Monday, May 30, 2011

Attract Bees to Your Garden

I love bees of all kinds and honeybees in particular.  When I was about five years old, my father left me in the house while he worked outside.  When my mother came home from an errand, she found me standing by a plate of honey I was using to feed my father’s honeybees. He kept bees and sold honey for years until the mites and diseases killed them.  I remember them crawling up my legs as I lured them with honey.  No bees stung me that day because of, I believe, my calmness around them.  I was not scared of them, and meant them no harm, and they knew it. 

Last week, I noticed that the shrubs enclosing an area of my garden were buzzing.  They were the ordinary holly, Ilex ‘Compacta,’ commonly used in landscapes. Hundreds of tiny white flowers, so small I might not have noticed them if the bees were not on them, were blooming, and the bees covered the shrubs. Dozens of bees furiously worked the blossoms to grab every bit of nectar they could find. 

If you are allergic to bee stings, you might understandably find the sight of so many bees alarming.  Many folks are scared of bees because they don’t understand their behavior and think they are aggressive.  Bees (and in this discussion I include wasps, yellow jackets, bumble bees, and any other sort of flying insect capable of stinging although it’s not technically correct) will not hurt you unless you bother them first.  Many of them are so tiny you might not notice them, but they are critical to pollinating flowers and vegetables.  I have suffered many bee stings in my life, but I always bothered the bees first, by either stepping on it or threatening its home.  They are happy to go about their bee business as long as you leave them alone.

Without bees in the garden, there would be no flowers, vegetables, or fruit.  Bees must move pollen from the male flower parts to the female flower parts for pollination to occur.  If you spray your garden with insecticides, you will kill the bees, which are more sensitive than other creatures, along with the harmful insects.  Sometimes a pest threatens to devour all your plants if you do not spray some sort of insecticide, and even organic ones can harm bees.  When I spray insecticides, which is very rare, I do it in the evening, when the bees have gone to bed, but I hesitate to do even this because I often find bumblebees sleeping among the bean leaves. 

I only use pesticides to target a very specific pest that I have first identified and am sure I am treating correctly.  For example, snails, slugs, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, or many other creatures may cause holes in the bean leaves.  If you just spray an all-purpose insecticide, you will kill all the creatures instead of just the one causing the problem.  Maybe some Sluggo® bait sprinkled on the ground might take care of the snail and slug problem, without harming the bees, and shaking the Japanese beetles into a bucket of soapy water might take care of them, again without harming the bees.  The plant might be able to tolerate the damage from the creature without any intervention.

To attract bees to the garden, plant a variety of plants that flower in succession during the year.  Bees usually like native, heirloom plants better than hybridized plants.  Some plants you might add to your garden to attract bees include asters, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Penstemon, Joe-Pye weed or Eupatorium, Salvia, Zinnia, Sedum, Helianthus, Agastache, Goldenrod, Rosemary, and Basil.  Most of these plants flower in my garden during the year, and bees usually cover them.  Visit this link for additional information about attracting bees to your garden.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Chickens Have a Crew Cut

After the chickens escaped yesterday morning, I put Scott, my husband, on notice that he was going to have to help me clip their wing feathers again.  I never gave the renegades any food all day, and hunger did bring one of them home, but the others apparently found enough goodies in my flowerbeds and under the wild bird feeder to sustain them.  They also made an absolute mess of my flowerbeds, a situation I remedied this morning by planting some annuals and putting out new mulch.  I will have to wait for the hosta, which had just recovered from its last chicken attack, to grow new foliage, though.

Chicken-keeping is supposed to be my responsibility, but clipping chicken wings is definitely a two person job, and Scott agreed to help me, even though chicken-wrangling is not his favorite activity.    At about 8:30 PM, when some of the chickens had already gone to roost, we plucked them off the roosts and clipped their wings very short.  I firmly cradled the birds on their backs, in my arms, and he spread out a wing and trimmed an inch or two off of each feather.  We looked carefully for the bright red-veined feathers, called blood feathers, that contain a blood vessel, but didn't see them.  If we had seen them, we would not have cut those wings.  Cutting their wing feathers is like cutting our hair or fingernails; it doesn't hurt them, but the haircut is not attractive.  The known escapees got a shorter hairdo than the ones who hadn't flown out, but everyone got a trim. 

