It’s Arbor Day: Have you Hugged Your Favorite Tree?

Proud Tree Hugger

If you can’t plant a tree somewhere today, arbor day enthusiasts suggest taking stock of your own.  Are they healthy?  In need of a trim?  Perhaps some fertilizer is in order.

Our suburban lot is about 6,000 square feet.  The house occupies a third of that and what’s left includes the garden, a deck, a patio and a few trees.  Three established trees grew in our backyard when we bought the house, but not a single tree out  front.  I started researching approved street trees before escrow even closed, and together my husband and I settled on a Chinese Pistache.  The Pistache grows in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, perfectly situated for viewing from my home office and the kitchen.

After years of broken sidewalks, car damage and probably lawsuits, the city arborist requires well-behaved “street” trees.  No invasive roots, no sticky sap to damage cars and they’ve banned Liquidambar styraciflua which toss down ankle-turning, stroller-jamming hard, dry fruit.  They are lovely trees in the right setting, but not well suited curbside.  No pip-squeaks either, which is to say, 15 gallon trees (at a minimum) when planted for safe traffic visibility.

We love our tree!  In the first few years, we measured its growth, but eventually it grew too tall.  We had boys by then, so all our attentions shifted down, as we measured their height in inches and eventually feet.

Planting Our Tree
September, 2006

In the fall our tree turns multiple shades of amber, then quietly drops a blanket of leaves, so subtle they hardly need raking.  We hang our singing skeleton from the branch to entertain passers-by around Halloween, and by winter the tree strips to its own skeletal form.

Stunning Fall Color

My youngest son loves climbing that tree and when it was dense with foliage, he once hid up there so he could drop down and surprise his unsuspecting friend.  Last summer, he and a friend rigged a series of buckets and tubes and created an impromptu dunk tank, supported by the trees now-strong limbs.

Enjoying Our Tree in the Winter Months

If that tree could talk, it would have a story to tell.  Have you hugged your favorite tree today?

Tree Hugging Spring Days

Newly Planted, September 2006

Arbor Day, 2012

Weeds: Green Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Oxalis, pretending to be ground cover

If you garden, you weed.  The end.

Seriously, every garden has weeds; it’s only a matter of degrees.  I’m an expert weeder myself, probably because pulling weeds falls into the category of garden organization.  I  pull weeds and restore order.  It’s therapeutic clearing out the interlopers, those pervasive plants that sneak into the garden beds when you aren’t looking.  They pretend to be the real deal as they vie for water and nutrients, using clever camouflage and stealth tactics to avoid detection.  I know the regulars around town: oxalis, dandelions and spotted surge. Now and again I spot something new and unfamiliar.  I pause overhead, garden fork in hand, wondering if I should give the newcomer a chance.  I once let a glossy green plant grow in our side yard, only to learn from my friend Doug that it was invasive.  It’s still popping up!  I’ve also yanked out plants, only to realize it was an annual re-seeding from the previous year.  I was amused to discover this week that the plant I left growing next to the Chinese Pistache is a volunteer broccoli plant.  How fun that was!

When you garden you have an intimate knowledge of weeds and their habits; where they’ll grow and when. If you don’t pull them out by the roots early, they’ll flower and drop seeds.  Once they go to seed you’ve extended an open-ended invitation to return year after year.

To Weed, or Not to Weed?

I made my rounds today, fork in hand, with a strong wind kicking up pollen.  We have rain in the forecast, so I figured I would get this first round done before the rain helps plant a new batch.

Do you have a garden “chore” that you secretly love?

Mystery Solved: It’s a Squirrel’s Nest

Peanut Tester

I photographed a nest last month, high up in the orange tree.  There was no sign of activity so I  assumed it belonged to a nocturnal mama, most likely an opossum.  This week, purely by chance, I looked up to see a squirrel enter the nest.  How I wished I had my camera!  I’m fascinated by what looks like a paper bag at the bottom of the nest.  I’ll have to dig out some binoculars so I can get a peek without getting any closer than I already have.  It’s such a compliment when nests appear in your garden.

According to A Squirrel Place, “Squirrels are usually born in the early spring. The average litter consists of four. This varies with climate and location.”

What have you seen nesting this spring?

Squirrel Nest: March 25, 2012

Squirrel Nest: April 19, 2012

Blooming Thursday: Geranium Containerem

Geranium: Old Faithful

Geraniums are the garden work-horse. In our zone, they flower three seasons  of the year and remain hardy down to at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit. They enjoy full sun and a good soak during the summer months, but the rest of the year they just hang out in the pot, content. Our pretty-in-pink geranium asks for very little, yet produces these beautiful blooms. I don’t see geraniums in local gardens like I used to, so perhaps they’ve fallen out of favor.  When I envision geraniums, I imagine them tucked up along white picket fences or grazing the corners of a bucolic cottage porch.  Time and again, geraniums appear in greeting cards and calendars, imparting a sense of nostalgia and harmony.  I saw several varieties when I traveled through Europe in 1989, dreaming of recreating that essence when I returned home.

