Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dandelions - a pretty flower in disguise of a weed

One of my Facebook friends, David Hobson, who writes about gardening and its occasional accompanying angst, reminded me in his comments about suburban-ites and their continous battle with the yellow weed. A while back when in a gardening mode, the advent of Spring and summer was a continuous challenge to sustain a yellow-free lawn and control dandelions, as shared in an column. Most likely people reading this will relate. Right?

In Spring, a young man's (or woman's for that matter) fancy likely turns to thoughts of - gardening! All through the winter months our gardening endeavours are confined to those beautifully, illustrated photos in landscaping magazines, or the order forms in seed catalogues. At long last, the season of re-birth has arrived, and we feel impelled to get moving. It's time to sharpen the mower and hand shear blades, feed the laws, rake the grass, and get started on all the other tasks which go along with achieving a beautiful, picturesque garden. 
Upon reflection, you have to ask yourself the real reason behind all the work put into achieving a weed-free, green lawn and colorful display of flowers. Search down deep inside and the answer is obvious: we want our garden to be better than our neighbors. What reason other than ego, would impel us to spend a fortune of money on a variety of products like grass seed, flower and grass fertilizer, manure, weed killer, insect control stuff, for such a short period of time? In the winter, did you care that your next door neighbors had more snow on their property, than on yours? Or that their shovel was bigger or newer? Of course not, because there is nothing to be gained in a display of snow, right?     The ideal lawn for most of us is one that is a rich shade of green, weed-free, and without any crab grass. Heaven forbid there should be any sign of this dastardly, wild specie which has a way of cropping up when you least expect it. Worse yet, are the dandelions which make our lawns their number one place to call home. They have a habit of moving into a neighborhood, settling in with ease, and are not concerned with their social position among the cultivated blooms.     In my opinion, these delightful, happy flowers have acquired a bad reputation over the years which is undeserved. What's wrong with them anyway, I ask you? It's just a case of snobbery, due to the common manner in which they grew. Gardeners won't tolerate them because they aren't genteel and refined like the snobby roses, or the fussy impatiens and their ilk, who are considered to be among the pedigreed variety. Dandelions prefer to sprout wild and free, wherever their seed may fall. A point in their favor is that they are accessible to everyone, regardless of social strata or financial situation.     Maybe we should learn to co-exist with them since they are not ugly flowers aesthetically, and are easy to cultivate. They do not discriminate between good lawns and bad lawns, and will flourish everywhere with a vengeance. How do we repay them for their undying devotion, showing up in our lawns year after year?     As soon as the first splash of yellow peaks through the grass blades, we whip out our sprayer, fill it with dandelion slayer stuff until they are wilted into submission, but never forever. They may succumb to the various extermination methods temporarily, but dandelion roots run deep. Once they decide to dig in, it's almost impossible to get rid of them, permanently. So, why try. Think of all the money and energy which could be saved having to travel back and forth to the garden centre, to purchase flowers. Dandelions will just be...there. This crop doesn't require watering, they love all types of weather, and are low maintenance plants. Once neighbors adapt to their presence, you'll be the talk of the neighborhood.  "My blank-blank, what a beautiful crop of dandelions you have this year. So healthy and yellow," people will comment enviously.  "Yup, best crop ever," you'll respond proudly. "Lost your weed killer dispenser, eh?", they'll say, in an attempt to pump you for the inside scoop on the success of your new crop.     Let's learn to co-exist with all the weeds which grow in harmony side-by-side the dandelions, since they proliferate in such large numbers, anyway. Why waste all our energy on their elimination when we could be doing other things during the summer like...hmm...repairing the snow blower, perhaps?  

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Lettuce Project update: day 3 and day 4. Signs of life?

Let's see where were we? Or should we say - where are we now? Whatever.

Here is the day-by-day progress report, although readers might find it repetitive. Got up at 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 13, to bring in the paper but couldn't avoid a check on what I hoped was progress to report. Uttered a lot of " hmmmmm's" and "uh-huh's"...and then changed the water. Why you may well ask, did I change the water? Seemed like a good idea. What happens, say, if lettuce prefers pure, clean, tap water as an incentive for growth? Didn't want to take any chances so 'L' - that's what I've named the lettuce to personalize our relationship - now has daily changes of water.

