Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review - Reading about Garden Pleasures

One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell

In the middle of winter, how many of us can honestly say we relish the thoughts of  next Spring’s clean-ups let alone prospective overwintering concerns; including early bulb causalities, potential hardscape modifications,  starting seeds, new plant combinations  and the simplicity of gardening  just for the sake of watching new plants and vegetables  emerge for their season?  As Rocky Mountain gardeners, we’re already faced with so many time honored rules and guidelines to help us get through our short growing season and weather anomalies, we frequently need the winter to just rest up & recharge our batteries for the next season.  Whether it’s at 5,000’ or 9,000’, we face every challenge there is and frequently get too caught up in the expert’s advice of what we should and should not be doing.  This review is about a small book that reminds us all - gardens aren't just about the plants.   Let’s not lose track of the surprises our landscapes and growing treasures can bring to us, regardless of the time of year.

In this magical little book, One Man’s Garden,  Houghton- Miflin Company, 1992, 254 pages, writer Henry Mitchell shares and explores  the changing elements and plants  in his garden on a monthly basis; in addition to including notes on historical garden visits, reader questions, plants and general observations.  During his lifetime,  he wrote the weekly gardening column ’ Earthman’, for the Washington Post , and was a frequent contributor to Southern Living garden articles as well as Horticulture magazine.  What a joy to read of someone’s vast and knowledgeable encounters … mistakes and successes alike!!  He advises to remember to stay calm when thinking “we first must get through April snows” before we persist through May and June; wise guidance especially for rain & hail season in our state.

When was the last time you made the effort to look at the heights of your trees and shrubs and what additional elements might provide the opportunities for a new focus such as windbreaks; thus creating a small microclimate, perfect for a plant you’ve been longing to try?  Look for those opportunities to make your yard sparkle.    For those of us with our own pines, consider trimming boughs and using them tepee style around perennials for wind protection with mulch.   Have you thought about the leaves or needles on trees – their shape and changing color and how they can enhance an area that may need a tweak??  Looking at branches and leaves against a winter sky or bank of snow may help create your own garden art, especially if there are seed pods still to be seen??  It’s okay to move things in your garden to try for something new, as Mitchell states, “tastes change” over seasons and years.  Tired of colorful annuals tempting you w/low prices at the grocery or big box store?  Reflect on colorful variations or leaf combinations in containers that can be moved around to border beds, a deck or pathway.

Our warm weather months from June through August provide the most consistent colors in our gardens. Don’t forget that we have butterflies that are still searching our gardens for safe havens and nourishment to carry on their life cycles as summer progresses.  Those late blooming flowers can help them along. Certainly the extended Indian summer weather this past Fall has helped root development
and lingering color on our favorite perennials; allowing us the time to enjoy a few star performers that may often get overlooked.  I’m thinking of the Barberry I now have along some garden steps.  It’s the perfect accidental accent that Mitchell frequently points out in his book.  Actually, it’s a volunteer from the original location but it’s still wildly alive with several red and scarlet leaves remaining through the cold.

Perhaps a water element in your yard next spring & summer might provide added hours of serenity??  Yes, the neighborhood raccoon or fox may be really delighted especially if fish are involved, but be brave and realistic about what you think you may like to do.  In writing on water, Mitchell reminds us it’s important to move any plants out before the hard freeze sets in and winter has taken a toll but it’s all doable with planning.  After all, this is Colorado and while we may be plagued by rabbits, gophers, voles, deer and elk, that’s all part of the reason we enjoy living here – so relax and enjoy it!!  Just don’t put the expensive plantings out with the welcome mat.

Arguably, Mr. Mitchell’s combined books & columns have an east coast and southern slant, however I honestly felt he captured the satisfaction of thinking outside the box and seeing how gardens and gardeners evolve,   even as he shares stories of friend’s passions and struggles in the world of horticulture.  I doubt if any cypress, wisteria, azalea or camellia, even Jefferson’s beloved fig trees & tomato varieties will make a permanent presence in our arid growing zones, but it certainly is fun reading about them!  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Natural Holiday Decorations by Irene Shonle

Frost has long since withered most things outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use natural decorations to cheer up your home for the holidays and bring life to the winter.