By about 8:50, we had taken care of eight of the chicken's wings, except the one Barred Rock who defiantly refused to come back into the pen and instead was trying, unsuccessfully, to fly high enough to roost in the dogwood tree near the pen.  I tried to grab her, but she ran off to the patio again, and hid under the bushes.  Scott held up an old bath towel we were using to  wrap around the chickens while trimming their wings towards her as if he were taunting a bull at the Spain's running of the bulls, and, admitting defeat, she lowered her head and ran as fast as she could to the safety of her house.  She began gobbling food, but I interrupted her feast to grab her, wrap her in the towel, and give her the shortest haircut of all the chickens.

This morning when I let them out of their house, no one followed me back to the house, and the last time I saw them, they were all pecking around in the pen at the grasses and bugs in the yard.  I even set out a new hosta plant, beside the one they destroyed, because I think my chickens are finished escaping, at least until their wings grow back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wing Clipping Was Not Successful!

Chickens do not belong on the patio: the patio became a favorite playing spot for the chickens,
 and that's why we got the electrified netting. 
My kind neighbors came to my house yesterday at dusk and helped me clip the chicken's wings, and I paid them for their troubles with a head of broccoli fresh from my garden. Although they were supposed to be docile at dusk, we still had to chase some of them, but we accomplished the task without bloodshed or trauma to the chickens. After straightening out their rumpled feathers, they climbed to their perches and settled in for the night. I thought my chicken-chasing days were behind me. I have chased many cows in my life, but no chickens until the past month or so. Chasing cows is much easier than chasing chickens, although at least when I chase chickens I don't have to worry about them turning around and trampling me.

This morning, I released them from their house, and watched them peck contentedly at the new grass in the yard for a few minutes. I filled their water, and turned to go into the house, relieved that I would not have to worry about them. As I walked away, two chickens flew over the fence as easily as they did yesterday, and two more followed them. All of them followed me towards the house as if they thought I wanted some chicken company for breakfast.  At least the other five are apparently unable to fly well enough to scale the fence. Those escaped four have been destroying my flowerbeds all day, and they didn't even have the courtesy to kill the first Japanese beetle of the season I presented them, but instead allowed it to fly away after pecking at it a few times.

At first, I did not give them water in hopes they would return home, but because the temperature is at least 95 degrees outside, I eventually took them some water. I didn't take them any food though. Lack of food for a day won't kill them, and I hope hunger will bring them back to their house. Of course, they might find too much tasty food in my flowerbeds to worry about their feed. Tonight at dusk, my husband and I will catch them again, and give them a super-short wing trim.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If you get one of these, throw it away!  Right click on the picture and click on "open
in a new window" for a better view.

I wanted to share the above "magazine renewal form" we have received in the mail, because it is fraudulent.  You will actually receive a subscription to the magazine in question, but it is not sent out by the magazine, but by a third party firm, United Publishers Services, in Reno, Nevada.  They charge $59.95 for a two year subscription, and Countryside Magazine actually charges $30 for two years  as you can see here.  In a recent issue of the magazine, Countryside Magazine displayed a picture of the form and said it is fraudulent and not affiliated with them. 

On the back of the form, United Publishers Services acknowledges that they are an independent subscription agent, and that you are automatically enrolled in "Orphans Waiting," a nonprofit group, where, they'd have you assume, some portion of the 100% markup on the magazine subscription is going.  The Better Business Bureau gives United Publishers Services an "F" rating here.  Ripoff Report says Orphans Waiting is a scam here.  I tried calling Orphans Waiting, but "no one is available to answer" my call. 

