Tales from the Exurbs, Vol. VIII: Lord Chuckingham

The other day, Steve rushed into the house and excitedly announced that we had a “new neighbor.” Since we’ve barely met any of our existing neighbors, I wasn’t sure why the fanfare – but then he pulled his phone out and showed me a video of a rather beefy fellow eyeing him suspiciously and then disappearing under our shed.

The kids were thrilled, obviously. Our very own neighbor groundhog! Can life get better? Seriously, can it? Over dinner, we had a ferocious family debate about what to name him. Peanut and I plumped for “Phil,” after his famous relation, but Steve said we were being “speciesist” and that not all groundhogs are named Phil. Eventually, after some truly skillful advocacy, Steve persuaded us all to agree to his choice of names.

Meet Lord Chuckingham. Because he’s dignified. See it?

After dinner, Steve suggested that we should all go look out the sunroom window, because Lord Chuckingham might be hanging out by his palace gates. Low and behold – he was, and I snapped a few pictures through the sunroom window (including that first one, above). Then Steve suggested I might be able to sneak outside and get some better snaps without scaring His Lordship, if I was super quiet. It was worth a try, so I rushed out the front door, crept around the side of the garage, laid down in the grass and army crawled into the middle of the yard for a clear shot.

Almost there. What I do to get good pictures for you guys, I mean, really.

Your Lordship! Welcome to the neighborhood!

He wasn’t sure what to think of me. (Worth noting; I was all the way across the yard – about 75 feet away, or more – when I took this picture. Kudos, again, to the P1000 and its sick zoom lens.)

He decided to crouch down and hide, but continued to keep an eye on me. I read this signal as “go away” so I carefully and quietly crept out of the yard and back in the house. A few minutes later, he disappeared under the shed and we haven’t seen him since; it’s been scorching hot outside so I assume he’s staying cool in his burrow (smart groundhog).

Welcome to the neighborhood, Lord Chuckingham!

Outdoor Report: February 2021

February was cold. We had back-to-back snowfalls; a couple of ice storms; and a lot of icy rain. Our house doesn’t get – or stay – especially warm, and I took to walking around with my hands curled around a steaming mug of tea a lot of the time, just to keep from chillblains. I tried squinting and pretending that I was living in a draughty Scottish castle, but it didn’t work.

As you can imagine, with all this cold, it was another indoor month. We did make a point of getting out and hitting the trails most weekend days, but hikes were truncated and we did miss a few because of yucky weather. Between the grim skies and the hibernating garden, I spent more time in my reading nook than in the fresh air. Really hoping that March, and the beginning of more consistently warm weather, will be the turning point.

Trail report. I read a beautiful quote earlier this month: “We cannot learn the story of the year if we read only eight or nine of its twelve chapters.” (Edward Step, 1930.) That was really our philosophy in February. We hit the trails in the mud and slush, and we slipped around our neighborhood park in the ice. Although we made a point of getting out, it was mostly to our local favorite – Riverbend Regional Park. Riverbend is a favorite for a reason, and we definitely enjoyed our rambles there. (Well, mostly. There was one very muddy day that I could have done without. Hiking in the mud isn’t my jam.) Hoping that March will bring more consistently hike-able weather, and that we’ll get to some trails a little further afield.

In the garden. So, I realized that I shared the above picture in my January recap, but it was actually snapped on February 1 – whoops! This is what the garden looked like for most of the month – although after a few warmer days and rains toward the end of the month, the snow is gone now. I have a big stack of garden books to read in the evenings ahead, and am still trying to figure out what I’m going to do about the big wild area. Now I am leaning toward planting some annuals. I don’t have much time left to make this decision!

At the feeders. (Another January picture – busted! But that view was pretty prevalent in February, too.) With great caution I will tell you that – so far, knock wood – my starling-repulsion techniques seem to be working. Between putting out food they don’t prefer in the feeders they can access, and their favorites in the starling-proof cage feeder, I have seen very few of them. They stop by now and then to see if I have let down my guard, but they leave right away. And even better news is: surprisingly, the Eastern bluebirds are able to get into the starling-proof cage feeder, so they’re still around! I had thought they would be locked out of the good stuff, but they surprised me. I’m so glad that my war on starlings didn’t have the collateral effect of driving away the bluebirds. They’re so lovely.