Do you have geraniums in your garden?

Geranium Pink

If I were a paint color:
Several shades of subtle pink

Geraniums: Cheerful Splendor at the Edge of our Deck

Spider Catcher: Witness Relocation Program for Arachnids

Humane Bug Catcher
Available from PETA

Spiders used to freak me out.  Seriously, I considered sleeping on the couch if I knew a spider lurked above my bed.  I once read that people ingest about six spiders during an average lifetime.  Well.

Over time, I’ve faced those fears.  Though I’m not fond of the over-sized wolf spiders or the dark-legged lurker, I can deal.  Interestingly, unless they are really large, I don’t mind them so much in the garden.  They eat non-beneficial insects and, I recently learned, provide silk for hummingbird nests.

In my early renting days, one of my roommates set up a primitive version of a spider catcher: a plastic cup and a nice strong piece of cardboard.  He knew I couldn’t kill a spider so an at-the-ready bug catcher was the next best think.  Cup and cardboard in hand, unwanted arachnids  were unceremoniously evicted into nearby landscaping.

About a decade ago, I found a super-cool spider catcher at a local wildlife bird center.  It has a long handle (distance is good!) and a clever little chamber to safely cup over the intruder.  Once confined, you gently slide the bottom closed and the spider remains captive as you head for the shrubs in the far, far, far corner of the garden.

Humane Bug Catcher available from PETA’s catalog.

Starter Pumpkins: Countertop Seeds

Seed Starter

For the past several years, we’ve purchased a variety of pumpkin seeds for my son’s Christmas stocking.  We start the seeds indoors in April or May to give them a fighting chance against birds and squirrels.  We have them in the ground by June, ready to harvest in August or September.

This year we started our seeds in a Burpee Self-Watering Seed Starting System®.  The kit comes with 72 cells, a planting medium, a moisture-mat and a greenhouse-styled dome.  Everything you need for success except water!  Our new crop includes Lumina (white), Baby Pam (pie), Magic Lantern (20 lb orange), Munchkin (miniature, orange) and Howden Biggie (40-60 lb. orange).

In the past the seeds were usually jumbled together, so we never knew what was what till they started to produce.  We were more methodical this year now that my son is older and more interested in the varieties.  I photo-copied the seed packets on heavy card stock and taped them to chopsticks.  When we transplant outdoors, the plant labels will be ready to go.

Every year we hope for one large pumpkin, but we’re never willing to sacrifice the other fruit to nurture just one plant.  Once again, I imagine we’ll simply let nature takes its course (except for the squirrels of course).  The chicken wire barrier keeps the nibblers at bay till the young plants begin to grow.

Pumpkin Seeds: The Start of Something Big

The Plants are In!

Resident (Self-described) Hole Digger
My Husband, Mike

We’re sore and tired but content with the satisfaction that comes from an honest day’s work. It’s been a few years since we’ve planted for the better part of a day but we did it. Mike prefers sailing to gardening, but at the start of our marriage, he designated himself the resident hole-digger. Am I ever lucky!

The plants near the house went in quickly. The soil is free of roots and was easy to work. The challenge was the planting area under the neighboring pine. I cut away several surface roots before digging was under way, but the roots are invasive, in some cases two inches in diameter. We ended up tag-teaming the larger holes, digging a little, cutting the roots and then digging some more.

Getting Started

We made a quick run to the local Home Depot for redwood mulch, but underestimated by about 10%. Otherwise, the planting and mulching are done.

I can’t wait to get started on the vegetable beds!

Plant Placement

Putting Down Roots

Planting Area Adjacent to the Steps

Planting under the Living Room Window
Don't the plants look cozy under all that mulch?

Abutilons Along the Fence Line

View from the Corner of the House

Paradise Found

Plant Legend

Corner Near Steps:

Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells
Liriope muscari “Variegata” Lilyturf
Phormium hybrid ‘Maori Sunrise’ New Zealand Flax
Hemerocallis hybrid ‘Evergreen Yellow’ Daylily

Under Window:

Azalea kurume hybrid “Hino crimson” Azalea
Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower
Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ Coral Bells
Liriope muscari “Variegata” Lilyturf

Fence Line:

Abutilon hybridum ‘Flowering Maple’
Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower

Back Corner:

Campanula poscharskyana Serbian Bell flower
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ Japanese Frost Grass
Hemerocallis hybrid ‘Evergreen Yellow’ Daylily
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ Garden Hydrangea