Donating money to help orphans is a worthy cause.  But I think most people would like to donate on their own instead of through an overpriced magazine subscription, if any of the money even does go to the orphans.  I guess the only way United Publishers Services stays in business is because they actually do give you the product you pay for, albeit at an inflated price.  As always, buyer beware! Double-check the price of those magazine subscriptions you pay for before you write the check, and if you get a form like the above one in the mail, throw it away.

My Chickens Flew the Coop!

Last night, I moved the chickens back into the chicken tractor while they were drowsy.  They didn't fuss, and no one scratched me.  This morning, I let them out of the chicken tractor into their movable yard enclosed by electrified netting.  They walked around a little, and then two, first an Americana and then a Barred Rock, took off from the ground and flew over the netting.

At first, they tried, in a panic, to get back in with their sisters.  But the sisters decided that freedom looked like fun, and quickly, five more flew over the fence.  While I stood there with, I am sure, my mouth hanging open in shock, the first seven explored the woods.  The other two remaining chickens wanted freedom too, and, as I admitted defeat, I let down part of the fence so they could get out and the others could get back in. 

There is nothing I can do to catch them in the daylight, and as this happened at 7:30 AM, they have a long day of free-ranging ahead.  They will probably return to the pen because it is, after all, where their food and water is located.  In the meantime, I imagine my plants will have chicken-pecked holes in them again, and my patio will be covered with chicken poo.  I believe a wing-trimming is in the works.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Moving Chickens Can Be Dangerous

I am not known for my gracefulness, and sometimes, in my exuberance to accomplish tasks, I become clumsier than usual.  My husband remains confused as to whether I poked myself in both eyes with the same stick, or whether I poked myself in the eye with two different sticks (for the record, it was the same eye, same day, with two different sticks, and I did it while clearing some land for my garden).  Nothing terrible has happened to me, though, and I am not a daredevil.  I’m just a little careless.
And sometimes, the injury is not really my fault, although in this case, perhaps I should have known better.  This morning, my daughter and I moved my nine chickens to what I hope is the “Fort Knox” of chicken pens from their chicken tractor.  Electric netted fencing encloses the chicken tractor so they can forage during the day.  We built the pen and run to house the chickens when are unable to provide daily care for the chickens.  I hope we made it sturdy enough, by burying the wire fencing to deter digging animals, entirely enclosing the run in wire, and attaching the chicken house to the run, that no one has to be there to open and close the chickens in the house at night. 
The new chicken pen.  My father harvested the trees for the cedar 4x4s from his land and had them milled for us.  He and I did most of the construction of the pen, and he dug most of the postholes.  Scott, my husband, built the chicken house.

We have neither named the chickens nor made pets of them, because someday we might eat them, but in so doing we have not tamed them and some are wild.  Some people have chickens as pets, and I think that’s fine.  I already have two dachshunds that have turned out to be very expensive to care for, although wonderful, pets, and I don’t need any more pets.  If I’m going to eat chicken meat from the store, I think I should be willing to eat chicken meat from chickens I raise.  At this point, all this is theoretical, and I might not be able to stomach eating the chickens, but it sounds like a good plan.
This morning I went to the chicken tractor with a cat carrier and, as I could catch them, put them in the carrier, took them to the pen, and released them.  Finally, I was down to two Americanas, and of course, they were the two wildest birds.  I caught one without incident, but the other one escaped the chicken tractor and was loose in the pen.  As I grabbed for her, she flew in my face, with claws outstretched, and scratched my eyelid.  Thank God for reflexes, because I closed my eye in time to avoid scratches to my eye itself.  My eyelid bled awhile, and it is bruised, so I can imagine a scratch to my eyeball would have required medical care.   
I didn’t know hens behaved so aggressively.  I know the poor creature was scared, because all animals are afraid of the unknown.  Books on chickens say to move them at night, when they are asleep, but I did not want to climb into the cramped chicken tractor, on the poop-covered ground, and carry them through the woods to their new home in the darkness.  Next time, maybe I should wait until dusk to move them, when they will be drowsier, and maybe I should wear safety goggles and gloves just in case. 

