Beauty With Low Maintenance

When crocuses and daffodils start to fade, primroses take the baton and continue running, coloring our garden.  I’ve been planting different colors of primrose in our garden for the last few years and continue to look for new colors every year.  There are many types of primrose but not many are hardy enough for our USDA zone so my choice is a little limited.

What I like about primrose is that they are pretty and low maintenance.  Once I put one in the garden they tend to thrive being fed only once a year, in spring, and with a little mulching.  The only potentially deadly problem for primrose, at least in our garden, are the slugs.  Since they are low to the ground and tend to like moist soil, it’s easy to reach for the slugs.  They can make a clump of primrose disappear in a few days.

Our previous neighbor gave us a couple of these primroses a few years ago. Now we have a large clump.
Close up
Tiny & bright yellow
These yellow primroses are large and much closer to the ground
Shocking pink with yellow contrast
Multi colored

The orange and purple striped ones were devoured by the slugs.  The green one is still budding, not yet open and we’re hoping the slugs miss it too.  For a couple of weeks or so, we have a very welcome primrose color all over our garden.

Snowed In

And More To Come

A snow storm hit us again today, starting about 5:00 AM.  It was very peaceful because no one was out, the town plows didn’t bother to come around early and not a snow blower in sight.  It was the type with big fluffy flakes falling down early on then became very light rain before stopping in late afternoon.  It dumped close to a foot of snow today, adding to the foot still here from the previous Wednesday.  We now have a three foot snow bank along our driveway and higher mounds here and there.  And, there’s more to come tonight.  The weather forecast is predicting the second round of this Nor-Easter tonight may add another 8″ to 10″ more.

As soon as the snow stopped the neighborhood came out in force cleaning their driveways and getting them ready for the next onslaught tonight.  We had to rake some of the snow off our roof as it is thick and heavy and makes it difficult to open the sliding door.  During all these chores, we were accompanied by plenty of birds doing their best to pack as much food in as they could to brace for the storm.  The Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t even care that we were raking the roof; they just flew in and out picking on seeds at the feeders by the patio.

Our beehives have only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board and the bottom entrance.  We were lucky that we decided to put the hives on 3 foot risers off the ground, otherwise half of the hives would have been buried under the snow by now.   I know the bees would be fine if that had happened because they still have the upper entrance that keeps air flowing.  They will be able to come out through the snow for their cleansing flights anyway, even if snow covered both entrances.   The hot air they create in the hive melts little holes in the snow where the entrances are.

Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder
Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder
A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall
A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall

Only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board.  Both lower and upper entrances are covered with snow.  When I inspected them after the last snow fall, they had small tunnels behind the snow that opened up to the left and right of these little mounds.  Once I saw them I left the snow alone so it can block the cold and wind from getting in the hives.

Beehives this afternoon
Beehives this afternoon

A few more weeks to go before spring reaches us, but more snow to be expected.  On the bright side, we need all the extra water.  And, if the bees pull through this harsher than usual winter, we will have a very strong generation of honey bees for our garden.  Bees that can weather temperatures below 0ºF in a very erratic winter.

Happy Holidays

Where Ever You Are…

No matter what holiday you are celebrating or none at all, I wish you good health and happiness.   And wealth?  I would like to quote Henry David Thoreau on that one “…a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” (Walden)


Poison Ivy

Never Be Too Careful

My first rule of thumb for working in the garden is learning to identify what is poisonous.   Luckily, most snakes in this temperate climate are non-poisonous.  I already know spiders and centipedes can cause pain.  However when it comes to plants and fungi in this climate, I still need to learn more about them.

I learned to identify poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) early on, the three shiny leaves.  I can even pick out the seedlings that are slightly different since the leaves are more serrated and I have been pulling them out ever since.  It’s a lot easier to get rid of poison Ivy when the plants are small than when they are creeping up a tree.   All parts of this weed are toxic, even in winter.  I have been very careful handling them and have gotten away with it for many years.

This summer was different.  With gloves and two layers of plastic bags over that, I still got it on my arm.  It was pretty itchy and blistered for a few days.  I wrapped the area up to prevent myself from touching other parts of my body by mistake.  But that was a mistake. The blister stayed puffed up without drying out so it took longer for the poison to dissipate.   Once I broke the blisters and let them dry out during the day, it was gone in a few days.

However common Poison Ivy is in this area, many people still don’t really know what it looks like.  My colleagues asked me to take photographs to show them, so I decided to post this one.  I hope it helps those who still don’t know what it looks like and how to deal with it if you are accidentally afflicted.

Once doesn’t make me an expert, but a little personal experience may help those who never had it and got it by mistake, hence the following tips:

  • Use protection, plastic bags or a couple layers of latex gloves are the best.  Don’t use gloves that aren’t waterproof; oil from the leaves can get though as well.
  • Throw the gloves out when you’re finished.  Make sure not to touch your skin when you remove them.  This was my case, just a little touch when I was trying to remove a glove.
  • Don’t scratch the itchy area because that will spread it.
  • Don’t cover it up 24 hours a day.  That was another dumb thing I did.  Covering it at night should be enough to prevent you from scratching it or touching other parts of your body while you’re sleeping.  Covering it all the time doesn’t let the toxin leach out, so it takes longer to heal as a result.
  • Don’t pat dry the effected area with the towel that you dry your body with, or you’ll spread it all over yourself.  Use a different towel or, better yet, paper towels.
  • Calamine lotion seems to work better than anything else on the pharmacy shelves I found.

And my head bows to those who are fortunate enough to not be allergic.  Here are some photos to help in identification for those of us who still have to deal with the itch.

  • Poison Ivy growing next to non-toxic Ivy

    Lovely fall color, but still toxic

Blue Moon

Yes, It’s a Blue Moon Tonight

Tonight, August 31, 2012, is a Blue moon night.  No, the moon is not in blue color but it is a second full moon in a calendar month.  The first full moon in August was on the 2nd.  Usually, there is only one full moon per month.  The next time this event will happen is in 2015.

It was nothing particular about the look of the moon tonight.  I actually liked the fairy ring around the moon better.  It’s much more fascinating to me than just the second full moon of the month, but we enjoyed tonight anyway.  We decided to enjoy our Merlot in the garden, under the moonlight, with an orchestra of katydids, crickets and frogs.  The fragrance of Almond verbena and jasmine helped to create a soothing mood.  What’s missing were the Moonflowers whose buds are as yet too small to flower.  It would have been a perfect setting if the Moonflowers had unfurled and the Luna moths come around for the nectar.  Here is our Blue moon, a little grainy, as shot from our pool deck.

Blue Moon August 31, 2012
With swaying tree top

The Jasmine Effect

Bringing a Smile to Stranger’s Faces

This blog has nothing to do with either growing or using jasmine, but I want to share a wonderful experience I had today.

I have a long train commute between work and home, but I don’t find it a waste of time for the hour and fifteen minutes I spend traveling in each direction.  I can always find something to do whether reading, working on a project, sleeping when I feel really tired, or writing this blog for that matter.

This morning, as soon as I got a seat, I started to make a garland from the jasmine I had picked before leaving.   I use it to make an offering for the Ganesh statue at work, out of respect.  After a few minutes, the guy sitting across the aisle leaned over and asked whether the jasmine was real.  I offered him some, but he really just wanted to stick his nose in the bag and take a deep sniff.  “This is very soothing.” he said.  Aside from that, just “Thank you.”  I continued stringing the garland for a few more stops before reading my newspaper.  Shortly after that another passenger sat down next to me.

When the train got to our final destination I got up and took the bag of herbs I had cut for my colleagues.  She, the passenger next to me, commented on how great the basil smelled.  We had a short discussion about basil on the way up the platform and she accepted some jasmine.  She was delighted and kept sniffing the jasmine in her palm.

Both incidents are common to me every time I carry jasmine with me, but what happened next really made my day.

I got on the subway heading for my office.  An elderly couple got on the next stop and sat across from me.  They were probably in theirs seventies.  They were holding hands, chatting and leaning against each other.  What drew my attention was the affection they showed for each other.  It was so pronounced, so radiant.  I couldn’t help but smile and kept observing them,  just short of staring perhaps.  I offered them some jasmine before I got off the subway.  The gentleman accepted them while still holding her hand.  Both smelled them and looked up at me with a big, genuine smiles.

“Thank you very much.  You made our day.” He said.

“No, Sir, you made my day.  You’re such a lovely couple.  Enjoy them and have a wonderful day.”  I walked off the train.

Yes, something about an older couple displaying love and affection that makes me melt.  I still remember that my father cried his heart out when my mother passed away a few years ago.  He was over eighty years old then and he still misses her and talks about her.

This is what I offered friendly strangers and the Ganesh at work – Jasminum sambac ‘Maid of Orleans’

A Satisfying Day

Love Thy Neighbor

What did I do on my last day off?  I spent three quarters of my day creating a vegetable plot for my neighbor, Natalie.  I hadn’t planned to, I was actually trying to set up a platform for my bee hive when I saw my 79 year old neighbor in her driveway.  I walked across the lawn to say hi and chat a bit.  We talked the usual talk…her health, her family, my family and gardening.  When the subject came to gardening I could sense her disappointment.  The gentleman who worked her garden last year kept postponing his arrival and it had been over a month now.   She couldn’t do much bending herself to weed, let alone tilling .  I saw she had a lot of seedlings waiting, but couldn’t plant them all herself.  It would be more than her back could take.

Our garden is pretty much done at this point.  We have arugula, Pak choi, garlic, green onions, swiss chard, peas and a few more veggies growing while my friend Natalie’s remained a weed haven.  I’m just waiting for the weather to get warmer so I can put more heat loving vegetables in my plot and then bring the tropical plants up from our basement winter training camp.

I hated to see her disappointment so I offered to start her vegetable garden on the spot.  I started weeding, tilling, made a walkway down the middle laid out with hay for her convenience and put some chicken manure in the plot as fertilizer.  We both worked at this together and had fun.

What do I get out of this?  A lot of satisfaction just to see her look at it and smile.  Her vegetable plot is ready for her to plant in a couple of days when the chicken contribution dissolves in the soil.  Just to see that smile on her face and and the eagerness in her voice…of where she’ll put this or that vegetable, what she is going to do with the strawberries….and so on, makes it all worth it.

Most of all, just to see someone happy and to see the soil become fertile and productive again.

Finished plot in the back ground, more to do in the foreground

Mole in the Pool

The heat made him do it.

We haven’t have any rain for a couple of weeks in our area and the heat wave in the last couple of days didn’t help either.  The temperature reached above 90 degrees, plus the humidity, it reminds me of home.  It’s great for the chili peppers, they’re really thriving, but nothing else is.  We use well water here so we have to be more conscious about using water during a drought.  We don’t want to draw mud up into the filter or burn the pump out.  Luckily the flowers in the front yard are mostly self -sown so they are pretty tough.  I haven’t watered them for a while, but they are still happily producing flowers for us and the insects.  They wilt in the afternoon in order to come alive again in the morning.  Vegetables are totally different.  If you don’t water your vegetables well, don’t expect much out of them.  In the middle of a drought and heat wave like this, the vegetable plot is the only one that gets water daily.  The roses will get watered once every couple of days.

I was about to do my daily morning routine before going to work -watering the vegetables – when I saw something moving in the swimming pool.  A little mole.  I didn’t know how or why he got in the pool.  Maybe he was chased by the resident garden snake or just wanted to cool down (though I doubt that last).  Interestingly enough, he was a good swimmer; he even made it to the deep part of the pool and didn’t get his head wet.  As much as he reminded me of my own stupidity last year when I broke my ankle chasing one of his relatives in the garden, I had no intension of letting him drown.  Death by drowning is a horrifying death.  I came close to drowning once in my lifetime when my foot got stuck between the rocks at the waterfalls.  I would never want any life to have to suffer that ordeal.  I fished the little gray guy out.

The little swimmer mole, drying up after morning swim.

Saving his life had nothing to do with keeping him on the property.  Yes, he’s a grub grabber but he also eats earthworms and digs tunnels in the garden and under the lawn.  We already have a grub and Japanese beetle patrol with feathers and wings, we don’t need the mole to do the underground stuff.  Relocating him is the option.  He’ll have to be entered into the “Witless Relocation Program” like other arrested rodents.   I put him in an old fish bowl, let him dry himself while I watered the vegetables.  I also let Bill know that we have another POW waiting to be released.  The morning swim gave his fur a new coiffure; a part down the middle of his back.

The little mole looked so beat up.  After being in the bowl for a while he started to sniff around the bowl and scratch himself at intervals.  I guessed the chlorine didn’t get along with his skin.  A nearly blind mole, soaked in chlorinated water, is a good candidate for sympathy.  I gave him a breakfast of a large, healthy earthworm.  I was fascinated at how fast he could eat an earthworm almost twice his length.  I could hear him eating.  The way he devoured the earthworm and the sound of it made the earthworm look sort of delicious in a way.

The swimming mole came to life after breakfast.  He was filled with new found energy and was practicing his high jump afterward, trying to jump out of the fish bowl.  His stubby little legs just weren’t up to the task. Bill took him to the watershed area by the train station after dropping me off and bid him farewell.  Hope he doesn’t go swimming in the reservoir, he’ll not be so lucky next time.

A Morning in the Garden

One of a great summer morning

Since it rained heavily last night, I don’t have to water the vegetable garden this morning.  So at 7:00 in the morning, I’m sitting here on the pool deck enjoying my coffee after I finishing my rounds in the garden.  Morning in the garden is always peaceful.  The sound of birds singing their hearts out before having breakfast, the fragrance of Arabian Tea Jasmine (Jasminum sambac)and Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata) that lingers in the morning air makes the coffee taste better.

Little pretty flowers and sweet scent

Two Gray Catbirds came to check on the Blueberries.  We put a net over our Blueberries this year so all the berries won’t become bird food.  These two birds hopped around until they found a way inside the net and then enjoyed some berries right in front of me.  They are quite smart, very friendly birds and hard working bug-bashers in the garden as well.  Thank you, now I know how you guys get in.  The entry way will not be there when you come back.

Raindrops still hanging on the flower petals

The morning after a rainstorm is always pleasant.  The air is clean and cool and the raindrops that catch the morning sunlight sparkling like gems.  This is the best time to contemplate, meditate and imagine.

The Catbirds came back for the second round.  Sorry, you already have your fresh cut oranges in the basket and wild raspberries. They hopped around for a while before taking off to find an easier target.

I still hear the Bluebirds call from a tree somewhere nearby.  I hope they will find one of the unoccupied nest boxes appealing enough to nest in.  I have my slingshot and Bill has his less than Buddhist attitude ready to defend their nest from the House Sparrows.

The Hummingbirds, Piglets as we call them owing to their irascibility in hogging the feeders, came for their sugar fix at the feeders then stopped by the Lantana “Radiation” (Lantana camara) on the way out. There was no courting dance this morning or chasing one another off the feeders, maybe it’s too early and the sugar hasn’t gotten to their brain yet.  Just like me, the world is foggy until I’ve had a couple sips of coffee.

Piglet hovering over a feeder.

Looking up from the computer screen….there is the first Monarch butterfly I see this season.  Welcome to our garden.  We let the Milkweeds grow especially for you. Enjoy.  But try not to get eaten.

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