Tuesday, September 30, 2008

#400: This One's For Olivia

When I logged into Blogger tonight, I noticed that, to date, I had published 399 posts since June of 2006 ... which of course set me to thinking about what number 400 should be, and honestly I had no idea what I wanted to do to commemorate the arrival of a nice round number (that even managed to surprise me). Then I thought about how this blog got started in the first place ... my dear friend Olivia in Ottawa had finally convinced me that I really should do a gardening blog and pushed me gently into taking the plunge. After some initial hand holding and (my) incessant questions about logistics, she set me on the course of creating Urban Oasis and what it has become over the past two years. Olivia has been a constant correspondent, mentor and coach for this blog over the past two years, and if nothing else (among many, many things), she taught me how to go beyond my basic 'I'm a flower documentarian, not an artist!' view of photography and take risks and experiment with how I present my subjects. Not only have I learned much, but the quality of what I've been able to do with my humble efforts here has benefited immensely under Olivia's gentle tutelage. I hope that readers older and newer have appreciated the invisible finger guiding much of what you see here in the photos ... I'm still learning (especially with the S700 since it came on the scene), and really appreciate those who come along for the ride!

One of the longstanding topics of conversation Olivia and I have had over the years relates to this simple flower (which has now achieved weed status in our garden), Datura meteloides, commonly known as (variously) 'Moonflower,' 'Angel's Trumpet,' 'Devil's Trumpet,' Jimson or 'Loco' Weed and a plethora of other not so laudatory epithets. When we first got acquainted (on a community blog I no longer frequent), she was envious that we grew these in the garden, and had fond memories of her grandmother growing huge specimens when she was a child. At that point, she had no access to plants or seeds to grow her own, and she wanted some in her garden so badly.... Despite various schemes to get the seeds past Canadian Customs (all abandoned due to this plant's bad reputation as a powerful psychoactive toxin), she finally came into possession of some plants last year and was able to grow them in her garden at last. I haven't heard whether she has them again this year (likely, as they self-seed promiscuously), but even if not, I was compelled to put up this flower in her honour.

So here you go, Olivia, I hope you enjoy this photo Fernymoss captured on Sunday as he caught one of the blooms opening ... it's not the best photo you'll ever see here on the blog, but it had your name all over it. Thanks for all the help and inspiration over the years, toots, I trust you know this one comes from the heart of the garden to you!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Punkinstein's Progeny Progress Report

Again, my apologies for the latest lapse in posting recently. As I mentioned in the comments to the previous post, I've been sick again and work has ramped up considerably, thus cutting into my blogging time. Add in some exhaustion and a lack of inspiration and that will define a "Fall Funk" as far as I'm concerned ... *Sigh* Anyway, we're making do here at Casa IVG as Fall rams its inevitability full into our faces, and as I write, a round of thunderstorms is moving in...

While I was doing some work stuff today, I sent Fernymoss out with the camera (he was already mowing, so this made a good break for him, or so he said) and here are some of the sights he captured in the late afternoon garden. First off is, of course, her Highness, the Most Exalted Queen Pepa (Approximately) posing not so obediently next to our most recently discovered pumpkin in the back veggie garden. As you can see, she could probably care less that we wanted a cute picture next to the pumpkin, her attention was elsewhere. And, as you can also see, Punkinstein has a serious case of powdery mildew, which we're not too concerned about since it's late in the season, it's been rainy and moist lately, and the pumpkins seem to be doing just fine ... at this point I think we're assured of at least 3 decent sized pumpkins by Halloween ... now whether or not they are all perfectly orange, that remains to be seen....