Sun. April 14: Actually, toying with the idea of adding photographic images of my stump with roots immersed in an inch of water in a plastic container, to the blog page. After further thought, took three photos of the aforementioned lettuce from different angles and my findings are that it looked the same from all angles and really didn't merit photos - yet.

Mon. April 15: Not sure if it's wishful thinking but just may have detected little white shoots growing on the side of the stump not immersed in water. Perhaps they could have been there all along and went unnoticed...however I'm believing they are a positive sign that things may be progressing. After glancing into the container, my husband asked me when am I going to throw L away.

"It's growing! Can't you tell?" I reacted, rushing over to point out what I believe to be teeny shoots.

"Looks like it's turning brown," he responded. "Time to throw it out. It's gonna smell."

"The roots look very healthy," I said, swishing them around in a circular motion with my fore-finger. "We have to give them a chance to send a message to the lettuce stump to grow."

"Here's my message to them. 'Grow or out you go'!

There is hope in my heart that tomorrow will be the turning point. Visions of soft green lettuce leaves in a delicious bowl of salad inspire me to keep going. Tomorrow L will receive a musical treat in the form of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, "Spring." Let's just hope the other plants don't get jealous.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Lettuce Project: Day 2

7:30 a.m.  At time of first examination, which would be 7:30 a.m., the lettuce roots look like... lettuce roots. I'm thinking of moving it up to the next shelf where they/it (are roots plural or single one wonders) would receive some direct light. Actually, I'm not sure if they should even be in direct light... Maybe the light will cause bacteria to form or something... So many questions and so few answers. Anybody want to jump in here and offer an opinion?

See...that's the enigma of undertaking a project in which one has little or no experience. True I've grown lettuce in the garden, which quickly went to seed, but that was a long time ago. The issue, as I view it, is whether leaves can be produced via a hydroponic lettuce that was but is no more. The lettuce by the way, was very tasty if that means anything. Will report back later.

Noon  Decided to move lettuce container to top shelf of plant stand. After conducting a cyber search focusing on the subject  - "how to grow Boston lettuce in water" - it seems, according to a few people who have tried this, achievable, although it was with romaine lettuce and celery. Didn't mention, though, whether it was hydroponic lettuce, which could make a difference. Thinking further and in my mind, growing it hydroponically would make it more feasible. Then again - what do I know? Came accross a YouTube video of someone who is or was successful and managed to achieve another lettuce out of it. I would be satisfied to grow a few leaves, never mind a lettuce, although eating another salad from a former salad would be nice.

The container water looked to me on the yellow-ish side although maybe that's as a result of some plant food added to the lettuce by the lettuce growers. Changed the water and will see if it makes a difference.

Thinking back to the vegetable gardening days, we shared our veggie output with local critters that enjoyed suburban gardens (skunks, rabbits et al) and used our veggies as an extension of their dietary needs. At least this won't be an issue. And so we wait for something to happen.

Maybe on day 3...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The lettuce project: day one

First post of the season and the weather people are calling for snow and/or freezing rain. Then again,  given their accuracy rate, we'll wait to see if it materializes. Doesn't really matter one way or the other since I'm in a sort-of growing state of mind. This could be as a result of walking through a garden center and seeing fertilizer and related garden products out on display. Condo living has replaced my garden, which is most likely the reason for my growing itch.

Recently bought a hydroponically-grown Boston lettuce at a supermarket with a root system attached. I really like Boston lettuce in a salad but what attracted me was the large root wound around in a circle wrapped around the lettuce base to fit into a plastic top. The accompanying blurb on the top reads: "one fresh living lettuce", which got me thinking as to the possibilities of reproduction of the lettuce type. Decided to do an experiment.

After removing the leaves, cutting off the top and keeping a small piece of the core, I immersed the roots in water in a plastic container, covering the entire root system. I'm hoping that the end result down the line will result in new leaves if not an entire new lettuce (don't I wish!) . It's now sitting on the second shelf of my plant stand beneath my two house plants, which have primo space. After all, they've been there a lot longer but they could be displaced temporarily, if the need arises. Already I'm concerned that perhaps the water needs some type of fertilizer... Problems already...