And my husband and I both hope my eyelid heals enough for me to cover it with makeup when we go out to dinner for our wedding anniversary.  On many occasions, after a day of gardening, I have began to dress for an evening out and have realized that I can't possibly wear that cute summer dress I planned to wear because my legs are so scratched I look like I've been in a briar patch. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are You Confused about the Different Types of Seeds?

For the novice gardener searching for seeds in a catalog, the array of terms like hybrid, non-GMO, open-pollinated, and heirloom might make the task of deciding among all the tempting descriptions of plants more difficult. Depending on which catalog you read, some types of seeds are almost vilified, while others are ignored.

Almost all seeds on the market for gardeners are either hybrid or open-pollinated.  Scientists genetically engineer GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds by inserting genes from plants, bacteria, or other living species into a plant’s DNA in ways that cannot happen in nature.   For example, Bacillus thuringiensis, or BT, is a bacteria organic gardeners apply to plants to kill caterpillars.  Scientists figured out how to insert the BT gene into corn genes, and the resulting seed kills the corn earworms when they begin feeding on the ear of corn.  The corn you eat has the BT gene inside it. 

Proponents say this reduces the amount of pesticides introduced into the environment, while skeptics don’t like messing around too much with the natural order of things.  You will know it if you buy GMO seed: you will probably have to sign some document saying you won’t sell or even save the seed, and you may have to put up a sign near the field identifying the crop.  There is no danger of the home-gardener accidentally buying some GMO seed at the local store and planting it; it’s usually reserved for farmers.

Open-pollinated seeds form when the pollen of one plant is transferred to another plant, usually with the help of wind or insect pollinators.  The resulting offspring are similar to the parent plants because plants that are similar genetically cross with each other.  Gardeners save seed from open-pollinated plants and expect to get a similar plant from the seed next year.  All seeds were originally open-pollinated, and farmers and gardeners were able to save seed from plants that did well in their gardens for free.  Once a crop sets seed, they could grow gardens indefinitely, as long as they saved seed from the crop each year, without ever buying any more seed. 

Heirloom seeds are usually open-pollinated, and they have some historic or cultural value.  They are seeds your great-grandparents might have grown.  The definition of heirloom seed varies from catalog to catalog, but some examples are Brandywine tomatoes, Kentucky Wonder beans, and Red Russian kale. 

Hybrids pollinate either by wind or with the help of a plant breeder, but the seed grower makes sure pollination occurs in controlled circumstances among varieties of plants that are distantly related.  The seed, the offspring of two specific parents, is usually the first generation of the breeding between the two plants that possess desired characteristics.  For example, a breeder may cross a tomato resistant to tobacco mosaic virus with a tomato resistant to cracking to get a tomato resistant to both cracking and tobacco mosaic virus.  The seed of a hybrid tomato, however, contains the genetic traits combined in an uncontrolled manner and the traits of the offspring are unpredictable.  Hybrids often do not even produce seed, or they may produce sterile seed that will not germinate.  If you plant hybrid crops, you will have to buy new seed every year.  Breeders label seed “F1” hybrid, which denotes the seed as the first offspring of the parent plants.

Each of the types of seed has its own advantages.  Hybrids often offer better disease-resistance than open-pollinated varieties, but open-pollinated varieties often taste better and, if you save the seed, you don’t have to buy the seed again. 

Harvesting a tomato crop at all has been an ongoing challenge for me because the disease has been killing my plants.  Last year, I planted many different types of seeds and the hybrid tomatoes resisted disease the best.  A few of the open-pollinated seeds did fairly well too, and I’ll grow them again along with some new types.  Last year I actually had a tomato harvest, and, although purists would eschew any seeds not open-pollinated, I am practical: it’s better to grow something in my own garden instead of buying it elsewhere, even if it's from hybrid seed.  Planting many different types of seed is the best way to ensure a harvest: if one variety dies, something else may survive.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Photos of Flowers

Veronica 'Crater Lake Blue' in bloom in the formal garden
Dianthus 'Artic Fire' bordering a path
Foxglove I grew from seed, in the back border
Mock Orange blooming in early spring in the back border

Peony beginning to bloom
Bearded Iris my aunt gave me
Yellow snapdragon with an open mouth
Larkspur, or "rabbit flower" as my sister and I used to call them--see the rabbit's head in the center of the flower?
Perennial begonia blooming in late summer
Back border in late summer
Back border with the large shrub, lespedeza, in bloom
Helleborus, deer-resistant mainstay of the late winter garden 
Pot of Muscari, or blue bottles, I have had in this pot for several years.  I put it somewhere out of the way when it's not blooming.
Daffodils blooming outside the vegetable garden in late winter
Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 13, 2011

Strawberries Make Us Happy

When my two-year-old, Clara, came into the house with bloody, scraped knees from playing outside with her sister, Ella, 5, I asked Ella what happened to her.  Clara was happy and unconcerned about her knees, and no self-respecting toddler allows such an opportunity for tears and attention from mama to pass unused unless there are extenuating circumstances.  Ella, ever the helpful big sister, said, “She fell down and I gave her two strawberries and that happied her up!”  They had been out raiding the strawberry patch in my garden, and apparently, one strawberry was not enough to stop the tears, but two berries did the trick.

One of my favorite childhood memories is picking strawberries from my mother’s patch, but her patch became neglected over the years and I remember it producing a few small berries.  When I first planted strawberries in my garden, although I followed the directions on the package, my plants did not produce many berries either.  Strawberry plants can take up a lot of space in the garden, and if I gave them the room, I wanted them to produce.

The parents of my best friend from high school have a commercial turkey farm and a U-Pick strawberry farm in the Upstate.  Their berries are big and numerous, and I asked their advice.  They have a handy source of strawberries’ favorite nutrient, nitrogen, in the turkey litter, and they spread turkey litter on the fields before they plant the berries.  I began putting manure, heavily, on my berries, and now I have large, numerous ones too.

If you apply too much nitrogen to most fruiting plants, they will grow beautiful foliage but no fruit.  Strawberries, as well as blueberries and blackberries, need extra nitrogen to produce fruit.  Do not try this with your tomatoes, beans, or squash; you will have beautiful plants but nothing edible.  Strawberries also like acid soil, with a pH of about 5.5-6.5.  Most soils in the Midlands are already acidic; get a soil test if you are not sure about your soil.  Do not apply lime to strawberries unless you know your soil is extremely acidic, and do not put them where tomatoes, potatoes, or peppers have grown in the last several years because they are susceptible to the same diseases.

My strawberry patch is disorganized, but the “proper” way to grow strawberries is to buy new plants every few years, or even every year, and to rotate strawberries as you would any other crop to avoid disease buildup.  I set out my original plants in rows, but because strawberries spread by runners, they have filled in the space between the rows.  In the late fall or winter, I dig out and discard old plants, and I move the new ones that rooted at the end of the runners into spaces vacated by the old ones.  In the winter, before new growth begins, I spread an inch or two of cow manure among the plants and mulch them well.  If I used poultry manure, I would spread it much thinner.  If I had no manure, I would thickly apply organic fertilizer and compost.  I usually apply blood meal or another high-nitrogen organic fertilizer like Black Hen or cottonseed meal after the strawberries stop fruiting.    

The “South Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Book,” by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing, recommends fertilizing an 8x30 foot area containing 30 plants with 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer a week or so before they are planted, and in June and in September.  If soil is sandy, they recommend applying the fertilizer in May, July, and October.  After the first season, they recommend fertilizing the plants in late winter with 4 pounds of 10-10-10.  This is a lot of fertilizer, and it is simpler and better for your plants and soil if you use compost and manure.