Evergreen branches are of course a mainstay, and we are blessed with many options and a lot of opportunity up here.  I like using Douglas fir branches, because they are soft, lay flat, and smell good.  It can also look great to mix a variety, including spruce, lodgepole, and ponderosa.  These can be used in swags, wreaths, or arranged in large planter pots by the door where the weather may add some natural “flocking.”

Consider increasing interest by incorporating some lesser-used evergreens.  Kinnickinnick has leathery green leaves that withstand frost, and bright red berries to boot!  Creeping Mahonia has holly-shaped leaves that turn reddish in the winter; it’s the closest thing we’ll find to holly in Colorado.

For touches of color, look for wild rose hips.  After a moist summer like this last one, they are plentiful.  Put them outside after you are done to give the wild birds a snack, or make rose hip tea.

Pinecones have endless decorative uses – you can spray paint them silver or gold or with flocking, string them in garlands to grace a mantel or door, attach pinecones to a cone-shaped floral foam base to create a miniature tree, attach them to gifts, artfully arrange them around a candle as a centerpiece, and more.    If you become really inspired, next year make a mental note to gather pine cones in the fall, before the snow covers them.

You’ll need a trip to the supermarket rather than the great outdoors for this one, but I am enchanted with orange slice ornaments.   They are simple to make, thrifty and stunning.  Take a nice orange (you’ll probably need about 3-4), slice it into many thin (1/4”) slices on “the equator” (not end-to-end).  Then either dry them for a week or more on cooling racks (for airflow), or if you are in a hurry, you can place them in a 170° oven for 3 hours directly on the oven racks.  Put a ribbon through it, and enjoy the way the sun lights them up like little stained glass windows.  For best effect, place your tree (or ornaments) by a window.

A final fun natural decoration is to make ice lanterns for a special event.  Fill balloons with water and place outside in below-freezing weather.   When the outside has frozen solid (about an inch or more thick) but the center is still liquid, pop the balloon, pour out the water, and place a candle in the hollow.  How long you need to let it freeze will depend on how cold it is, so keep checking them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Want to be a Colorado Master Gardener? by Christine Crouse

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.”~Josephine Neuse

Grow your love of gardening by becoming a Colorado Master Gardener!  Starting in January, this 10-week (one day/week) college-level course offers students in-depth horticulture classes taught by experts in the fields of Plant Health Care and the Diagnostic Process, Botany, Soils, Fertilizers and Soil Amendments, Entomology, Plant Pathology, Lawn Care, The Science of Planting Trees and Identifying Shrubs, Weed Management, Vegetables and Native Plants.

Contact your local CSU Extension office for details.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Caring for Our Bird Friends in the Winter by Molly Niven

Pygmy Nuthatches, the authors favorite
Do you want to attract birds all winter long? Regulars at our house in Golden Gate Canyon at about 8,800’ include:  Cassin’s finches, house finches, and (in the shoulder season) brown capped rosy finches; mountain and occasional black capped chickadees; dark-eyed and slate colored juncos; pygmy nuthatches (my favorite!), pine siskins, and red crossbills; hairy and downy woodpeckers; Steller’s Jays, Northern (Red Shafted) Flickers, Clark’s Nutcrackers, magpies and common ravens.  That’s a start!

