Tuesday, February 24, 2009


My lawn is a barren wasteland today. If I had Alzheimer's, I'd think I was in South Dakota. But I can see hints of spring in the garden, the tender tips of tulips bursting through the ground, a tease from my peonies that May will be here sooner than I think.

Egads, peonies, tulips . . . bulbs! I forgot all about the new 'Sarah Bernhardt' peonies tucked away in the back of my basement refrigerator. And the sweet little glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa ssp.) and snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) bulbs that were going to greet me with a nodding smile on a day just like today. The ground is frozen solid. Even if I were brave enough to be outside longer than 8 1/2 minutes (and I'm a winter wimp), there's no way any holes can be dug.

Fortunately, there are options for feeble-minded, middle-aged women with too many kids and dogs and jobs.
Galanthus nivalis
The snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow bulbs are not going into their intended home under our mature maple tree until mid-March. Yes, past bloom time. But the bulbs are still firm and not dry, so they will survive if I plant them as soon as I can dig. They'll grow a little, settle into their new home, then go dormant. I will have to wait for their winter greeting until next year.

The tulips I can enjoy this year, but they will be late. I'll dump the dirt out of my larger containers, then refill with (unfrozen) potting soil and plant now with a covering of pansies for color to last until the
tulips bloom.

Paeonia 'Sarah Bernhardt'
The peonies are a long shot. They don't like to be moved, and like to be planted in early fall so they can get established before winter (that is, if you want them to bloom). They also like to be planted in deep soil (but not deeply in the soil, but in soil that has been dug and amended wider and deeper than they are planted). So, I'll use my largest terra cotta containers that I'll fill with half soil and half compost, mixing in a little slow-release fertilizer (I like Osmocote). Peonies should be planted deeply enough so that the "eyes" or buds are about 2 inches under the soil when covered. My hope is that they will survive, green up and then transplant without dying. Stay posted for pictures of the peonies in transition.

I'm really glad I didn't get a manicure last weekend!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Hair of the Dog

Barkley's hair is the perfect shade of blonde, with lovely lighter highlights and nice body with just enough curl, and a thick and shiny mane. He never has to wash it (well, maybe twice a year), can brush it a couple of times a week, sleep on it, take a run, do some yard work and it still looks fab! He's got what I pay my hair dresser a small fortune to conjure up on my own head every 8-10 weeks. The only bad thing about Barkley's hair is the frequency and volume which it falls . . . yes, Barkley is our family's golden retriever, a true shedding machine.

On a recycling kick, I searched for some ideas of what could be done with his hair, short of taking it to a custom wig maker. I could probably scoop up enough fur in a week to restuff the down cushions on our couch. In a month, the quantity of fur shed could fill my very large car. In a year . . . eew, I don't even want to think about it.

Believe it or not (I didn't), there are people and companies that recycle pet fur. (Just give it a google to see.) I found three somewhat reasonable things to do with all this fur:

1. Spin the fur into yarn and knit a sweater, afghan or keepsake. Perhaps even a coat for your dog from his own fur. There are a number of companies that take care of the spinning for you (the story of Rumpelstiltskin comes to mind everytime I think of spinning yarn) including one in Nebraska called The Fuzzy Farm. Too, Martha Stewart, had the fur of her beloved chow-chow spun by VIP Fibers in California into keepsakes.

2. Add it to your composter. Dog (and cat) fur will break down naturally with other waste in your composter, but without any smell or odor. Bonus, red wriggler worms aren't needed!

3. Use the fur in garden beds to protect tender seedlings, to deter slimy creatures like slugs and snails who won't like the texture, or to fend off raccoons or other critters with the dog's scent (smelly dog hair required). Birds will find and use the fur to line their nests.

I don't knit, and fear trying to handle foot-long sharp needles. But my soon-to-be sister-in-law has just started and I know has time on her hands for such useless projects. As soon as she's finished with her lime green wool blend overalls, men's size XL, I'm going to send her a spool of Barkley fur and see how creative she can be!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

Liza Mundy’s article in this week’s Washington Post Magazine relieves me of my green guilt. I thought I was the only one who just couldn't quite get it right. Yes, I want to be environmentally conscious, I want to reduce my carbon footprint. But, I drive a large American, gas-guzzling suv (aka “Texas Cadillac”) but I often am hauling plants, tools and a smattering of neighborhood kids. My friends know I cannot say “no” when they ask if I can snag their kids after school because I have room for the kids and the 60-pound backpacks, with room to spare.

I want to compost, but I don’t want vermin in my yard (“sure kids, that is a cute mouse”). I try very hard to unplug anything that we’re not using and turn off the lights. But I really hate to be cold (I like my forced heat). I really hate to be hot (I love my A/C). Most of the time, I remember the reusable grocery bags. But sometimes I need the plastic bags to pick up dog poop. High school and college tuition bills are looming, so adding solar panels on the roof is still a few years away. Our family is better about recycling, but I still question where it really goes after being dumped in the orange truck. I know, excuses, excuses.

Surely there’s something I can do? My expertise is in the outside world, that’s where I can focus my efforts. No, I’m not off to South America to save a rain forest, but I’m working here to help green our city, in my yard and in my community. Five easy steps and you can be a little greener too.

1. Water your street tree (the one your city planted along your sidewalk). Street trees have an average life span of 8 years (yes, 8 years) because of the stresses from car exhaust, confined growing spaces, and poor pruning techniques employed by your local utility company. Add to that any period of drought, and a tree’s chance of survival is drastically reduced. Newly planted trees should be given a good soaking (20-30 minutes) about once a week after planting through fall (until the ground freezes). For young trees (2-5 years), watering once a month during late spring and summer, and more frequently during long periods without rain, will be sufficient. Very mature trees generally have adapted to their environment and would only need supplemental watering in times of drought.

2. Pick up litter that you see on the ground. Remember the 1970s commercials with the Indian? A no-brainer, and can you really walk past it?

3. Plant one new tree in your yard. Not only does it help absorb carbon dioxide, but it can create shade in the summer that keeps your house cooler. The birds will like the new digs, too.

4. Do not install plants that require lots of extra watering, chemicals or fertilizers to look pretty. Yes, using plants that are native to your environment means that they can adapt to the changing weather conditions and the extremes in humidity and temperatures. Chemicals and fertilizers run off your yard and into the sewer system and into nearby waterways. Very bad, ask the fish.

5. Mow your lawn less. Unless you’re having a garden party in April, start a week or two later in spring than normal. In the heat of the summer when it hasn’t rained much, skip your weekly mowing -- the grass isn’t growing if it’s really hot and dry (does grass grow in the desert?) and your lawn doesn’t need to be cut if it isn’t growing.

Kermit was right. But I’m still trying . . .

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Never say never . . .

My hard and fast rule is that winter is for planning the garden, spring is for gardening. I never, ever do anything in the garden between December 1 and March 1. Never. Ever.

However, the 68 degree weather today was just too tempting. With apologies to Piet Oudolf, I was tired of brown today and cut back all of the perennials whose contrasting textures and variable shades of brown I had been admiring. No more. Today was a day to quickly tidy before firing up the grill for our first Sunday night steak and Caesar salad for 2009.

Here's my family's famous Caesar dressing recipe:

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic
4-6 anchovy filets
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. ground mustard
1 egg (room temperature)

Toss everything into a blender for about 1 minute. Pour over 2-3 heads of romaine lettuce, add seasoned croutons and toss. Serves 8-10 (unless any of my brothers are within 5 miles, then serves only 4).