1000 hours outside. Oof. So, another largely indoor month. I guess that’s to be expected in pandemic winter. It’s funny – I love winter sports, skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing – and every year I say this is going to be the year I get the family into something new, but it never really happens. I didn’t even try this year, so that explains why – only 10.5 outdoor hours in February. And it would have been even less were it not for a 3.5 hour outdoor playdate last weekend. I’m still holding out the hope, or expectation really, that outdoor time will go way up once the weather starts warming up and we spend more time in the yard, on the playground, and on the trails and the water.

How was your outdoor February?

Snowbirds

These days, whenever we get even the tiniest dusting of snow, I can be found at my kitchen window, camera in hand, waiting to paparazzi the neighborhood birds.

We’re a busy way-station for songbirds and cardinals year-round, but they seem to go particularly bonkers when there’s snow on the ground. It’s like they think they’re never going to get fed again. (They cleared out half of the nutberry suet blend, and a third of the safflower, by lunchtime after our last snowfall.) I love watching their little squabbles and dramas around the feeders, but I think my favorite thing about these avian visits is snapping pictures of their beautiful colors against the muted, snowy backdrop.

Cardinals, for instance, look stunning and dramatic against the snow.

Lady cardinal!

This fella was palling around with a female eastern bluebird.

Speaking of whom…

It literally never gets old to see them in my yard. For years, I wanted to see a bluebird – and never did. Then this summer I finally spotted one while out on a walk, and the dam broke; I see them everywhere now. Lately they’ve been visiting my front yard feeders, which feels like a miracle. I hope they keep coming; as soon as the starlings give up on me I plan to get the bluebirds some mealworms.

How funny is this fluffernutter with his feathers all poofed out like that? It’s to stay warm; fluffed feathers are the bird equivalent of a puffer jacket.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that it makes them look like adorable fluffy tennis balls.

Hello, pretty lady.

The finches were out to play, too. American goldfinch:

And a sweet purple finch:

I never get tired of their sweet faces and elegant plumage. I’m glad I live in a region with year-round avian residents – and so many of them. They’re certainly brightening up this dark pandemic winter around here.

Are you a bird nerd? What sorts of visitors do you get at your feeders?

Garden Chronicles: A Bounty of Green Tomatoes

Whew!  Changes are afoot (see what I did there?).  Although fall doesn’t really hit Virginia until October – it’s still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts – the leaves are beginning to drop, just a little.  Other than those first few fluttering leaves, not much to report around here.  I have not given the garden much attention this month.

We’re heavy into planning for next year.  This jungle is our front walk; Steve has decided that he wants to rip this all up and start fresh (with something inexpensive, because we all know my position on spending a lot of money improving someone else’s property).  Since I don’t know which of these plants are the weeds and which are planted here intentionally, that seems like a good idea.

As for this, I confess myself stumped.  I suggested to Steve that we plant a pumpkin patch here.  I figured the vines would act as ground cover during the warm months and then we’d have pumpkins.  (My friend Bridget has a pumpkin patch in her suburban Alexandria backyard.  If she can do it, so can I!)  When he stopped laughing and realized I was serious, he was violently against that idea (why?).  Since the backyard is my domain, I might still do that.  Or I might spend the next two summers scratching my head, and then move.  Time will tell!

While we’re in the backyard, there has been another bird feeder reshuffling.  This is very exciting news: we actually saw a hummingbird buzzing around our front yard tube feeder!  After we all stopped jumping up and down and shouting, I darted out to Home Depot to pick up some nectar, and hung up Steve’s hummingbird feeder in the backyard, thinking we’d maybe entice a few more to stop by for fuel as they migrate south.  Since then: no hummingbirds.  Figures.

As for the title of this post: we continue to watch the tomato plant like hawks.  And… it’s mostly a fail.  I did find this:

A ripe tomato, still on the vine (not knocked into the dirt by aggressive squirrels or children).  Since I was alone in the backyard, I got to eat this.  Success.

Sadly, most of the tomatoes look like this: green, green, greeeeeeeen.  Anyone have any recipes that use green cherry tomatoes?  We’re weeks away from our first frost, so I don’t think it’s time to declare defeat.  But I’m also not convinced we are going to have enough hot sun to actually ripen these.  Blah.