o   Landscape with plants that produce berries, seeds and nuts.  Delay garden cleanup until spring, leaving seed heads on flowers.
o   Put out a variety of feeders: suet, large and small seed feeders.  If you are going to put out just one feeder, make it a sunflower seed tube feeder.
o   Favorite food:  black oiled sunflower seeds are at the top of the list for most birds.  Add striped sunflower seeds for large beaked birds and millet for small beaked birds.   Finches love niger seed, but these require a special feeder.   Most birds discard milo, wheat and oats but beware, rodents love these.
o   Try a homemade suet feeder (1” deep and 1” diameter holes in a log).
o   Make your own suet:  one part peanut butter, four parts cornmeal, and one part vegetable shortening or lard.  Add seeds, nuts and dried currents.  Suet and nuts provide protein.
o   Clean your feeders at least once a year with a 10 percent bleach solution-one part bleach to nine parts water to ward off salmonella and other diseases.
o   Create a microclimate around your birdbath to keep the water from freezing or build a solar birdbath.  An electric stock tank heater in a shallow dish of clean water or a heated birdbath will work. 
o   Keep water away from food so droppings, seeds and hulls do not contaminate it.
3.      PROVIDE PROTECTION from the elements and predators
o   Wind blocks include landscaping, woodpiles, stonewalls and other man made structures.
o   A variety of shrubs, deciduous and conifer trees provide perches, cover and nesting areas. 
o   Keep your house cats indoors – EVEN those with bells!  Cats account for about 30 percent of birds killed at feeders.
o   Glass windows cause more than one billion bird deaths every year.   BirdSleuth at Cornell Ornithology Lab says the best bet is to install a taut, small-mesh net or screen (a net 5/8” in diameter works well) at least 3 inches from the glass.  Little success is had putting bird images and other decals on your windows.  When a Northern pygmy owl crashed into our kitchen window, I vowed never to wash my windows again!
o   Bring your feeders in at night until bears go into hibernation!

Read more:
·     CSU Plant Talk/Fact sheet: Attracting birds
·     The ‘go to’ web site for learning about birds sponsored by Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
·  “The Winter Banquet” by Stephen Cress
·    to find out everything you need to know to get started, from buying a feeder to selecting seed to identifying birds.
·  Front Range Organic Gardeners has a great plant list to attract birds and butterflies and wildlife

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Garden Tool Maintenance by Tina Ligon

Fall is a great time to do garden tool maintenance
Fall is a great time to clean up and maintain all those garden tools before storing them for the winter. Many Farmer's Markets have booths to sharpen tools (for a fee) if you don't want to take it on yourself. However, there are several good videos available to guide you through the process.

The first step is to gather up your tools if you are sometimes like me and leave them where I last used them.
Give them a good cleaning, sharpen if needed, do any needed repairs, lightly sand wooden handles and coat with linseed oil, oil any metal parts with a light machine oil.

Here is a link to a short video about using oily sand to clean garden tools by Jefferson County Master Gardener, Gail Wilson.

University of Nebraska Extension General cleaning and sharpening video.

I include garden hoses in the garden tool category. Don't forget to disconnect, drain and put away.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Re-Purposing Materials for the Garden by Cherie Luke

Local home stores and nurseries sell garden structures and ornaments for the home garden that for the most part are dull and boring.  With materials gathered from yard sales, thrift stores, salvage yards, and recycle centers you can create interesting, fun and useful structures and ornaments for your garden.

This greenhouse was made from all recycled windows, door, and materials you can see at the Steamboat Springs reuse center at their landfill. 

This is another example of a greenhouse made from all recycled windows, door, wood, etc. that also came from the Steamboat reuse center.

The inside of this greenhouse uses granite pieces to create a raised bed garden inside the greenhouse.

A headboard from a thrift store makes a pretty support for a clematis.

Making something useful for your garden out of something some people would find worthless is fun and gratifying.  So visit salvage yards, reuse centers etc. and have fun using your imagination to reuse, repurpose, and recycle in the garden.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Things I Would Change for Next Year's Garden by Ed Powers

Plants undercover
2014’s garden was my second full year of gardening at 7500 feet in Evergreen, Colorado.  It was a disaster!!  It started off with me planting my seeds indoors much too early for my area.  I planted the bulk of my seeds in late January instead of looking at the germination time on each packet and factoring in my altitude (7500 - 8000 feet).  I should determine when the expected transplant date will be and back calculate the starting date.  This year, the young plants ended up being too leggy, a few died early in the seed starting soil while the others ended up difficult to plant because they were too big.