I do not intend to move my strawberries unless disease becomes a problem; they are healthy and productive.  My biggest chore is containing the growth and keeping them weeded because it is hard to apply mulch evenly to a disorganized planting.  Snails, slugs, and birds love berries, so I usually have to take precautions against these critters.  If you want to grow strawberries, look in garden centers for them this spring, although it may be a bit late to plant them.  Fall and winter are excellent times to plant them in our area, so look for plants then online and in stores and in the interim, prepare a place for them with lots of compost and manure.     

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Feed your Chickens for Free!

A neighbor brought me a load of well-rotted horse manure a week or so ago.  I thought he was only bringing me manure, but when I began digging in the pile I found dozens of fat white grubs that will, in a few weeks, pupate into Japanese beetles, and I am nearly as happy about the grubs as I am about the manure.

When I dig in my garden, I keep a container nearby in which I deposit grubs I uncover.  My daughters and I feed them to our chickens, and it's a great way to train the chickens to hand feeding and to gain some entertainment in watching the chicken antics that result.  One grabs a grub and runs off, pursued by most of the rest of the flock as they try to take it from her.  Some of the brighter ones realize I don't usually come with just one grub, and they wait for me to give them some. 

Grubs are a wonderful source of protein for your chickens, and they have no redeeming value except as chicken food, unlike earthworms.  I have fed my chickens so many grubs they don't particularly like worms, which is a good thing, I suppose, because I would rather the worms stay in the soil and improve it. 

But turning grubs into chicken eggs and meat is fine with me.  Dig through your compost or manure pile, or keep a container handy while you dig in the garden.  Small children are great at completing this task, if you have one handy.  They especially like feeding the grubs to the chickens.  If your chickens are free-range, they might discover these sources of grubs themselves.  I keep mine inside a portable electric fence to keep them out of mischief.  Don't wait to obtain this source of food, though.  In my garden, Japanese beetles appear in late May, and some of the ones I dug today looked so fat I thought their skin might split, a sign of their impending transformation into the gardener's worst enemy.   

Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer Annuals

I finally christened my new (to me) car with a trip to the garden center yesterday to buy plants. After totaling my beloved 4Runner, which we bought new in 2002, back in February (everyone was okay, but the car wasn't) I got a newer used replacement. I told my husband, Scott, that I did not want another new car for several reasons: I like the lower taxes, insurance, and lack of a car payment in an older vehicle, but most of all I want to haul plants and mulch in it without having to worry about damaging the car.

This car already has several scratches on it, so I won't have the pain of putting the first scratch on a new car. My 4Runner was accustomed to hauling all manner of garden supplies, including bags of leaves off the side of the road I picked up to use as free mulch in my garden, and, although I have not hauled any leaves in this car yet, I have at least filled the roomy cargo area with flats of annuals and their accompanying dirt.  I did confine all the dirt to the plastic cargo mat instead of soiling the carpet.

I love the change in the seasons because I have an excuse to buy annuals. Most of my garden is filled with shrubs and perennials, but I reserve some areas for annual color. Yesterday, I went to Woodley's Garden Center in Columbia and bought vincas, a heat loving and deer-resistant annual flower (not the vine) in pink and white, ageratums in blue, impatiens, gnome flowers, begonias, and petunias. I also got some Pineapple sage, because I have to have some every year; it blooms in the late summer and the hummingbirds love its red, tubular flowers. I also got Cuphea 'Batface,' a plant with red and purple flowers that look like a bat's face. My girls will love it.

Today, before the rain ran us inside, I pulled out the bedraggled pansies and pruned back the dianthus in preparation for planting the annuals tomorrow. I will put them among the perennials along the front of the border, in pots, and in bare spots. This summer, look for some of these summer annuals in your local garden center. At my house, they keep going until frost with very little care.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Put Some Color into Your Foundation Plantings

Foundation plantings, also known as a line of green shrubs across the front of your house, are usually so boring people don't even notice them as they dash by them on the way to the front door. Even the homeowner may not notice them until the shrubs grow tall enough to block the view outside. Then, in an annual ritual, the designated shrub-pruner in the family, precariously perching on an unstable ladder, chops them into submission.

In my family, I am the shrub-chopper. When we bought the house, it contained the requisite line of shrubs, all of which I removed except for the Japanese Holly, "Sky Pencil," an evergreen, columnar shrub that, at my house, grows about eight feet tall and two feet wide, between the windows.  The holly is a fine choice for the space, but it doesn't get quite enough sun to make the new growth rigid like it is supposed to, and so the new growth flops over until I give it a haircut and tie it to a stake.

Landscapers that work with home builders are notorious for putting in shrubs that grow quickly so a new house's landscape looks nice until after the buyer moves in.  The unwitting homeownerhas to chop shrubs several times a year, and soon grows to detest yard work. In my first home, the developer's landscaper put ligustrum, which quickly grows to 10 feet tall by eight feet wide, in a space about two feet wide between the garage doors.  My husband sheared it into a tiny rectangle several times a year so we could continue to get the cars into the garage.  Avoid overused and fast growing shrubs like ligustrum, pittosporum, Indian hawthorn, and junipers in your landscape; they are useful if you need to quickly screen an unattractive view.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that the front yard must be utilitarian like everyone else's on the street, with anything imaginative reserved for the backyard.  I wanted my front yard to be as much of a garden as my back yard, and so  I decided on a color scheme I have repeated in other places in my garden: chartreuse and magenta, mixed in with some solid green. My design contains plants that the deer are supposed to resist eating; sometimes they listen to that instruction and sometimes they don't.  I tried to buy plants that even at maturity will not cover my windows.  Sometimes it is hard to find shrubs that are the right size, color, and are deer-resistant, so I did buy some that, unpruned, would eventually grow too large.  However, they grow slowly; I prune them every couple of years and they behave.

View of front garden
 In the above photo, chartreuse "Golden Euonymus" glows beside burgundy loropetalum.  Behind the euonymus is a burgundy Japanese barberry that will grow to about 4 feet tall.  In the center of the photograph is a peony, with dark pink buds about to open.  After the peony's show of flowers, the green leaves provide a nice contrast with the bright foliage of the other plants during the rest of the summer.  By the house, the Japanese maple, 'Crimson Queen,' has a nice weeping form and lacy leaves.  It will remain small enough not to obstruct the view from the window.  To the left of the Japanese Maple is and Oakleaf Hydrangea; its leaves turn crimson in the fall.

Unfortunately, the loropetalums I purchased, from a reputable local nursery, were labeled as a shrub that was supposed to grow 3-4 feet tall and wide.  They cost at least double the price of the huge version of the shrub.  The labels were inaccurate, and the shrubs require hard pruning every year or so to make them behave.  I discarded the receipt and the labels: in the future I will save both until I am sure I got the plant I paid for.

View of perennials in front garden
 In this photo, I continue the chartreuse and burgundy color scheme with the ground cover golden "Creeping Jenny," and the taller Persicaria 'Red Dragon' in the foreground.  Penstemon 'Husker's Red,' is beginning to flower in the center of the photo, and at the base of the stairs the grass Carex 'Evergold' shines.  Included in the design, but not yet flowering in this April photograph, are Bergenia 'Winterglow,' Anemone 'Robutissima,' Lobelia 'Monet Moment,' Monarda 'Pink Supreme,' Astilbe 'Rheinland,' and Aster 'Alma Potschke."