Closing out this disjointed update post, I thought I’d show you a few spots in the yard that don’t get photographed.  First up, the woodpile.  This was actually bigger before we got our firepit, so: progress!

Fall bonfires ahoy.

I need to figure out some solution to keep the wood dry during wet weather, if we want to keep this fire thing going into the fall and winter.

Finally, this is the side yard, which the kids have named “the sandlot.”  There’s no sand, but we do play catch here.  Nugget’s red glove is starting to get nice and flexible.

I borrowed Steve’s glove, which used to belong to his dad.  Nice and supple, but no good for me because I’m not a lefty – whoops.  Also, is it me or does this glove look angry that it is being asked to catch a Washington Nationals baseball?  This glove is a Yankees fan.

That’s it for the September garden brain dump… how are your green spaces looking as we transition to fall?

Garden Chronicles: Baffled (August 2020)

It’s garden tiiiiiiiiiiime!  And unlike last month, I actually did (a few) things and have (a couple) things to report.

First of all: tomato update!  The tomato plant that Peanut victimized is recovering nicely and is almost as tall as its planter-mate now.  And both have started to sprout green tomatoes – about time, too, it’s only late August in Virginia, I mean, jeez.

(Side note: if you are looking at the picture above and thinking Nugget’s football jersey seems a little too small, it’s a 2T.  And Watkins doesn’t even play for the Bills anymore.  Any tips on how to get a little boy to agree to upgrade his favorite shirt?)

Look how cute, though!

Apparently this is what they look like immediately post-blossom phase.  Tiniest! Tomato! Ever!  I find this totally fascinating.

The herbs are doing pretty well, although this pot could stand to be tidied up a bit, and I should really harvest more often.  (Why have this pot of herbs if I don’t cook with them?)  Also, please note that my assistant gardener and I both chose Birkenstocks for this all-important garden surveying.

Also note, Zoya’s housewarming gift to me is still alive!  Huzzah!

August Gardening Tasks

So, I teased above: I actually took care of a couple of gardening tasks, or at least got started on them, this month.  This is a departure from last month, when I just reported to you which things thrived (or at least survived) under my “benign neglect” strategy and which things (apparently – read on) gave up the ghost.  While I am still slammed beyond belief and don’t really have time, I didn’t want to just let the entire garden go off, so I pulled out my tools one afternoon and did a little work.

First things first, my assistant gardener and I gathered up a bunch of sticks and dragged them over to the woodpile, which is growing ever larger (I need to buy a fire pit; these sticks have to be good for something and I’m committed to the idea of backyard campfires).

To be perfectly clear, I did most of the stick-gathering.  My assistant gardener was really only interested in the biggest, most ridiculous branches.  Run-of-the-mill cleaning: less enticing.

We also did some pruning.  I noticed recently that Jesus Mint lives!  New sprouts and leaves seemed to be growing from the roots that were already in the pot, but weren’t doing all that well because they were being choked out by the old, leggy, dead sections.  So I got out my pruners and cleaned up the pot.

Side note: aren’t my gardening tools pretty?  Or, at least, the spade and rake and pruners?  The weeder isn’t all that cute, but hot damn it is functional.  Nugget was super into cleaning out the mint pot, so he worked on that while I took the weeder around and uprooted dandelion plants.  So satisfying.

(Don’t worry, I supervised him.)

Much better!  Jesus Mint looks like it actually has some room to breathe now.  Hoping this means mojitos are in my future.  Grow, Jesus Mint, grow!

Fairy Follies

In addition to “Mom’s garden,” the kids have been making their own fairy garden.  (Or “fairy village,” as I was told by a voice dripping with scorn and derision at my ignorance.)  The fairy village has grown from one pot to six, and there are bridges and roads.  Several garden ornaments were stolen from me, including the gravy boat (which was part of Zoya’s gift) and the stone owl (which I bought to put near the pond and which has been moved around on a daily basis ever since, not by me).

A Baffling Anniversary Present

Finally!  You may be wondering about the title of this post.  Friends: I am delighted to report that I am now the proud owner of a squirrel baffle.

BOOM.