I'm calling my undertaking: "the lettuce project" and will supply daily updates here as to the progress - if any. Having never grown a lettuce in this manner before, I'm open to suggestions and help from blog readers. That is, if anything happens. We'll have to see.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spring - the garden beds are gone but the memory lingers on

Today I bought a geranium plant. In the scheme of things and being that this is Spring, it's not an unusual thing to do. Condo living is great but it's missing one vital component. I'm missing my garden.

While shopping at the supermarket, the front of the store was devoted to wooden display racks filled to capacity with annuals and hanging plants. Since it was an unusually warm sunny day, people were feeling the need to get down and dirty and feel the earth beneath their fingers. I know exactly how they feel.  Somehow, placing the plant on my still empty balcony gave me a feeling of kinship with gardeners and brought back memories of my garden.

Let me state for the record that my garden was not a display out of House and Gardens. Far from it. In fact there were more deaths than there were survivors. The wine-colored iris's growing in a bed on the side of the house could always be counted in the survivor column. They were my pride and joy because they required little care. Neighbors and people passing by frequently asked the secret in acquiring the magnificent display. Nothing - absolutely nothing other than separating the roots periodically. Mother Nature did the rest.

It's those rose bushes that tug at my heart. At this time of the year, I would be pondering whether the two remaining hybrid teas made it through the winter and/or whether they should be pulled. They were frequently in the in-between stage making a decision on their viability difficult. I've always been of the belief that roses in particular make slaves of their human caretakers having to primp, preen and fuss over them and in the end, they thank us by croaking. It was always touch and go and in a good year they would give me three roses each. In a bad year, they were afflicted black mold on their leaves but I loved them dearly. They are frequently in my thoughts.

I miss digging my fingers in the earth and feeling the soil sift through my fingers while preparing a home for new flowers and annuals. Our front lawn was composed primarily of dandelion leaves, which gave it a green shade and in dandelion season, the lawn was a mass of yellow flowers. It was an un-winable war trying to erradicate them and in the end, we conceded victory. In retrospect, perhaps we should have tried making dandelion wine or dandelion salad, since dandelion leaves sell at the supermarket. Had they asked us, we would have gladly donated ours for free.

It's been five years since we sold our house but the pull of the garden still seduces my senses. It's obvious to onlookers that we were gardeners since we embelish our balcony with hanging plants in addition to filling planters that we had brought with us, with annuals. There is no way I could part with my "pussycat" planter with the smiling black cat peeking out from behind trailing flowers. Neither could I leave the hand-made wooden planter behind given to me by my next door neighbor. In the end, you takes your planting as you get it. Meanwhile, there's always the geranium.

"In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends."

- Kozuko Okakura

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Excuses don't count when it comes to hanging plants

Really, we never intended to be cruel to our hanging plants and now they’re paying us back. They can best be described in a state loitering between life and death, more to the latter as of today. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how honourable our intentions were because plants aren’t interested in excuses.

Every May we visit the various garden centers in search of a species that will stand out visually, add pizazz to our condo balcony, is easy to care for and are tough plants. Is that a lot to ask? The latter is important since we live near a river where it’s always windy, which in turn dries out the soil necessitating constant replenishment of water.

It was instant love-at-first-sight when we spotted calibrachoa, a relatively new species that resembles mini petunias overflowing with branches of coloured blooms, growing in a plastic hanging container. The mixture of bright yellow and orange flowers stole our hearts and judgement, obviously. Given the lush but overflowing state of the greenery and the size of the pot, we ignored the warning signs that over-crowding could be a problem. More flowers equals flashier showing, we assumed, plus the garden center clerk assured us the specie was easy to grow. Good enough reason for purchase, we decided.

Visually, they provided a visually colourful sight swaying in the wind but watering the plant was difficult, since it was almost impossible to know when or if the water was reaching the roots. To ensure that they were being adequately hydrated they received a half-litre of water, a lot of which seeped out the planter holes.

Rarely do we take a summer vacation that takes us away for more than a few days but this year was an exception. This meant that the plants were on their own for a week at the mercy of Mother Nature for liquid hydration. In retrospect we could have asked a neighbour to plant sit or if our plants could join someone else's plants on their balcony, but we didn’t. We believed that our plants would take care of themselves in our absence. Silly us! We took them down and placed near the balcony railing dependent upon natural conditions to provide a balance of sun and rain. Having watered the plants well and giving them a pep talk along with apologies, we left assuming they would be alive upon our return. Again, silly us.

