Sunday, August 20, 2017

Work Day

It's been quite a while since I had a work day in the garden.  With the high temperatures and lack of rain in July there weren't many weeds growing (or anything else growing for that matter).  We just returned from our final trip of the summer and Kaboom!  There were weeds everywhere and quite a mess to clean up.  Yesterday I went to it and cleaned everything up.  The cucumbers and yellow squash needed to be pulled out of the vegetable garden.  Their leaves had turned brown and yellow and the plants were a wilted mess.  The zucchini, eggplant and hot peppers are still going strong though.  The tomatoes are still there, though I still have yet to taste one.  The woodchuck gets them every darn time.  It doesn't seem to like the cherry tomatoes, so I have plenty of those. 

I cleaned out the weeds in the perennial garden.  Here's what's blooming right now.

Green headed coneflower against the back of the picket fence.

Tithonia just started to bloom about a week ago.  I suspect it took this long because I have it in part sun instead of full.  Note to self for next year, sow the seeds in a full sun location! 

You can't find tithonia for sale potted around here and the seeds are even hard to find in local nurseries.  I buy the seeds from online nurseries.  They are very easy to grow and look a lot like zinnias.  I like them more than zinnias though because unlike zinnias the wildlife won't touch them.

'Caribbean Breeze' Rose has been a stunner since May. Many roses are hard to grow in the South because of the high humidity but this one has kept its leaves free of black spot and has bloomed for months.  
Yesterday, I also pruned the shrubs. A job I detest but it makes such a big difference afterward.  Forsythia, hollies and boxwood all needed a trim.  I noticed that the row of red twig dogwood that was planted in the spring has handled the full sun with soggy conditions quite well. 

This is a real success story since last year I managed to kill five 'Emerald Green' Arborvitae that I planted in the same spot.  I was looking for something to create a partial privacy barrier because we have a public path on one side of the house.  I guess I finally got tired of my dogs yelping at dog walkers along the path.  The problem with the location though is there is underground water creating bog like conditions.  I didn't know that when I planted the arborvitae.  Those trees are not happy in wet conditions and it didn't take long for them to die.  I did my research to find a better fit for the location - full sun and wet ground.  Red twig dogwoods are often found at the edge of ponds and lakes and so this was the winner. I look forward to seeing the red branches all winter after the leaves fall off the shrubs.  Next spring I will be on the hunt to find a small perennial or ground cover for an under planting.

Before we left on our final trip of the summer, I planted out this corner of the yard.  Most of us have that area in the yard that you just never get to fixing up and this is the area for me.

It only gets about an hour of dappled sun during the day.  I had a hydrangea here for years and have planted hostas here, but a vole has been sucking the hostas underground one by one this summer.  There are only two left now and they look war ravaged after being partially sucked underground.

'Blue Angel'

When I planted the hostas in the spring, I also planted a couple of autumn ferns.  I have never planted ferns before this year and I am becoming quite enamored with them.  They take high heat and drought really well.

Thank goodness voles don't like ferns.  I decided to give up on growing hostas here and purchased more autumn ferns at an end of the season sale last month.  I also got a great deal on two Japanese maples. The tips are brown on the maples.  Probably because I am over watering it.  I have this problem with new plants.  I tend to over nuture them. I also read that newly planted maples have this issue from root immaturity, so it could just be that.

'Garnet Tower'
Next weekend there will be a work day in the garden as well.  I have ALOT of iris that is needs to be divided and moved to sunnier locations in the garden.  If you transplant iris, August is the month to do it and I'm running out of time, so next weekend it will be all about the iris.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Positive Notes in the Garden

Just two posts ago I was lamenting about the horribly hot dry weather in July and hoping for a cooler August.  Here we are a week later and the temperatures have cooled to the 80s.  We also had a few inches of rain this week.  The grass is starting to look better and so are the plants in the garden.  The green headed coneflower that has rooted itself all over is starting to bloom. As long as you don't mind digging plants up and moving them, this perennial is among the best to have here in southeast Virginia.  This drought tolerant, tough plant will bloom through the fall until the first frost.

Four O'Clocks pictured below is a first for me in the garden this year.  Not that I haven't tried to grow it before.  It just never would sprout up when I sowed the seeds in years past.  This was a favorite plant for my mother to grow and as every gardener knows, we like to grow plants that are rooted in memories.  I was thrilled this year when the Four O'Clocks sprouted in the spring.  They are planted in what was previously a raised bed for vegetables. I'm going to surmise that the seeds liked the super rich soil from the raised bed and that's what made the difference this year.

Below is one of my favorite spots in the garden this year and yet still a work in progress.  Moving furniture around in your house can make all the difference in setting a room up to work well.  The same goes for a garden.  I had a pretty stone bench here for many years.  This year I moved the bench to another area and added these two white Adirondack chairs.  I already had the chairs sitting up on the patio. They were bought on clearance from Ace hardware for the bargain price of $35 each.  I also added the huge green resin pots (an inexpensive purchase from Walmart years ago) to the area and filled them to the brim with shade loving plants.  The pop of white from the chairs and the enormous size of the pots is a real eye pleaser, not to mention a nice place to stop and sit for a minute.  This fall I plan on adding stone under and around the chairs to give the area more definition.

A number of pots have done well this year.  These have been real show stoppers.  Filled with a 'Kimberly' fern, red caladiums and dragon wing begonias, I have not had to do much with them except keep them watered in the heat of July. These plants will keep going until the first frosts hit in October.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Baked Japanese Eggplant: It's What's for Dinner

With such uncommonly high temperatures this July and no rain to speak of many of the vegetables in the garden have slowed down or stopped producing.  One vegetable though that just keeps giving is the 'Ichiban' Japanese eggplant.  I have three plants in the garden and they have grown to about five feet tall.  The Japanese variety of eggplant is much more slender than others and so it can be used much the same way as yellow squash and zucchini.  I have grilled it using several different recipes, but this week I tried baking it.

The following recipe comes from my sister-in-law.

Japanese eggplant
Shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Slice the eggplant in 1/2 inch circles (keep the skin on). 

Use cooking spray or foil on a baking sheet and place the eggplant disks on the tray.  Baste the eggplant with mayonnaise and top with shredded parmesan cheese. 
Place in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes until the tops are just starting to turn brown.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bitter Cucumbers?!

Tending a vegetable garden is equal parts joy and frustration.  The joy comes from picking your own fresh beans, tomatoes or squash right from your own yard.  The frustration comes from the endless issues surrounding the science of growing vegetables.  This has been a frustrating July in my vegetable garden.  Not only is some kind of animal, probably a woodchuck, climbing the fence and helping itself to all the partially ripened heirloom tomatoes, but for the first time ever the cucumbers are terribly bitter.  Now, I have grown enough vegetables to know the trials and tribulations with tomatoes, but cucumbers?!  They are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and maintain....just not this year.

Bitter cucumbers can come from a variety of environmental issues.  The first being extremely high temperatures and the second being lack of water.  Well, with temps reaching close to 100 degrees almost every day in July and absolutely no rain, this makes complete sense. 

Suggestions to fix bitter cucumbers include peeling the skin and the layer just under the skin, plus cutting the ends off.  These are the areas where the bitterness resides.  But, wow!  If you do all that, what's left to eat? There is a name for this bitter chemical in the cucumbers, but it's really long and let's face it, I don't really care what the name is, the word bitter suffices just as well.  

Every few years we have a summer like this one with drought conditions and extremely high temps.  However, having lived here for fifteen years, I know most likely next summer will not be this hot and dry and I just have to wait it out a little longer until August brings cooler temps and hopefully some rain.