Here's a shot of the original (first) pumpkin I discovered a while back, though now it's clearly in transition from green to orange and has some rather nice markings on it ... if it still looks like this around Halloween, I won't be bothered a bit, and in fact, I rather like this look!
And here we have the one that has been eluding us for a while ... the one closest to where Punkinstein originally established his territory, the compost pile. We both had figured there were pumpkins back there, but neither of us had found one, until today. Obviously, this one is more advanced than the others so far and will be a prime contender Jack O'Lantern within the next month! Really, this is a banner year here at Casa IVG that we can say we harvested both our own corn stalks and pumpkins (grown totally organically). At least we haven't been able to brag about that in previous years, despite better efforts to that end ... I guess sometimes if you do leave it all up to Chance, it does pay off from time to time....
And finally, here's Queen Pepa looking through the fencing that's supposed to keep her out of the back veggie garden, but doesn't really keep her out. According to Fernymoss, this was one of the few times he could get her to look directly at him while he was trying to get her to pose for the camera. But this is a typical Pepa look ...even with the weedy purple morning glory in the foreground. No matter what she was really thinking at this time, I'm sure that we can all speculate ... but I'm willing to bet that she understands that Fall and Winter are on their way, and it's just a matter of time before things wind down for the winter in the garden. We too, have to accept this and make our peace with the season. I'm just not willing yet, thus the Funk.

Acceptance coming soon, I expect.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Calendar Software Has Arrived ...

Well, folks, today after work I sprang for the calendar generation software package I tested out last week ... I chose SmartDraw after all, since they were offering a half-price "special" ($99.00) to trial testers. So I gulped, got out the credit card and set about downloading the program ... what I didn't realize at first was that though I thought I was just buying the Calendar module, what I eventually ended up installing was the entire SmartDraw suite of graphics applications! Now, I was pleasantly surprised by that, and felt that after all, it was a great value for the money. In addition to calendars, I can do all sorts of business/personal type graphics from engineering diagrams, flow charts and such, to family trees, certificates, flyers, event planning and even landscaping plans and much more! All in all, a pretty good deal after all!

I've enclosed a very basic mock up that I put together tonight, just to give you an idea of what it might eventually look like. I'm going to go with the standard 11" x 17" calendar format, with the photo at the top, though there are so many templates to choose from (and they can change from month to month) and some include multiple images, so the flexibility I wanted is definitely there, from cell shading to fonts, colors and much much more. Now we're excited to get this project underway seriously! At this point, we've provisionally chosen what we want for each month and we just have to pick out the photos we want to use, add the content Fernymoss has been working on, and fill in all the details.

This should be fun, and we really hope to be able to produce a professionally done product when we're done. If nothing else, we can make our own calendars every year just how we want them to look, and if this does eventually do well as a Christmas gift to people, we may just continue it next year once we have all the kinks worked out vis à vis the formatting and printing. Our thinking at present is that we'll make the basic calendar and have it printed at Kinko's (or some such place) depending on what the eventual cost per calendar turns out to be. But those are details we'll get ironed out in the next couple of months once we have the final draft done ... we're hoping that they won't be too prohibitive cost wise, because we want to give a lot of them out to friends and family. We'll see ... but for right now, I've got the tool I want to get the job accomplished, and am going to enjoy putting it all together. SmartDraw is fun to use, pretty intuitive, yet powerful in what it can do ... Of all the programs I tried out last weekend, it is by far the best option I tested.

So once again, I'll put out the 'any requests?' call for photos or potential content ... I'll consider any ideas proffered, so don't be shy about requests, and if I can include some of them, I'll do my best to oblige. This will be a work in progress throughout October, so there's still time! My ideal timing is to have it all finalized by mid-November so we can have them printed up and ready to send out in December ... we'll see if work and other demands will allow that, but given how much I was able to do in a short time tonight, it's just a matter of deciding on formatting for each month, photo and textual content ... Yippee, this could be fun and educational for me all in one fell swoop.

I'll keep you all posted on how it's going from time to time ... so let me know what you think and offer suggestions! Thanks in advance ... IVG

Friday, September 19, 2008

September Garden Potpourri

Did you know that potpourri really means 'spoiled/rotten pot' in French? More generally, at least in this country, it tends to refer to a not necessarily contiguous assortment of various items, as well as that dried dead floral matter that was so popular in stew pots (remember those mini-crock pots?) of the 1980s and 1990s. So let's go with the assortment idea for this post, shall we? Otherwise, I fear fondue may not be far behind....

Saturday, as I made my way around the garden looking for potential subjects, I happened to catch all these subjects still making small color splashes around the garden ... this first shot shows one of our rather tardively planted Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflorum) we have amongst the boulders in the front. These valiant little spreaders have done better in previous years, but given we lost an entire month of planting in June, they've done pretty well this year all things considered. Here's a luscious little yellow one (surrounded by dried Red Yarrow seed pods) still brightening up its spot in the garden.

If you've never grown Moss Rose, you should! It's a great self-seeding annual that really doesn't ask for much other than adequate water when it's getting established. But from then on, give it sun and pretty much any kind of well drained soil and it will thrive (sorry Gail, it's not real fond of clay). Just let it go when it frosts, because it cleans up after itself and will leave you seeds for next year's volunteers. Like Celosia, seedlings emerge relatively late (but they do!), so we always just buy a flat to plant to get going before the volunteers really get going. It's usually readily available in most garden centers and is pretty inexpensive. It excells in sandy, even gravelly soils, as long as it has plenty of sun to keep it blooming, and it's not unusual that we see some coming up by the sidewalk at the base of the rocks (along with a lot of other things). Once they bloom, they go pretty much non-stop throughout the hottest months of summer, so it makes an excellent companion to Celosia. (Ok, end of subliminal messaging on that plant, heh.)

This is a new plant for us ... it's a Mandevilla Vine (yet another tropical we'll have to winter over inside) that I bought on impulse when we saw them marked down back in July. We've still got to get it repotted in a bigger pot, but it's done pretty well over the summer nonetheless. We've never grown this before, so it's a bit of a mystery to us, and though we were somewhat disappointed when it first bloomed because it claimed to be Red ... then we discovered that the flowers change as they mature, and though they initially look pink, by the time they have been on a while, they indeed do change to a nice shade of red. I remember seeing a lot of these back when I lived in Florida (where the tropical hibiscus are hedges!) but I never took much interest in them then. It's funny that for a state that I absolutely loathed living in (for 6 years), I keep finding myself wanting to grow plants that are hardy there. But one thing I did appreciate about Florida was its flora and fauna (give it back to the Gators!), so perhaps that's not that odd after all.... Anyway, we're enjoying the Mandevilla experience and love the foliage almost as much as the blooms! I hope we can keep it happy indoors this winter, so it can really thrive in next year's summer container garden!
Ah, here's our old friend Datura meteloides, which we used to privilege with prime spots in the front garden, until it achieved total weed status. At this point we (or at least I do) just pull most of the seedlings that appear everywhere and let a few go on to bloom, because we really do like the flowers (as do many garden critters). I particularly like the pre-blooming unfurling of these flowers as depicted in this shot. The full flowers are lovely as well, and smell wonderful (unlike the plants themselves!) and attract all sorts of insects, from late browsing bees to Sphinx Moths who like to visit this other "Moonflower." (Not to be confused with the vining species.) Back a few years ago when we had numerous Four O'Clocks and Daturas along the Woodland Walk, we could count on seeing a cloud of Sphinx Moths descend upon them in the evening, something we've missed the past few years since we've not had much luck with Four O'Clocks ... but there's always next year!
Could this shot represent any better a harbinger of colder times to come this year? Yes, the holly berries are ripening by the minute, and though they last long into the winter, they are still a reminder of what's to come eventually. Since planting these 'Blue Princess' hollies nearly 10 years ago now, they have grown into some really impressive bushes in the Woodland Garden and never fail to give us a nice winter show with their berries that last for months on end (until the birds get desperate and start eating them). We really don't have much in terms of evergreens in the garden (unless you count the blue spruce in the back yard), and as much as I suffer through winter, these are very pretty when they have snow cover ... as long as we don't have ice storms (which really damaged them back in early 2007) they are the real interest in an otherwise rather dead looking garden. When it's cold outside and snow is really starting to get to us, we can always rely on the Hollies to remind us that greener times are still ahead, so if for no other reason, we're glad they're part of the garden!

And, as things continue to wind down for the season here, we're starting to reflect on what this season has been like overall ... though we had the big floods back in June, most of our perennials and self-seeding annuals have done pretty well despite it all. Everything got in rather late this year (and our spring was rather late as well), but in retrospect, we've had worse gardening years since we moved into Casa IVG 10 years ago. It's hard to predict what next year will bring (hello, folks, Climate Change is Real!), but so far the garden seems to be evolving fairly well.

Lest that sound pessimistic (I'm known for that), the Fat Flower hasn't sung her final aria yet, so until the big freeze comes, we look forward to more from our garden stalwarts until it does....

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mallow-Licious Tropical Delights

I think that by now, anyone who has read at least a few posts here at Urban Oasis knows that I'm a hopelessly addicted Hibiscus fanatic. (If not, you'd better study up using the labels provided. They will be on the final exam!) The last few years I've ventured back into growing the tropical varieties again after taking several years off ... when we first moved to Casa IVG back in September, 1998, I had been growing a lovely orange one for a couple of years and we brought it with us. Unfortunately, I treated it so well that it grew to be over 6 feet tall in its big pot, and every fall we brought it in, we grumbled about its size --not to mention weight-- and where to put it (that's a real problem for us with everything that spends the summer outside). I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but one fall it just happened to be outside when we got a hard freeze, so that was the end of that. I felt bad enough about that episode that I stayed away from them for several years, and just began re-entering the fold about 3 years ago. That was about the time that I discovered the incredible new varieties being developed by Bahama Bay Hibiscus, the inspired breeders who brought these two stunning examples shown here to the mass market. Of course, these days tropical hibiscus are pretty common, easy to find tropicals at many nurseries and mass merchandisers, and though there are a lot of perfectly lovely, simply colored varieties available at reasonable prices, they certainly don't hold a foot candle to these showier (read: more expensive) hybrids. I guess when I decided to get back in touch with my inner tropical hibiscus again, I also vowed not to grow just any Hibiscus I found, but rather to limit myself to the truly remarkable cultivars. This way I can grow fewer plants, enjoy them more, and give them the winter pampering they so desperately need (and demand).

Thus my acquisition of these two stunners (from the top), 'Erin Rachel' and my newly purchased 'Sun Showers' from last spring. They are indeed the two most eye popping hibiscus I've seen in years, so of course, I just had to have them! (Photos taken on September 13, 2008, the first is mine and the second courtesy of Fernymoss.)

Fernymoss 'posed' this second shot so he could get both blooms in to show the contrast between these newest cultivars ('Erin Rachel' hit the market last year, and 'Sun Showers' this year) ... talk about the full range of the fire colors? Put these two together and you can run the whole rosy red orange yellow gamut of possibilities hibiscus can offer. I'm sorry, but if you want more colors included, I think you're going to have to either depend on Bahama Bay or breed them yourself! I'm really proud to have these two as part of our collection, even if we are going to have to make some concerted efforts to keep them happy during the coming winter.

Like most tropical hibiscus grown outside during the summer and brought inside in fall, they do not like the transition to a less sunny and humid place, thus they lose lots of leaves for a while. Though it's no reason for despair, you do have to be aware that they should winter in the sunniest areas of the house you can provide, keep them watered regularly and hold off on feedings. During the summer we generally feed them monthly with an organic fish emulsion solution, which keeps them robust and blooming during the warmer months. I discourage feeding during the winter because they tend to get somewhat leggy anyway, and feeding will only promote this further. If you can provide additional light (e.g. fluorescent or grow lights), they may well bloom for you over the winter. We have two direct sun Southern windows on one side of the house and that's where they will winter here, and hopefully give us a few blooms. 'Erin Rachel' did bloom sporadically last winter after she recovered from the initial shock, but towards spring she developed a bit of root rot (due to the container she was in) from which it took her most of this summer to recover. She's obviously feeling --and looking-- much better now, and I hope that we can keep them outside for at least several more weeks before we are forced to bring them in. It all depends, but the signs seem to point to an early frost this year for some reason. I certainly hope I'm wrong, but I can kind of sense it in my gardener's bones already.... Only time will tell.

Last weekend, Fernymoss and I sat down to decide what bulbs we are going to order this year and came up with a preliminary order from Van Bourgondien, a supplier we have used and been quite pleased with in the past. To be honest, we didn't really want to order much because it's so much work digging all the holes when the weather is so fickle in October and November, but this year Nature pretty much forced us into it. I've already bemoaned, gnashed teeth and otherwise pulled out thinning hair about the loss of most of our tulips earlier this year, so I won't rehash all that now. (Whew for readers!) So here we go again ... we are going to order about 80 more tulips (mostly Darwins), some more Crocus, Camassia, some small Fritillarias, Stargazer Lilies, and a few others mostly chosen from the 'bargain pages.' We're still debating about whether to get another Dragon Arum (aka: 'Mr. Stinky'), but at this point we've decided that since our other one is spreading so well, we may just skip that one, since the 'Voodoo Lily' Arum we planted this summer is up and growing right now. That doesn't mean we won't change our minds before we actually place the order soon, heh.

Are you other gardeners out there planning for fall plantings yet? I know some don't have the luxury of spring bulbs, but what else are you planting when fall is in its last phases?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More Freaks of Nature!

I did manage last Saturday to get out in the late afternoon (when it was actually somewhat sunny!) and meander around the muddy front garden a bit ... so here are a few of this year's "Celosia Sports" that are starting to bloom. They're smaller than they ought to be at this time of the year (they were late coming up this year, so we'll only have these for maybe a month or so), but they've definitely got the odd shapes and vibrant color bravely going full bore into the fickle days of early Fall ... though some of these shapes are familiar from last year, they do exhibit some minor variations on what they have been in the past, and in this first shot, you can see the brilliant red (blooms and foliage) of what obviously started out as a Celosia plumosa 'New Look' at some point a few years ago. 'New Look' has always been one of my very favorites due to its striking foliage and the depth of red that the whole plant conveys throughout the season. Compare this to Celosia plumosa 'Caracas,' and you can see that they share a common ancestor. Usually these smaller varieties top out at about 10-12 inches at maturity, but we have had some in the past who got even a bit larger, but nowhere near the height of 'Caracas' (which is currently over 5 ft tall).
I never quite know what to expect from the yellow ones from season to season, but this year they seem to have opted for a form somewhere in between a 'normal' yellow plumosa and that odd sport from last year that I named "Pineapple." And then there's that real oddball (I posted it a while back) that seems to have *gasp* reverted back to its original 'Castle Yellow' form after having morphed into several incarnations over the past 5-6 years (I really can't remember when I last planted the yellow ones!) and looks strangely normal amongst the other freaks. But have I mentioned how much fun it is to see these return every year, wondering what costume they'll have on each time?

Now, I know that some Celosia purists would probably turn up their noses at having them sport so freely in the garden, so to those folks, I say, fine ... pull your dead plants after frost and only buy new stock each spring so the freaks don't start populating your sunny bed. As for us, (as you surely now know), we love the adventure of seeing Nature frolic profligately (thank you, dear friends the bees!) in the garden and look forward to what new surprises we'll have in successive years.

Remember, remember, the waning days of September ... and if you still want brilliant color that will literally last until frost, include some Celosia in your garden next year! There are a lot of really nice varieties and mixes available (Park Seed has some spectacular ones) and they're really pretty easy to grow. They start easily indoors in starter pots in late Winter, but don't set them out until you are sure there will be no further frosts or you'll lose them. They can also be fall sown as well (as they do naturally), but a mild warning: you won't usually see them coming up until the ground is really warm (say late June or July here), and though they grow rapidly, your best bet is probably to either buy nursery grown plants or start them from seeds inside. Just give them lots of sun and they'll be quite happy. They're fairly impervious to dry conditions (or soils) once they've been established, so you can pretty much just get them going and come back to admire them when they catch your eye ... they don't mind a little neglect and still will reward you with their bright spires of fiery colors!

--end of sales pitch, I'm ready for my commission now--

Monday, September 15, 2008

Detecting a Real Fall Trend Here ...

This past weekend certainly had all the harbingers of fall in sway ... with cool, rainy days and nights, and as we experienced today, some of the very windy, remnants of Ike blew through. I saw on the regional radar last night that a few former outer bands of Ike's stormy weather were actually passing through the SE corner of the state, into Illinois and beyond. I suspect that more than a few midwestern gardeners also noticed these effects as well... Indeed, Fall is creeping quickly on to the gardening scene around Casa IVG, as the rest of this post will show, I hope....

Anyway, as you can now see, the Chrysalis has now been officially vacated ... it must have been sometime Thursday (when last we checked it) overnight or during the day Friday, which was a very rainy day and night here ... in any case we wish her/him well on the journey ahead, and hope s/he comes back next year and brings friends! I guess I know instinctively what's coming ahead in the season, and with the imminent departure of the butterflies, it's near certain proof that it's time to quit boating in denial, and just accept it.

The Praying Mantises are still around and quite visible, especially on the aphid infested Heliopsis (aka: Yellow Rogue) out by the shed. Both Fernymoss and I got shots of this guy at work, but I liked this series that Fernymoss got, so his photos won out. Just a Saturday afternoon session at the Lunch Counter for this lucky Mantis pal of ours ... and most days if we take a good look around, we can usually see this or one of his friends hanging out as well. I hope they do realize that they are the only reason why these Heliopsis haven't been dug/ripped out of the ground by now. Fortunately those aphids don't migrate to our other plants, and we've decided that the Mantises definitely have had something to do with that. Anyway, as most now know, we're tickled to have these guys in the garden ... we think they may be here to stay now that we've two full years of Mantis Guard....

Out in the savage back veggie garden, Punkinstein is still running amok and now crawling over the fence we have up to keep the dogs out (it doesn't work well with Pepa!), and into the back yard. They're still blooming prolifically, and are producing a few pumpkins --unless there are some as yet undiscovered ones, which is possible-- but we're assured we'll have at least two small ones ... now the question is whether they will fully ripen to orange by Halloween. We went grocery shopping today and saw they already had pumpkins for sale, but I somehow suspect they came from another place, because I'd find it hard to believe Iowa grown pumpkins would be that ripe already ... anyway, time will tell. Now, what might Pepa be peering through the fencing to see?
Yep, it's one of Punkinstein's progeny lying just on the other side of the fence, and when I looked at this new one last time, I recall it was about baseball sized, and now look at it! I'm sure they appreciated all the cool, rainy weather we've had for the last week and have really been (literally) soaking it up. Even though the veggie garden has been a savage jungle the last month or so, we're really proud of two of our more unusual growing attempts ... we had several rows of our own, organic corn that gave us several good meals, and now we seem primed to have our own organic Halloween pumpkins as well! The corn stalks are starting to dry on their own, and the few tardive ears that have developed --since we stopped harvesting a week or so ago-- will be shucked and left to whatever critters in the yard may want them. I suspect the tree rats will likely be the recipients, but I wouldn't mind if a raccoon happened through and found them ... one of our mild concerns with the corn was that we'd lose it to raccoons, but if they've been around, they have either been very discreet in thievery or respectful ... in either case, we got a crop out of it, and have even more Halloween decorations drying out back...
Though this is anything but a 'fall' flower, the abundance of fiery orange certainly suggests (ok, it screams) autumn hues. Both 'Sun Showers' and 'Erin Rachel' (more on them in another post) were blooming abundantly this weekend, and both of us ended up taking very similar shots of them (though independently of each other!), and we both focused on getting close ups of this particular bud, with another open bloom in the background. Both sets turned out pretty well, but I selected this one from Fernymoss' because I liked the detail and the overall composition ... aren't those buds as delectable as the open flowers? I have to say, 'Sun Showers' is the most spectacular tropical hibiscus I've ever owned (even when pitted against the double blooming red Chinese one I had through college and grad school), and it was worth every bit of its high end price of $45! You can bet we'll be pampering these two more this winter to keep them happy, and even perhaps blooming! Anyway, such vibrant orange leads to thinking of Halloween, which then leads to thinking of Halloween themed colors, such as black....
While I was out looking for the Chrysalis yesterday, I spotted this spider working her web in the vicinity of the now-voided chrysalis ... I can't provide a positive ID on her, but she looks a lot like that one I posted a while back (the one who was carrying her little ones). In any case, when I shot her, she was pretty mellow (Fernymoss tried later and scared her a bit), so I was able to get up fairly close. Hmm, spiders, fall, black after orange ... there is definitely a fall trend going on here.

As the garden winds down, inevitably, there are still bright spots to be seen, mostly among the remaining annuals you'll see over the coming days ... some of the perennials (namely the Ligularia dentata) are still in full swing --yay Toad Lilies! Yay Queen Rudbeckia!-- but the general trend is definitely on the winding down side of the cycle. I picked a few tomatoes yesterday and they're ripening much too slowly with this recent cool weather, but are still tasting pretty good ... my miserable peppers are now rebounding (too little, too late), but I still hold out few hopes to see much from them. So we were blessed by the garden gods in some respects and eh, slighted in others? Such is the gardening cycle we play every year ... we play with what we're dealt, and given the unusual nature of this particular summer, I think we still came out pretty well, all things considered. At this point, we're still pretty pleased, despite the onslaught of weeds this wet summer brought upon us....

I'm sure no one saw this coming ... Halloween Full Bore is nearly upon us here at Casa IVG. As long time readers already know, this is our big decorating event of the year (aside from Christmas blogging). While we were out shopping today, we made one of our periodic trips to Big Lots, one of those stores we like to check out every couple of months or so, just to see what they have ... and where we can often pick up many grocery items we'd pay more for at the regular places.

Of course, they had all their Halloween regalia on display, but aside from the usual items astute Halloween shoppers see, this particular item, 'Mr. Foggy, Mist Making Skull,' caught my eye, imagination and $20. It's actually a quite fun --and different-- Halloween decoration that does something ... it produces ample water vapor illuminated by interior LEDs. So I thought I'd include this short video just for fun ... I think you'll get an idea of what it does, even from this rudimentary set up. What we really intend to do with it is a bit more thematic ... some gravel, rocks, bones and other items placed around it. But I couldn't resist showing it off as it gave one of its début performances. After a while, it actually makes a nice, quiet gurgling ambient sound, but what you'll hear most prominently is the sound of Rolly panting in the background ... this recent weather with so much humidity in the air hasn't been kind to either humans or animals, but it too will pass soon...

Update on other matters: In case anyone was wondering what I was up to this weekend, other than neglecting the blog, I was very much involved with searching out and testing various programs to produce the Urban Oasis Calendar 2009. After upgrading to the most recent version of my photo editing software, I realized that it really lacks the capabilities to produce the kind of calendar we want to do, so I went hunting on the tubes to see what I could find that would do what we want to do. After testing out about a dozen or so programs (all rejected for one reason or another), I've almost come to a decision, and it may be a somewhat costly one, but still ... We want to produce a quality product we can proudly give our friends and family.

At this point, I still have a couple of other programs I want to check out, but I'm tending toward the higher end (e.g. expensive) solution offered by SmartDraw. It has the kind of ultimate hands on control of all options of the calendar I want to be able to manipulate, but it comes at a price ($99.00 US) ... we'll see what wins out, but at any rate I wanted to say that we're working on the calendar in the background, and it's pretty certain that it will happen eventually (I'd like to have it wrapped by mid-November). Fernymoss has been busy of late compiling some really cool and helpful enviro-friendly tips about pest control and other topics ... we'll also be including all the usual (and unusual) holidays, as well as the moon phases, and even more that Fernymoss will probably contribute. We've got the basic layout (depending on the software I choose) established at this point, and some preliminary photos have been identified, so it's just a matter of time ... and software chosen to do the job! I'll keep you updated....

And, as I've said before, if anyone would like to nominate particular pictures they've liked over this year, feel free to point them out in the comments ... we've got each month mapped out provisionally, but are certainly still open to suggestions. Depending on what software I eventually choose, we can probably include multiple images on certain pages (cover, interior page, back cover), so if anyone has any favorites, let us know!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Toad Lily Days Are Here Again!

Long time readers here at Urban Oasis already know that my passion for Tricyrtis rivals only that of Hibiscus moscheutos ... the more I have, the more I have to find and plant, and where Tricyrtis is concerned, there are a dangerously large number of cultivars out there, just waiting to seduce me away from my most recent crush...! Once this fantastical flower casts its spell on a gardener, it's exceedingly difficult to resist getting just one more to add to the collection.

Last year I went on a bit of a spree and planted two new species that caught my eye, one of which was 'Gilt Edge' (which you've seen here previously), and the white one seen later in this post. This year I restrained myself and didn't buy any new ones ... but only because I already had the few that I saw for sale in the spring. So I decided just to spread the news about these remarkable flowers ... so delicate looking, so exotic ... they seem as if they should be some greenhouse diva destined for fussy pampering. The reality, however, is far different, because they are really easy to grow in the shady garden, provided --of course-- that their basic needs are met.

To grow Tricyrtis successfully, you'll need a nice, consistently moist loamy spot with ample organic matter in part to full shade. Once established, you can pretty much just let them do their thing, though if you have dry periods in the height of summer, you may need to water them occasionally (though, as you know, moisture has not been a problem here this year!) Unless you find very large plants, they usually don't bloom their first year, though they will likely begin the second year, and each successive year brings even more stalks clustered with these orchid like blooms ... and the longer you have them, you'll see them start to colonize and stake out their territory --the ultimate reward of growing Tricyrtis!