It never occurred to us that the plants would or could – well – die or would give up in a mere week without water. Actually, they should have lasted longer but given their crowded state, their root systems most likely were packed too tightly together. Personally, I blame the seed company for over-crowding. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! Much to our dismay, we returned to a brown-branched, somewhat shrivelled up and crispy dried out plant. What was once a colourful, lush and vibrant orange/yellow plant was now a collection of brown shrivelled-up branches of crispy nothing-ness. Rather than toss them out immediately, instead they were given a liberal watering and decided to monitor the situation for a week after which a decision would have to be made as to their viability. On the fourth day, one of the plants started turning green at the tips of the branches and suddenly some flowers appeared, leading us to believe that a miraculous re-birth was imminent – and still more flowers. Unfortunately, it was a short lived omen and the green has turned to a deathly pallor of grey-ish/brown-ish. Such teases, our plants!

It’s obvious, at least to me that once new plant raisers and owners take over from garden centers to become the care givers to plants, we become responsible for their well being. Plants do not and will not stand for excuses and neither do they tolerate long-ish absences. Unless there’s another re-birth, tonight we’ll be bidding adieu to the calibrachoa duo on the river bank, at sunset. It will be a short ceremony to match our short relationship. It’s the least we could do.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Once a gardener - always a gardener

In as much as a move to condo living is a welcome change Spring is the time of year that I miss my garden most. Normally, I would be joining the throngs of gardening enthusiasts at the garden centres stocking up on top soil and supplementing their gardening tool collection. It’s always surprising, at least to me, how people are willing to pay for – well – dirt in the desire to enhance their chances of a visually spectacular floral display and vegetable output. When you think about it, there is dirt virtually everywhere you look but gardeners have to have special dirt. Drop by any centre and an entire section is filled with bags of top soil of every type and purpose. Thinking back, adding top soil worked for all the gardeners in our neighbourhood but for whatever reason, disappeared for us with the first rain. There was also the reoccurring problem with grub attacks that didn’t help the situation. See what I mean? Once a gardener – always a gardener.

The question as to how we enjoy condo living is inevitably followed by, “do you miss your garden?” My stock answer is yes and no. Definitely miss the experience of getting down and dirty with my hands in the soil and no to having to mow the grass. Never told anyone until now but dandelions supplemented the sparse blades of grass and gave the lawn the green shade it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Conversations with friends and acquaintances who are gardening enthusiasts enjoy regaling me with their plans for the coming season. I

“So how do you like condo living?” actually means, how could you give up your garden followed by, “we could never give up our house. We love growing things.”

Hey! I always did and still do. The change is in the way to grow things. Actually, can’t really call it gardening any more. We’re plant raising now. Upon moving into our condo in early summer four years ago, we purchased two Grecian-looking urns that were filled to over-flowing with a wide variety of annuals. The end result was nice and in an attempt to be organized, we even kept the plastic information sticks as a reminder which plants flourished. Unfortunately, the following year they were nowhere to be found and it’s still guess work. Some things don’t change.

Have to admit, though, I do still love looking at the seed displays and mentally select the species that appeal to me. There is the occasional conversation with strangers at the displays but the discussion stops at one point when the talk turns to flower beds and veggies. Seems that container gardening doesn’t make it with some people. It’s also at this time of the year that I experience pangs of loneliness for my two surviving rose bushes, a hybrid tea and a floribunda, whose life force always hovered between life and death. In a good year, they produced two roses each. Wonder if they’re still in the land of the living or tease the new owners into believing they’re worth the trouble. Reality returns with the quick reminder of the frequent visits to the composter and the plethora of plants that received last rites.

In the choosing flowers, we still have differing views on the selection process for the window boxes and urns, centering on species and color schemes. I like to stick to two main colors while my husband prefers a wide variety of...everything. The truth is that he’s color-blind and is in denial.

“Nature doesn’t pick color schemes,” he will assert in defence of his choices, “so why should we?”

Last year, though, we did agree to stick to three main shades. Three is better than eight – let’s leave it at that. At present we’re in discussions focusing on the cultivation of tomatoes in a pot and whether or not there is a space for them, physically and aesthetically. Once that issue is settled, I’ll broach the subject of herbs. The barbeque still needs a corner.

(Paintings courtesy of yours truly, are available for purchase)