I mentioned in this post that Steve and I are planning to buy touring kayaks as our anniversary gift to each other.  We’ve wanted them for a long time now and it seemed like the right kind of gift for a milestone anniversary.  Unfortunately, because of the STUPID CORONAVIRUS (side note: it is a rule in our house that everyone is allowed to call the coronavirus stupid) there’s no stock at all to be had in the type of kayaks that we’re interested in.  And we’re both interested in demoing a few different boats before we make a decision, which doesn’t seem wise in these times.  So we’re waiting, probably until spring, to make that purchase.  But in the meantime, Steve wanted me to have something to mark the day (isn’t he sweet?) so on our anniversary he led me to the window and pointed out the squirrel baffle that he had bought and installed.

Verdict?  It’s a little early to tell, but so far the squirrels have not defeated it.  They were all over the tube feeder before Steve installed the baffle, and so far since it’s been in use, they haven’t even tried.  So that’s encouraging!  And – the chickadees and tufted titmice have been coming to the feeder in huge numbers!  Pre-baffle, they were around, but not nearly as frequently as the goldfinches (who are also still regular visitors).  But now I’m seeing so many more, and they’re sticking around longer at the feeder perches, instead of just grabbing a seed and flying off to the tree.  Maybe they were scared of the squirrels?  Who knows.  I love learning about my backyard critters, and I’m delighted with my new baffle.

In other bird-feeding news, I moved the nyjer feeder to the shepherd’s hook in the backyard.  No takers yet, but I’m hoping some of the goldfinches find it, since I know they like nyjer seed.  They’re always welcome at my front yard feeder, of course, but it would be nice to see their sunny yellow colors around the patio too!

And that’s about it for August!  Kudos to those of you who have hung with me this far.  Unfortunately, there’s no prize.

Looking ahead to September, I’d like to get things a bit more cleaned up, get a fire pit for the backyard (both because it’s fun and to burn some of that woodpile), figure out how to attack the patio jungle area, and maybe even eat one of my homegrown tomatoes, if I can get to a ripe one before the squirrels do.

How are your gardens looking in late summer?

Garden Chronicles 2020: A Tomato Murder Mystery

Another month in the garden – or not in the garden, as the case may be.  As you can see, not much has gotten done around here.  I haven’t even found time to move the three extra planters over to the side of the patio (or better yet, into the shed) – they’re still there for everyone to trip over!  (The kids have used them to plant weeds, which are thriving.  At least something is thriving…)

As you all know, I am not especially ambitious when it comes to this year’s garden.  I just want to get to know the space, settle in and make plans for future years.  We’ll be here for at least two more gardening seasons, so plenty of time to cultivate a big vegetable patch – or not.  I probably won’t branch out beyond my usual container garden until we buy our forever home, hopefully in a couple of years.  But I was hoping to have at least a little bit more progress to report to you today.  Alas, not – it’s been a busy month, between getting the kids ready for their grandparent vacation, trying to catch up on work and unpacking, and juggling house projects including a big garage clean-out.  The garden just fell to the bottom of the list, and there it stayed.

Benign neglect has paid off for me in the past, so I was hoping that if I didn’t poke at the garden too much, at least a few things would grow.  And that does seem to be the case.  First of all, a delightful discovery – there are blackberry bushes growing alongside the garage!  I’ve always wanted to plant a fruit bramble, so I am beyond chuffed that I’ve inherited (temporarily, anyway) a couple of berry bushes without having to do anything.  (Don’t worry, these are definitely blackberries.  Of all berries, blackberries have no poisonous lookalikes – while they have some cousins, like the loganberry and the marionberry, anything that looks like a blackberry is per se edible.  These are nice and tart.)  I wandered past the blackberry bush today and noticed that quite a few are ripe; I might pick a handful to bring over to my dear Zoya this weekend.

Speaking of Zoya, this was my housewarming present from her – a galvanized steel pot with a selection of shade-loving plants in it.  I’ve barely touched it, but it’s doing well and doesn’t seem at all bothered by the torrential rainstorm we had on Wednesday.  Success!

Also thriving through my benign neglect strategy: this pot of mixed herbs (rosemary, thyme and chives – the rosemary especially is doing just fine; it’s so hardy).  Of course, benign neglect hasn’t worked for everything.  You’ll note that I am not showing you the mint pot.  That is because it is really most sincerely dead.

Finally, the tomato plant: the crown jewel of any container garden, right?  At the kids’ urgent request, I bought two tomato seedlings and planted them in my biggest pot.  They were both doing really well – growing fast, lush green leaves.  So, you might be wondering: why is one so much shorter than the other?  Are they different varietals?

They are not different varietals.  But one was viciously, intentionally, maliciously decapitated.  The guilty party?  Peanut.  She was mad at me about something (I probably told her to wash her hands before dinner, because I’m awful and unfair like that) and she very coolly, calmly marched out to the garden and snapped the poor innocent tomato plant in half.  (How do I know it was her, you ask?  I am an eyewitness.  I watched, shocked, from the sunroom, as she attempted to murder the tomato plant she begged me to get.)

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have suffered too much, other than being – ahem – shorter than its buddy.  It’s growing back and has added height, leaves and blossoms since the malicious attempted murder.  Hopefully we’ll still get some tomatoes out of it this summer – time will tell.  Meanwhile, the other tomato plant has tripled in size, and I staked it this morning.  (I use the Ultimate Tomato Cage, which I’ve had for several years now and absolutely love.)  Here’s hoping for continued strong growth from at least one of the tomato plants.

As for the birds, I think I’ve finally got the summer setup finalized.  Out front, I’ve got a Cole’s tube feeder and a Perky Pet water dispenser on the double shepherd’s hook, and an Aspects window cafe suctioned to the kitchen window.  Out back, I hung up a Perky Pet hopper that is supposed to be squirrel-resistant, but – surprise, surprise – it’s not.  So far, the tube feeder is by far the most popular spot.  There’s been some mild interest shown in the hopper and the window feeder, but no one has actually eaten anything – that I’ve noticed.  Except the squirrels, that is, who have completely defeated the hopper.  The tube feeder keeps me entertained all day, as it’s attracted Carolina chickadees, a tufted titmouse, one very grumpy-looking Carolina wren, and a gaggle of goldfinches.  More on that soon – I am still on the hunt for that elusive picture of the downy woodpecker I’ve spotted in my backyard, but I’m planning to do a big post with a bunch of snaps of the neighborhood birds sometime in the next few weeks.  And I’m already contemplating how I might change up the feeders for fall – I’ve got my eye on a squirrel stopper pole station and an oriole feeder to attract Baltimore orioles (the birds, not the baseball team, LET’S GO NATS) as they migrate south for the winter.  More to come…

How are your summer gardens faring?

Garden Chronicles 2020: Moving Month (June, 2020)

Well!  How about a garden post?  I’m sure you know the old, worn-out phrase: the early bird catches the worm.  What I’m wondering is: what does the late bird catch?

For the past few years, we’ve actually started our garden a little too soon.  Between the kids and me, everyone just gets too excited and we’re at the garden center, sniffing around the still-mostly-bare herb and veg tables as soon as the temperature is above freezing.  (Well, not quite that soon, since we’ve known winters here that don’t really ever dip below freezing.  But you know what I mean.)

This year was completely different.  Of course the kids started clamoring to plant by mid-March – as usual.  But I held off and held off and held off, because I knew that we were moving.  We looked at the house that we would end up leasing in mid-March, and signed the lease by early April, with a planned move date for mid-June.  I just didn’t see anything good coming out of trying to establish a garden in Old Town, only to have to move it.  Plus, I knew that this was waiting for me:

That is a jungle, friends.  (Can you spot the tiny photobomber?)

Steve and I decided that the front and side yards would be his responsibility, and the back would be my domain.  Of course, the back is what needs the most work.  But I like a challenge!  And oh, what a challenge.

Here’s what I’m up against:

  • The back patio is ever-so-slightly slanted.  Just enough to be noticeable.  Why???  I’m not sure if it’s that whoever installed it didn’t do a good job leveling, or if it was level to begin with but with erosion and settling it’s become sloped, but either way – it’s weird.  (To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have signed the lease if I had realized how oddly slanted the patio is.)  It would be much better if this was just lawn, but it is what it is.
  • The space between the backyard and patio is an overgrown weedapalooza.  There are some irises and some lilies that I’m pretty sure were planted intentionally (maybe?), a bunch of pink and white flowers that might be weeds, but at least they’re pretty, and then a lot of junk.
  • The sunniest spot – best for a vegetable garden – is the side yard.  But I’m not 100% sure that it’s “ours” – so to speak.  I asked for a map of the property boundary but never got one.  And it’s one of the only spots with actual nice grass, which I’m certainly not going to tear up to install raised garden beds.
  • The space in between the patio and the neighbors’ yards is a total overgrown mess.  I was chatting with my neighbor to the back, and she mentioned that most of the houses in the neighborhood are rentals – including hers, mine, and the neighbors’ to our right – and as a result, no one has bothered to maintain the yards much.  (I might give it a go, but I’m more concerned with my own backyard right now.)

