Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Too Hot to Blog August 1, 2009

Filed under: fauna,weather — greenwalks @ 8:14 pm
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My brain has shut (mostly) down in this extreme heat wave we’ve been having in the Pacific Northwest. Weather whining has reached a fever pitch, and although it has cooled off from record-setting 103 degrees on Wednesday to a comparatively reasonable but still unpleasant high-80s today, I have just not had the energy to take photos, upload them, think of something to write, or otherwise contribute anything of even miniscule interest to blogland.

We also had relatives in town for a visit, which was fun but since it was their first trip up here, they felt like they had to see and do everything and it was hard to contemplate walking around town showing them the sights in the wilting heat and horrendously bad-quality air (not typically an asthma sufferer, I was coughing and wheezing every time I opened a window or stepped outside). We ended up letting them do some stuff on their own, and spent more time than I care to admit in their air-conditioned hotel room and indoor pool, just to revive a bit and feel like humans for a few hours.

It is also the time of the dreaded (by me) Seafair, Seattle’s annual bonanza of beer-fueled water activities, featuring gas-guzzling hydroplane races and the loudest planes in the sky, the Blue Angels. The combination of the heat and the noise have meant that I’m not spending really any time in the poor old garden. Plants are wilting along with me, so I’ve been out with the sprinkler and hose in the dark at times, just trying to keep most of everyone from expiring until the rains return. Which they seem like they never will.

All of this complaining has made me think about the poor unfortunates who don’t have any access to fans or AC or even a cool sip of water – yes, the elderly and those who work outside have my sympathy, but I’m talking about the furry wildllife, who must really not be used to these temps either. Hugh at Rock Paper Lizard had a really lovely post related to this recently, complete with super cute animal pics – read it here if you have a minute. We have noticed a squirrel who seems to be moving rather slowly at the moment – hope it’s not sick, and will recover when the weather cools. S/he hangs out on top of the fence near our dining room, and seems to stay there for long periods. I took this photo the other day with my daughter’s stuffed animal shark in the foreground, I thought the two “S” animals looked pretty funny together.

Shark & squirrel

Are you a stoic when the mercury hits the extremes? Or do you take your hot weather, as I do, with a glass of WHINE?


Bulb Post, Part III November 14, 2008

Yesterday’s post probably had some of you calling my sanity into question. I won’t argue with you there, I did feel sort of like a madwoman cooking up that hideous concoction to squirrel-proof my bulb plantings… but it was fun. And it didn’t even smell that bad! Just like salsa soup or something.

So, after I was done loading up (and half-melting) the spray bottle, it was time to head out to the parking strip and put those babies in the ground! Another thing preventing me from doing so had been the weather, but I took the first sunny moment I had time and went for it. Bulb planting always takes longer than I think it will, so I had to allow for a few hours’ work, counting the potion-brewing.

La la la, line ’em up on the back porch and see what I got, because I always forget between when I buy them and when the poor things actually get planted.

Bulbs to plant

I lost the full list, but this is some of what I scribbled onto a now-muddy piece of paper when I was out there, so I could remember locations:

– Narcissus ‘Scarlet Royal’ (yellow with large orange cups)
– Narcissus ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (white/orange double-flowering)
– Tulip ‘Fashion’ (rose with purple veins – Kaufmaniana)
– Tulip ‘Mona Lisa’ (yellow feathered with raspberry)
– Tulip ‘Palestrina’ (salmon with green feathering)

Oh man, I know there was a lot else. Some things that ended up in the upper garden include

– Muscari ‘Blue mixture’
– Narcissus ‘Little Gem’
– Bellevalia paradoxa (never grown this before, related to muscari)
– several varieties of species tulips – maybe I’ll find my other smudgy paper before spring and will update this if so… sorry!

My hands were too muddy to take pictures of the bulbs going into their new homes, but I did try to put them at the right depths, at least as well as memory served. I had thought I had some bulb fertilizer in the garage but it wasn’t where I expected it to be so I probably used it up last year. So, they’ll have to get what they can from my semi-poor soil and I hope it’s enough! This is definitely not a guide for how to give your bulbs the best start…

After they were all planted, it was time to squirrel-proof up a storm! I sprayed my goofy concoction over the planting site (these next pics are from the upper garden, under the witch hazel), sprinkled a little paprika on for good measure (word on the street is that they don’t like the smell of that either),

Paprika sprinkle on bulb zone

and now my garden smells like Hungarian goulash!

Just to be triple-sure, I covered up each site with some witch hazel or plum leaves. I hope the various methods didn’t cancel each other out, that would be so typical of my haphazard approach to gardening. I made sure a little paprika was sticking out past the leaves.

All covered up and protected

Thanks to the Arboretum volunteers for packing the bulbs in compostable paper bags, no plastic anywhere to be found. They all went straight into the yard waste toter.

Bulb bags in the yard waste

Now the waiting begins. I’ve been out once so far to “refresh” the spray, but doubt I’ll get to it more than maybe once or twice again. I can’t see going out there all winter, that’s just not my kind of gardening (the lazy kind!). So far so good, with nary a paw mark upon any of the leaf piles. Hm, I probably just jinxed it all. Damn.

So, Dr. Destructo, the gauntlet is tossed. Yeah buddy, I’m talkin’ to YOU.

Nemesis squirrel, Dr. Destructo


Protecting the Bulbs from Dr. Destructo November 13, 2008

Filed under: fauna,my garden — greenwalks @ 12:53 pm
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One of my (many) excuses for not getting my bulbs into the ground right away was that I had seen my un-favorite critter around a lot, Dr. Destructo the evil squirrel. Last year, he (or one of his buddies/relatives) systematically dug up and either made off with or at least gnawed upon and discarded pretty much every one of my bulbs. I had meant to research humane yet effective anti-pest methods but of course didn’t think of it again until the new bulbs were purchased and ready to be planted, and I didn’t want to let another year’s plantings go to waste if I could help it.

In a previous post, I implored my fellow gardeners to share their squirrel stories and suggest any useful remedies. Several, including fellow Seattelites the Shibaguyz, proposed chili pepper spray to keep the pesky varmints at bay. Lucky for me, a quick perusal of a few helpful gardening blogs produced several recipes for delightfully dastardly yet all-natural brews that I could make at home from stuff I already had lying around. I adapted this one from Green Gardenista.

Didn’t have any hot peppers handy, so I cobbled together a rather unusual array of ingredients and got the water boiling.

Bulb anti-squirrel potion ingredients

Apologies to Rick Bayless, I do love your salsas and hot sauces but some of these had gotten lost at the back of the fridge and may be a little past their prime. You don’t need any more publicity anyway, now that everyone knows that the new President and First Lady love going to your restaurants in Chicago…

So, I chopped up the onion, tossed it into the water, dumped in some hot sauce, salsa, and red pepper flakes. OK, it has to be said: “Boil, boil, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” I definitely felt very witchy doing this! Sorry, no eye of newt.

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble

Boiled it for 20 minutes as the recipe called for, then strained the bits out, very steamy kitchen at that point:

Steaming evil potion

Then came the part that I must have skimmed over: “let cool.” Oops, poured it in too soon and semi-melted the spray bottle:

Semi-melted spray bottle

It’s deformed but it still works. Duh! Probably released all sorts of evil chemicals that way, sorry bulbs. I ended up with kind of a lot. It’s supposed to be applied every five days – not sure I’m up for that amount of effort or even how long it will keep before it gets too nasty. Might have to try it a few times and then hope for the best. To be continued…

Evil potion extras


Is It Too Late to Talk About Bulbs? November 12, 2008

Every year, I attend the University of Washington Arboretum’s annual bulb and plant sale madness. I usually try to go at the beginning of the first day, which is a total insane crush, elbows flying everywhere to get to that almost-black tulip or unusual fritillary variety.

This year, they added an extra day, Monday, after the weekend rush. I figured the selection would be a little less but that it would be made up for by the lack of patrons. I’m just not up for crowds this year. I was right on both counts – fewer choices, but almost no people! I could actually see the descriptions for a change and didn’t have to say “excuse me” even once!

Bulb sale

I usually go in armed with a list of my hoped-for finds, but this time I just scanned their PDF and figured I’d get what struck me at the sale. That’s always a recipe for over-buying, at least for me, but oh well. Since I hadn’t been to any of the big fall plant sales, I hoped to do some perennial and groundcover shopping too, since they usually have a great selection at this event. Alas, they had neglected to post on their web site that the plant vendors were Saturday/Sunday only. Here’s what I had to choose from:

Plant sale slim pickings

Uh, yeah. Not exactly the selection I was hoping for. But then I saw some happy-looking gals walking past with flats full of plants. I shamelessly pounced on them and asked where they had gotten their finds. They pointed me toward a part of the arboretum that I had forgotten about:

UW Arboretum donated plants sign

Oh, yeah! Probably not too much that’s really unusual here, but lots to choose from, raised with love and care, and donated to the organization by local gardeners. I thought about Megan over at nestmaker when I saw this baby Katsura tree, which she has been jonesing for. I think it was 11 bucks.

Mini katsura tree

I ended up with a couple of cute little drought-tolerant plants for the parking strip – sedums (oreganum, the small one at bottom right in the photo below, and multiceps at top right), sempervivum (‘Stansfieldii’), and a variegated semi-evergreen carex I’d admired in others’ gardens, Carex morowii ‘Ice Dance.’

Bulb sale bonus plants

Oh, but this post was supposed to be about bulbs, right? Here was my haul:

2008 bulb haul

Somewhere, there is a piece of paper with all of the varieties listed. Can I find it at the moment? Of course not! But suffice to say that I did spend over $100 and I didn’t get them in the ground right away. Same old story.

In the next week, I hope to put up another post about planting the bulbs, and about my attempt to protect them from Dr. Destructo, the nefarious squirrel who likes to mess with things I love in the garden.

Are your spring-flowering bulbs all tucked in safely for their winter naps? If not, it’s okay to admit it here – I will not judge!


My Nemesis November 8, 2008

My daughter, who has been home sick from school the past two days, was sitting with me on the couch late this afternoon when she pointed up into our cedar tree and said, “Mommy, what’s that up there?” I didn’t see where she was pointing at first. Then I saw him, Public Enemy #1 in my garden.

A squirrel eating an apple?

I said to my daughter, “Good eye, sweetie. Do you see what he’s eating?” And she said, “An apple from the neighbor’s house?” Bingo! I guess he read my previous post about how much it annoys me that he’s messing with all my seedlings and bulbs when there are unused apples just two doors down. It was getting pretty dark so the shots are a little fuzzy, but you can see in this next one that he’s looking right at us with his beady little eyes, bold as brass. No fear. The perfect supervillain!

Yep, yummy

Oh, and every supervillain needs a name, right? I’m leaning towards Dr. Destructo but will be happy to accept alternate suggestions.


@#$(*& Squirrel!!??!! November 3, 2008

Dear Mr. (Ms.?) Squirrel –

I’m not sure when your antics in my garden ceased to become amusing or even merely annoying and crossed over into infuriating. Perhaps it was when you dug up every last daffodil bulb I carefully planted last year and ate one bite out of each, leaving the rest to rot. Or maybe it was when you oh so casually decapitated all of my sunflowers long before summer was over.

Let’s see, it could have been when you rooted around in my newly planted salad seed sprouts, disturbing pretty much every one so that they died (popsicle sticks mark heads of rows which once held many mesclun seedlings):

Squirrel-destroyed seedlings

Or was it when you dug up half my chard starts, ruining my circular planting pattern?

Squirrel-dug chard

In any case, this weekend was the last straw. You didn’t even let me get a decent, daylight picture of the jack-o-lanterns my daughter carved before you grotesquely gnawed on their eye sockets

Squirrel-eaten pumpkin


Squirrel-chewed pumpkin

and completely absconded with the top of her “grandpa pumpkin” which was about the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

Squirrel got this one too

At least you didn’t get her lion-silhouette one, or at least not yet. I think I’ll have to bring that one in.

Lion pumpkin

Oh, and thanks for leaving the disgusting mess for me to clean up, possibly with industrial-strength bleach since my kid spends a lot of time touching stuff on that porch and your germs are probably pretty alarming.

So, it’s official. I hate you! Even though I know you are just doing your job, storing up fat to survive the winter. There’s so much food around that I don’t care about, why don’t you take some of the neighbor’s unused apples, or try to remember where you buried your million acorns earlier this fall? I’m almost to the point where I’m ready to get out the Have-a-Heart humane trap and go find you a new home, somewhere far, far away…

Anyone else tangling with critters lately? Any non-violent anti-squirrel advice to share?


Freak tiny corn September 27, 2008

It’s always funny to me to hear about the weirdo volunteer seedlings that sprout in people’s gardens, whether from compost, bird leavings, or another mysterious process. Probably my most unusual sprout this summer was this freakishly miniature corn that showed up on the edge of my veggie patch, despite the fact that neither I nor anyone else on the street has ever grown corn that I know of.

Freak volunteer corn - alive

When it first came up, I thought it looked like corn but wasn’t sure. As it matured and its little tassels showed up, I let it stick around and wondered if I’d get to “harvest” something that maybe looked a little bit like the baby corn that usually gets tossed into bad vegetarian Chinese food.

But one day I got tired of looking at the broken-necked sunflowers and ripped them out (thanks, Mr/Ms Squirrel), and when I came back to the garden later I found this:

Freak volunteer corn after squirrel removed it

I don’t have a spycam but I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that the pissed-off squirrel, not finding any more sunflowers to break/devour, decided to see if the corn was worth gnawing on, ripped it out, took one bite, and tossed it. Either that or it has weirdly accurate perception of which plants I like, and decided to show me who’s the boss in the garden (after what I learned about crows this week, I wouldn’t be that surprised). Oh well, it probably wouldn’t have been edible anyway.