In this area of my garden, the soil is always moist, even during a drought.  I think there is a spring under my house that no one noticed during its construction, but the spring does not cause the house problems. However, it does limit my choice of plants to those that tolerate consistently moist conditions.  If I had a well-drained site, I would plant some of the Euphorbias, like Euphorbia 'Chameleon,' Sedums, like Sedum 'Lynda Windsor' and 'Angelina,' and Heucheras, like Heuchera 'Lime Rickey,' 'Southern Comfort,' and 'Purple Petticoats.' In my garden, these plants keep leaves most of the year.

I order most of my perennials from Bluestone Perennials,   I like Bluestone because they have the widest variety of plants I have seen, their plants are healthy, and most plants they sell in groups of three for the price most nurseries charge for one.  Granted, the plants are smaller than you might get elsewhere, but they bloom the first year for me and quickly catch up to those I buy in larger containers. Their customer service is excellent, and the catalog provides detailed cultural information about the plants.

Tracy Disabato-Aust's book, "The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques" is a good reference.  It provides detailed cultural information about most plants and time-saving ways to take care of perennials, such as giving the entire plant a haircut with hedge trimmers or a weed-eater instead of laboriously clipping of each individual spent bloom.  It also gives garden design information.

"The Southern Living Garden Book" is a good reference for folks who live in the South, which includes Delaware and west to Oklahoma and part of Missouri.  The book includes cultural information, including size at maturity, of nearly any plant that grows in the South, and it includes lists of plants for different situations, such as lists of plants with colorful foliage, deer resistant plants, and plants with showy flowers.

If you need help with the design, most local garden center staff will help you choose appropriate plants; show them a photograph of the site, along with measurements and a description of soil and sun conditions.

This spring, discard your preconceived notions of the foundation planting. Pull out the shrubs that threaten to cover your windows every year, and plant some that will grow to maturity while remaining under your windows. Include perennials and grasses in the design, and turn your front yard into a garden, instead of just a path to the front door.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Angry Bluebird

This spring, we have been battling a bluebird, or rather, he has been fighting every reflective surface around our yard in an attempt to defeat the enemy he sees in the glass. His favorite opponent is my husband's shiny new company truck. It has large side mirrors and a wide back glass that displays many other bluebirds to attack. He hops along the bed cover, flying into the window as he pecks at his reflection, splattering droppings the whole way. He also finds a nemesis in the large side-view mirrors, and even when we fold them towards the window, he slips between the mirror and the window and attacks the bird he sees.

He attacks any other vehicle in the yard, too, and pecks at the windows in the house that are in his line of sight from the birdhouse. He even flew on top of the house and attacked the skylights in the roof; we heard pecking on the glass and went into the room to find an angry bluebird furiously attacking the bird he saw.

Because the owners of the shiny new truck aren't happy about its adornment with bluebird droppings, and my husband, Scott, wasn't happy about washing the truck almost daily, he moved it out of the line of sight of the birdhouse. Bluebirds are territorial; and apparently, the territory only extends to areas the bird sees from the house. When we installed our houses, we put the houses out of sight of each other, never imagining that vehicles and windows in our house would become targets. After Scott moved his truck out of line of sight from the bluebird house, the bird stopped attacking his truck and moved to other targets.

One afternoon, while the male bluebird was busy attacking Scott's truck, a female bird, presumably his mate, flew around him and perched on the vehicle as he pecked away. They were engaged in some animated conversation, involving loud squawks and jumping about. I do not speak bluebird, but this is what I think the female, surely a more levelheaded bird, was saying to her mate: “You fool, can't you see it's your reflection you're attacking? Don't you think that if it was a REAL bird it would have pecked back by now? I'm at home trying to take care of my nest and to raise babies, and here you are out fighting. How about staying home and guarding the nest from real invaders!”

Unfortunately, it seems that the bluebirds abandoned their nest without raising any young. Perhaps the male was too busy protecting his nest from imaginary invaders to be able to protect the nest from real invaders, or perhaps he was too tired from his attacks to help feed them. Maybe there was another problem. We have had the houses in that spot several years without any problems, and I hope the next birds to inhabit it will be able to differentiate real and imaginary invaders.