All right, so as ridiculous as all of this sounds, we’ve actually made a lot of progress.  Steve trimmed and de-vined the bushes in the front of the house and on the side, and between the two of us we dug up the worst weed offenders from the wild area just behind the house (those horrible, evil things that start out looking like dandelions but quickly grow to the size of small trees – oh, and they’re covered with spines and irritating sap, so you can’t actually touch them).  We had them in Old Town too, but I always got to them before they got too crazy.

Steve hauled my planter collection around back and I got a few things into the pots – it will be a small garden this year, but I’ve got two baby tomato plants and some basil, plus a pot of mixed herbs and some very leggy mint that made the trip from Old Town (not optimistic on that one).  I’ll be happy to get pretty much anything this year – the main goal is going to be getting the place a bit cleaned up.

Here’s hoping this spot is sunny enough for these little plant babies.  Fingers crossed…

I briefly considered ripping up that back area entirely, since it does get some decent sun, and planting either a vegetable patch or a fern garden in there.  But at the end of the day, this place is a rental, so I don’t want to do anything permanent.  I am happy to spend some time and energy making it look nice, but I’m not inclined to lay out a lot of money improving someone else’s property.  (Side note: I am so over renting.  I’m sick of landlords, sick of feeling constrained in what I can do with a place, sick of living in something that doesn’t really feel mine.  But it just makes more sense to rent for a few years, save a bunch more money, and have a decent amount socked away so that we can make a down payment on a house and still have a good nest egg left over.  I know we’re doing the smart thing, but it doesn’t make it fun.)

Rental notwithstanding, I do have a lot of ideas for portable, non-permanent things I can do to liven up the space.  My assistant gardener is very eager to help.

(He probably spent half an hour “driving the tractor” – a.k.a pulling our yard wagon – in loops around the house.  Little boys, I’ll tell ya.)

So, to tie this disjointed, rambling post together, I have two main goals for this garden over the next few years:

  1. Cultivate a productive container garden; and
  2. Create a welcoming environment for birds.

Nugget and I are big bird nerds, as many of you know, and one of the things I was most looking forward to in moving out to the exurbs was the opportunity to up my bird feeder game.  In the city, I got a bunch of house sparrows and not much else – there was a gang of European starlings behind the house, but they never came to the feeder, and every so often we would get a cardinal or two.  Out here, I’ve already seen:

  • Barred owl;
  • Red-tailed hawk;
  • Wild turkey;
  • Tons of cardinals;
  • A blue jay;
  • And a bunch of robins and little greyish brown birds that I haven’t identified yet.

I have plans to set up feeder stations in the front and back yards and to combine a few different feeders to attract the widest variety of birds.  Nugget and I are stoked to add a bunch of new sightings to our life lists, and I’ve been researching bird baths, squirrel-proofing, and methods for attracting everything from tiny songbirds to majestic owls.  Turning this backyard jungle into a haven for birds is going to be my biggest outdoor project for the next few years – I can’t wait to (literally) dig in!

Are you into bird-watching?  If you are, what’s your best tip for creating a backyard bird paradise?

Garden Tasks: August 2019

After a few weeks at the end of July when work was crazy and Steve was traveling, my garden is looking distinctly neglected.  I feel badly about this, but survival mode is survival mode.  I had to get myself and the kids through the days, and the garden just wasn’t a priority.  But I’m working on turning that around in August!  Here’s what I’ve got on my to-do list for the garden this month:

  • Catch up on weeding between the patio bricks – it’s a jungle in here!
  • Pinch and prune the mint, and harvest some to begin drying it for tea and possibly smudging.
  • Revive and prune the basil plants.
  • Thin out the burnt-out sections of the chives, and prune the rosemary to keep it healthy.
  • Prune and harvest tomatoes.
  • Research fall container garden plants.
  • Pull out dead pet grass (NUGGET!) and plant more sage in its place.
  • Trim back the wild rosemary on the front walk – it’s out of control!
  • Look into planting a small juniper near the front stoop.