Plants started from seed

Some starts became a bit "leggy"
I planted in early June, shortly after what I thought would be the last frost.  They started off well but I had another major frost in late June and I lost all of my plants.  I consulted CSU fact sheets and guide lines and decided not to give up.  So I planted my second attempt in late June (I had some seedlings left from my seed starting).  I planted tomato seeds that I had saved from last year which were San Marzano, Roma, Black Krim, and Red Siberian (the latter two are both Russian varieties suited for a short growing season).  In addition, I planted eggplant, short seasoned peppers, zucchini and spaghetti squash, and cucumbers.  All were heirlooms because I planned to save seeds for next year.

My plants started very slowly and at the end of July I decided to cover them with tents in hopes to lengthen the growing season.  I was planning to uncover them around the first week in October.  At that time I had little or no fruit on anything.  In late August we had 2 heavy hail storms that did a lot of damage.  But I covered everything again and hoped that the plants would produce fruit and ripen.
Covers added

This week I uncovered my garden and 1 tomato had produced 2 small fruits.  My 2nd year of gardening has been my worst.  However, there were many good lessons learn.  So while it was a bad year for saving seeds and producing fruit I learn a lot of good gardening lessons.

Here is a list of things that I noticed in my garden:
  •      Build raised gardens at this altitude.  Although my garden area has very good, fertile soil; a raised bed assists me in taking better care of my garden.
  •     Do more research through CSU before starting my seeds and planting my garden.
  •     Start seeds (both flowers and vegetables) according to germination time and planting time in my area.  This means not all seeds get started on the same day.
  •     Transplant plants after the last frost (yes a bit of a best guess) and cover them with a hoop covering with a white or opaque cloth like lawn fabric as the covering.
  •     When the temperatures warm-up, drop the cover to the side (or use a summer weight row cover) to protect from overheating.
  •     If I notice there is expected hail, pull up the cover over hoop to protect the plants in the garden.
  •     In mid-September leave cover over plants 24 hours a day but leave the ends open for ventilation.
  •     Put a string of small Christmas lights (non LED) for night heat in each tent.
  •     Harvest in the first week of October.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Now is the time to sow wildflower seeds - by Irene Shonle

If you take your cues from the garden centers, you would think that the best time to sow wildflower seeds is in the spring.  That’s when all the packets of seeds go out, beckoning with their promises of future glory.

Wildflower seed packets
But really, the best time to sow wildflowers is in the fall.   As in right now!  Or anytime late September until the ground freezes. If you think about it for a second, it makes sense – this is, after all, when Mother Nature sows her seeds.  Most native plants actually need that period of cold and wet in order to break dormancy.  When the days lengthen and warm in the spring, the seed coat is softened and ready to germinate.   It’s not to say that you won’t get any germination if you sow in the spring, but for the most part, you’ll have better success in the fall.  And since there are often no wildflower packets to be found in the fall, buy your packets in the spring and keep them in a cool dry place until fall.

Weed your site thoroughly before planting.  If using a commercial packet, follow the recommendations for square footage covered; if you plant too thickly, the plants will be spindly and crowded and will never reach their full size or floriferousness.  Rough up the top few inches of soil, sow the seeds at the recommended density, and then rake them in lightly.  Finally, walk on the soil in order to tuck the seeds firmly into the ground.  Lightly mulch with a weed-free straw (don’t use wood mulch because it’s too chunky to allow good germination) or put a floating row cover on top.

A word about seed selection:   in the mountains, you’ll  usually have best luck with native seeds.  The mixes that contain annual plants will give some instant gratification the first year (and native perennials will not), but will seldom seed themselves for future color, so they do not offer as much bang for the buck.
Native wildflower sowing at the Gilpin Extension Office

For more information, please see the following fact sheet: