is spreading everywhere. Here I put a clump on an old stump. It’s happy as can be.crepe myrtle, spice jars 001

This crepe myrtle started a few years back beneath the mother tree. I transplanted it to fill up an empty corner.June Backyard 005

But this yucca is the best volunteer ever. It came from a neighbor’s yard, I suspect, because I have not seen one elsewhere. It flew over the street and plopped down in the perfect place in the corner of a street garden.

gardening with dog

Riley web 002This is Riley. She is 95 pounds of self-appointed yard protection. No bikers, joggers, walkers, or trash men are safe from her ire. She’ll race from one end of the yard to the other to get a good bark in.garden trampled by dogThis is the war path. Nothing can grow along the fences where Riley chases her prey: not even weeds. I’ve had to get creative in trying to mingle my love of the pretty with Riley’s habit of crushing everything in her way. brick and stone planter against fenceHere I built a little planter against the fence to reclaim a bit of earth.fence with purple runner bean growing on itI have lots of these three-foot fence pieces (thanks, mom!) I use them to trellis pretty vines and to “steer” Riley away from areas I am trying to protect. grouping garden elements to act as dog barrierGrouping works wonders. Here, the combination of the planter, birdbath, and hosta is just too much trouble. She’ll go around rather than through.raised bed gardenLastly, I’ve been able to train her to stay out of the vegetable garden. Unlike the rest of the yard, it’s an obviously defined space. The walls could never keep her out, but they do give her a visual boundary. So far, so good.

Cleome flower with bee

Seed Saving

My yard is always full of my family and friends. As I walk outside I am greeted by Woody Platt’s Sundrops, Grandma’s Tiger Lilies, and Mom’s Cleome. I take care with these special plants. To ensure that they stay with me, I save the seeds to plant next year.

Cleome flower with bee

Cleome Flower and Friend

Cleome seeds in the pod

Cleome seeds in the pod

This is the time of year when the seedpods are brittle and dry. That’s when you want to collect them. The Cleome seeds above are ready to be harvested. I’ll hold a large, clean, dry Tupperware container underneath and brush the seeds into the container.

Columbine Flowers

Columbine Flowers

Columbine seed pods ready to be harvested

Columbine seeds work the same way. Collect them when the pods are dry and brittle and look like the picture above.Seed collecting envelopeweb 003

I store my seeds in a labeled #10 envelope.  Seed Collection Envelope  Here’s a pdf to download to print your own envelopes. It is set up for my printer, which feeds envelopes vertically on the right. I can format it for different printers; just let me know.

Swinget turned into swing

Backyard Solutions

I’ve been living in my yard for a lot of years, and I’m learning what works for me.Swinget turned into swing

When our children outgrew the swing set my husband made, we pulled down the kid’s swings and replaced them with a swing everyone can use. I planted wisteria on one side and after just a few years we are getting nice shade.Bird bath made of recycled dish

I go through birdbaths like Snickers bars. I try to remember to empty them before a hard freeze, but the water containers always seem to leak after just a year or so.  I’ve learned that a big dish from Goodwill and a rock is all it takes to bring back the bathers.Gourd vine growing up a tree

My yard is a nice size, but gourds and cucumbers and all of those sprawling vines seem to take over everything. This year, I let the birdhouse gourds overtake the trellis and continue right up a nearby tree. The garden stayed neat, and this totally appeals to  my love of the quirky.Hummingbird silhouette

The hummingbird likes it, too.A squirrel peeking out of the the hole he gnawed in the trash can.

And the solution here? . . . Keep the birdseed in a metal container from now on.

blooming sunflower

here comes the sun . . . flowers

blooming sunflowerAfter a few days of torrential rain, today was beautiful. I saw my first sunflower bloom at coffee time.

full view of gardenJust for perspective:  The lowest finger points to the sunflower bloom pictured above. The finger above it points to the birdhouse gourds that are happily climbing every tree in sight. The finger in the top left points to the sunflower blooms (nearly 8 feet) that are in the near future.

cedar waxwingMy little darling Waxwing greeted me at dawn with his silent welcome. Even though I have studied their sounds online, I have yet to hear them. The nest withstood the heavy rains. For that I am thankful. It’s all right (do do do do do do dododododo).

a most unusual morning

It started out as any July morning:Riley web 002I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the party garden at 6:00 am while Riley stood guard and patiently waited for her run. Hot air balloonWhile we were running, I saw a hot air balloon. We stepped up the pace, got home, and I grabbed my camera and drove out to track it down. (Riley had a drink and a nap on the sofa.)hot air balloon on groundThe balloon had a friend.cedar waxwingWhen I got home, I noticed a pair of Cedar Waxwings nesting in my yard. This is unheard of. I am thrilled to see them once a year, in a group, in winter. I have never seen Cedar Waxwings during nesting season.cedar waxwingThey are very active, so the pictures aren’t great – but I have high hopes for the future.

just picked tomato

tomato time

just picked tomatoBehold: my first tomato of the year. I ate this one warm from the sun, sliced, with sea salt and black pepper.

This is not one of the heirloom tomatoes that I started from seed; they are a bit slower. This is a “Celebrity” tomato. I bought the plants from the farm market down the road. After the first came ripe, I was almost struck with a glut. Never you mind. I can handle the challenge.bread tomato kabobs
First up: Bread Kabobs.  Day old bread, tomatoes, olives, artichokes. Thread on a skewer & sprinkle with olive oil, salt, all sorts of Italian herbs AND red pepper flakes. Grill until toasty. Oh, my.

early july : my favorite things

My yard is bursting: with birds, animals, flowers, vegetables. Sometimes July can feel parched, but not this year. We are ripe with all of the things I love.zinnias in bloomZinnias I planted from seed are in their full glory. When they no longer look pretty to me, I will leave them as a meal for my goldfinch friends.cherry treeThe cherry tree is overripe to me, but it is alive with blue jays, red-breasted woodpeckers (and a fledgling – the first I’ve EVER seen), robins, brown thrashers, finches, cardinals, flickers, and titmice. The hummingbirds spend a great deal of time perching in it – but I have never seen them eating the fruit in any way. There are also a crazy amount of bunnies beneath the tree. Are they eating the cherries that fall?birdhouse gourd plant climbing a homemade trellisThe bird house gourds are happy to climb the trellis I made to keep them off the ground. I have big plans ahead for these, but the hummingbirds love their blossoms right now.tomatoes almost ripeBut of all those things to love, beautiful tomatoes, just days from being ripe, are my current favorite things.

hummingbirds

I have watched the hummingbirds for years now, and they still remain a mystery. They often seem bug-like, as they chase each other around, chattering, oftentimes spending more time defending the food than they spend eating it. But I’ve also seen two hummingbirds rise slowly in flight, beaks touching, displaying what I can only call tenderness.male ruby throated hummingbird at feeder

What I do know: The male Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (the only kind in our area) arrive in my South Jersey backyard when my cherry tree begins to bloom. This year it was April 24th.female or young ruby throated hummingbirdThe females arrive a week or so later. I tend to see single hummingbirds at my 8 to 10 feeders every 20 minutes during this time.

Then they all go away. For two or three weeks in late May and early June, I rarely see them. My best guess is that they are nesting in the orchards down the road and are sticking close to the nests. young ruby throated hummingbirdBy mid June, they are back, stronger than ever. One bird sits at every feeder, guarding it from any bird or bug who happens to wander by. I keep the feeders by my seating areas, and I am forever being buzzed by them. They seem to be more curious than wary.

If you’d like to join the fun, get a small feeder. (A large one is only useful after you have lots of birds feeding – the nectar gets bad (cloudy) after a week or less.) Heat 1 cup water & 1/4 cup sugar in the microwave until it boils (3 minutes works for me). Stir to be sure it’s all incorporated. Let cool before filling the feeders.Hummingbird and Orange Flower

how to hide a stump

I have several areas of the yard that get neglected every year, despite my best intentions . . .ugly stumpWitness the Stump Garden.

I’ve been reading about Permaculture, and that gave me the idea to incorporate the stump into a planting bed.turniing a stump into a planterI used some cedar shims and bricks I had lying around. I hammered the shims deep into the ground so they would support the bulk of the soil. I just stacked the bricks around that to pretty it up. It was easy after I got the bottom layer level.brick planterHere’s how it looked at the end of April, before soil and plants.brick planterAfter I planted it with a sedum and flower seeds, I added some Native Sedum plants to the cracks of the planter to see if they’d grow.brick planterThey did grow. Just wait till the zinnias bloom!

cabbage success

I am officially calling it a successful cabbage season. I bought plants (Golden Cross) and planted them on April 13th, over a month before our last frost date. They are in a raised bed which I filled with soil from my garden excavation and lots of compost (mostly kitchen scraps).

I planted them with rosemary, nasturtiums, and sunflowers. A few tomatoes volunteered, and I left them in there as well. After the heads formed,  I saw the evidence of cabbage worms on the plant farthest from the rosemary. The outside leaves had been eaten and there was lots of poop. cabbage worm poop and damaggeI used the hose to forcefully clean everything out, and as I directed the hose spray, I made sure to hit the rosemary first. I was sure I’d be doing the same thing in a day or two, but I never saw another poop.raised bed of cabbagesThis picture was taken about a week ago. I just picked my first cabbage this morning and made cole slaw for dinner. I’m going to have to get more creative than that.

seasonal firsts

We recently had our first good rain in a long time, and the garden is loving it. We’ve also had: honeybee on clover

our first honeybee;coneflowerour first coneflower; (thinking of you, Cynthia)Baby blue jayand our first floundering baby bird.baby blue jaySqueaky Pete – King of the Rock Wall.

more garden structures

I love this time of year! Every day I find some new flower blooming or seed sprouting. Lots of herbs are ready to use and the spinach is looking like dinner. We have a mockingbird sitting on her nest, and this year (horray!) it’s above dog-face level. Raised bed vegetable garden with pathsHere’s my revamped vegetable garden. The pathways are filled with trimmings from the spring clean up (no weeds). It’s about 8 inches thick and very nice for kneeling: clean and comfy.

carrot boxI even made an extra deep, rock-free carrot box. No more wacky shaped carrots for me!