Well – not as long of a list as I’d thought it would be, but – yes.  Plenty to do.  Sprinkle salt for a cool breeze so I can get in a few gardening evenings this month.

Do you have a garden?  What’s on your to-do list this month?

Garden Notes 2019: U-G-L-Y, You Ain’t Got No Alibi

Happy hump day, friends!  Sorry for the late post – one of those weeks.  After being out of the office in a training conference most of last week, I feel like I’ve been on the phone for three days straight this week (which is my least favorite thing ever).  My to-do list keeps getting longer and longer and between work and parenting, I don’t have time to breathe or do anything else – including garden, as you can see.  This isn’t the only space I’ve been neglecting!

The whole garden is looking pretty burnt out and sad.  I’d like to blame the Virginia summer, but the truth is it’s no hotter this year than any other summer.  We’ve had one heat wave so far, and otherwise, just an unbroken stretch of days in the low 90s.  (And yeah, temps in the low 90s is not a heat wave here.  To get that honor, you need a few days up near 98 or breaking 100.  Otherwise – nope, normal summer.  This is Virginia.  It’s HOT.)

My herb corner, pictured above, has been a mixed bag.  The lavender is doing decently well, although it’s a little droopy with the heat today.  I picked up some chamomile and golden sage at the farmers’ market to replace the lettuce that bolted last month; neither one is sprouting particularly quickly, but they’re not dying either.  And Nugget insisted that we get a pot of pet grass.  The farmers’ market ladies helpfully explained that our cats would enjoy eating it.  I said we don’t have cats, while Nugget wailed “I waaaaaaaaaant it, Mommy!” from deep inside his plush dinosaur costume.  Yeah, we’re that family.  So I bought the pet grass, solicited a promise from Nugget that he’d take care of it, he didn’t take care of it, and it promptly died.

Also dead: one of my blueberry bushes.  I came home from Washington to find one blueberry bush glossy green and thriving, and the other completely brown and crinkly.  My mom just shrugged.  I yanked it; haven’t decided what I’ll plant here instead.  Beans, maybe?  Or a climbing squash that I can harvest in the fall, if I can find one small enough?

The mint is still prolific, but is looking a little leggy and needs pruned like whoa.  It’s on my list for this weekend, if it can make it that long.  Sprinkle some salt for me.

As usual, the mixed herb pot seems to be doing best.  The chives are looking a little burnt out, but there’s plenty of green in there.  The rosemary is hanging in – that’s one hardy herb, and good for all kinds of home uses – and the lemon thyme has spread out and made some sort of carpet in the rest of the pot.  I didn’t know it would do that, but I can’t say I hate it.

Definitely a neglected space.  I feel badly about that, but I can only do as much as I can do.  Steve has been out of town for most of the past week and he just got back, so maybe with someone else to pick up the slack around here I can catch my breath, beat my to-do list senseless, and get this garden back under control.  One thing’s for sure: my August task list is going to be a long one.

Do you have a garden?  How’s it doing?

 

Garden Tasks: July 2019

July!  I hope all of my American friends had a fun and safe Fourth yesterday.  I’ll have a recap coming soon, but we’re still deep in holiday weekend fun, so since it would be premature to show you Independence Day pics, I’ll share my to-do list for the garden this month instead.  So here we are – the hottest part of summer.  As for me personally, I love the heat.  My garden, maybe not so much?  All the more reason to keep on top of things.  Here’s what I have planned for the month.

  • Feed the plants at the beginning and middle of the month.
  • Stay on my squirrel spray and weeding.
  • Harvest as things become ripe.
  • Daily pruning and pinching to keep the fruits fruiting and the herbs from bolting.
  • Pull the bolted lettuce and start over with… I don’t know, more herbs, probably.
  • Start researching fall planting and consider whether I want to start any cool-weather plants this year.
  • Make dried mint and thyme.

A small list for a small garden, right?  There really isn’t a whole lot to do, except stay ahead of the sun and the pests, and try to get to the ripe stuff for harvesting.  I’d love to have more space, and more scope for exploration, but for now – constrained by both square footage and time – this is what I’ve got to do.  And one nice thing is: since it doesn’t take all that long to pull a few weeds and water the plants, I can spend more time relaxing with my feet up and a glass of lemonade in hand.  And that’s the point, right?

What’s on your garden to-do list for July?