Monday, May 18, 2009

Flower Vomit

The azaleas have been in bloom in Washington the past few weeks. While I adore azaleas spread throughout a woodland garden, there are some yards that have gone a little overkill with these ubiquitous foundation plantings (like mine). I inherited a somewhat mature garden, with, no joke, over 50 different varieties or cultivars of azaleas, which in bloom, looks much like "flower vomit."

As a young child, I nicknamed my room "the flower vomit room." It had been decorated for my two older sisters, circa 1968. Painted pale pink, it had (according to my mother) very expensive 100% wool bright pink carpet that wouldn't show wear for at least 25 years (and it didn't). But my least favorite part (and no offense to the unnamed decorator), the bed linens and curtains were a blend of pinks and chartreuse and olive green, somewhat modern at that time, and to not appear overly floral for young pre-adolescent girls. It was quite out-of-style when my sisters went to college and I got my own room for the first time. I loved having my own space and not having to share a room with my rough and tumble younger brothers, but I was a tomboy through and through. Pink and I just clashed.

Pink and I still clash. My personality is much more blue, yellow and green mixed with a little dirt, er, brown. Somedays I might be a bit more red, but only if the aphids are eating my roses or my dear dog buries a bone where I've just planted dahlia bulbs. Pink is pretty and kind and gentle and delicate. In the garden, I like pink limited quantities, over there in the distance for a spot of color, or set against the backdrop of lots and lots of dark green foliage.

So my dilemna remains what to do with the wash of pink that blankets my garden for three weeks in April and May, then nothing for the remaining 11 months of the year?

Over time, a few have died giving me the chance to fill in with new deciduous shrubs with varying textures and bloom times, such as
Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum, Doublefile Viburnum. The shady conditions and and mature height of the azaleas has offered space to experiment with shade perennial combinations -- last spring I mixed Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum', Solomon's Seal, Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, Japanese Painted Fern, Heuchera x 'Plum Puddin', Plum Puddin Coralbells, and Carex comans, Hair Sedge.

So, yes, I will continue to endure and appreciate the flower vomit each spring, if only as a launching point for experimentation.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Compost Hokey Pokey

Recently I gave a lecture about composting . . . to 28 three- and four-year-olds. In high school speech class, I learned that the most important part of preparing any kind of talk is understanding your audience. Even though I've had my own preschoolers, I don't understand them at all. Honestly, I don't think I've been more frightened.

Knowing that I would have their attention for about 8 minutes, I simplified my composting presentation into 3 key points:

1. Learn what types of everyday waste can be composted, while reinforcing the message that composting is important for both the plants that receive nutrients from the compost and for reducing, reusing and recycling the trash we make.

2. Understand that the ratio of what goes into the composting bin is the simple key to producing good compost. Layer 1/3 "green" (nitrogen) waste with 2/3 "brown" (carbon) waste.

3. Turning the composting
bin frequently will circulate the matter, adding oxygen to help break down materials. Heat and a little moisture breaks down waste more quickly.


The preschool has a tumbling compost bin, quite a bit of fun for the kids to spin recklessly like a carnival ride gone crazy, probably not fun if you happen to be an earthworm that got tossed in with a pile of dead leaves.

To illustrate points 1 and 2, I gathered 2 bags of waste and made two piles by the bin. Green waste included grass clippings, green leaves, some weeds I had pulled, some carrot peels, apple pieces and coffee grounds. The brown waste included dead leaves, hay (that I swiped from my neighbor's lawn, baring his new grass seed, don't tell), pine straw, egg shells (rinsed) and a few shreds of black and white newspaper. In small groups the kids helped me fill the composter with one handful of brown, one handful of green and a second handful of brown.

After filling the bin with our green and brown waste, we sang a crazy couple of rounds of the "Compost Hokey Pokey" complete with silly hand motions. You know the tune . . .

You put some brown stuff in
You put some green stuff in
You put some brown stuff in
And you stir it all around
Do the compost hokey pokey
And stir it all around
That's what it's all about

Of course, what good school lesson goes without a test! In another (recycled) brown paper bag, I pulled out items and had the kids tell me what should go in the bin and what should not. Can you guess the right answers?

Toy cars, uh, no.
Balloons, definitely not.
Dead leaves, yep.
Apple pieces, of course.
Mom's sunglasses, no.
Carrots, sure.
Weeds (no seeds), indeed so.

The wee ones scored 100%. Mission accomplished. The earlier children learn how simple it is to conserve, the more likely they will continue those practices as adults.

Have you tried composting?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Even Pepe LePew Wouldn't Touch This

Once in summer school school, I took a botany class. It was an easy "A" and I needed the grade points. I do not remember the professor or pretty much anything else I learned except that a weed is a plant that grows where you do not want it to grow.

Even with its fancy Latin name,
Symplocarpus foetidus, Skunk Cabbage is a weed, and not worthy of any one's garden unless they live on a few hundred acres with a swampy woodland along the edge far, far away from the house. While it may be interesting looking, it attracts flies and bugs and on a good day, smells pretty heinous.

But one man's trash is another man's treasure. In Tennessee,
S. foetidus is on the endangered wildflower list. In some areas of Europe, skunk cabbage is reported to be "highly prized" in aquatic gardens and in public parks.

But it is not endangered in Massachusetts, so Anne should (a) dig very deep all around any signs of the plant and pull it all out, then (b) correct the drainage in her yard so that it has less chance to return next year.