These first two shots are Tricyrtis amethystina, one we originally planted about four years ago from a sad looking, tiny plant I got via mail order ... it has taken its time to get established, but it's really done well this year and is currently blooming profligately just outside our dining room windows where it shares space with another two species we have nearby. They also grow in the same area with the Trilliums and our lone Arisaema toward the back near the house, where they enjoy protection from the worst of the sun and the sometimes harsh winter conditions of the Woodland Garden.
This second shot is one of the new ones we put in last year, and was identified as 'Miyazaki,' by its stake, but now that I've seen it bloom, I think it was certainly mislabeled, because the pictures I've found of that particular cultivar don't even vaguely resemble this dramatic beauty. But whatever cultivar this is, we're very happy with it and how it has flourished in just one short year (admittedly it was a big plant when I got it, but it didn't bloom last year). So, if anyone out there can give me a positive ID on the species or cultivar, I'd appreciate learning just what it is ... in any case, it makes a lovely companion to the nearby Amethystina and our original (unknown cultivar) which is just now on the cusp of blooming (the one that's about 4 ft tall this year!). I'll be featuring more of these blooms as they progress through the rest of season ... they will bloom right up to frost (and sometimes beyond). That's another feature I've neglected to mention: they are the perfect late summer early fall flower for the fading garden ... when everything else is looking rather ratty and wan, Tricyrtis springs into bloom to cap off the season with its exotic looking sprays of speckled blooms. If for no other reason, every garden should have a Toad Lily or two, just to reassure you that somewhere, the blooming never stops....
Ok folks, it's mystery plant time again! As you can see, it's a very close by neighbor of the previous Toad Lily, nestled in amongst the ferns and now fading Trilliums. I will say that it's a relative of one of our more dramatic exotics of the Woodland Garden, and that it was planted from a bulb we got earlier this season. We're just happy that it put up some foliage this year (it didn't get planted until late June) and hope that it will bloom sometime next summer. I'm sure that this one will be an easy one for regular readers ... so weigh in with your guesses in the comments!

Miscellaneous updates: We're still waiting on the Monarch to emerge from its chrysalis ... we checked last night, and there was little change since the last update, but maybe soon it will happen when/if we get some more consistently warm and sunny weather. It's been a very cool and rainy week here (we had quite a bit of rain come through last night), so we think that's had an effect on its progress.

And I received my just-released copy of The Fall yesterday and we watched it again last night, much to our continued delight and amazement. This film just gets richer and more wondrous with each viewing (we're up to two now), and I can't recommend it highly enough! If you didn't read my previous post about this magnificent film, you can find it here ... it's well worth seeking out and spending a rapturous 117 minutes in its unique and beautiful universe!

Monday, September 08, 2008

House-Garden Keeping Note

I'd like to apologize for the sudden absence of posts the last few days (as well as lack of responses to comments and/or emails) ... I truly enjoy and value my regular readers/commenters, so I do feel a certain responsibility to keep up my end of things here at the Oasis. Anyway, the thing is I've been pretty sick since last Friday, when some weird gastrointestinal disturbance hit me with a sledgehammer, and has put me out of action since then. It started with a horrid headache, progressed into severe stomach cramps, and on to what Woody Allen might refer to as the "full complement of nasties" throughout the weekend. I was laid low, so to speak, so low that I didn't sleep at all Friday night and spent most of Saturday in much the same state, from which I eventually emerged enough to take up position in my recliner downstairs for part of the day. So I took it very easy, snuggled in a blanket, and caught up with some of the programs and movies I had recorded on the DVR, most notably Transamerica, which I had been wanting to see for quite some time. Maybe it was the story (I think it likely was) or just the vulnerable state I was in, but that film really touched me in all the teary-eyed places. I was really glad I finally got to see it, and Felicity Huffmann certainly did deliver an Oscar caliber performance ... too bad she didn't win! (Reese Witherspoon beat her out for it.) Anyway ... I'm on the mend now, and though it may take me a day or two more to get back up to regular posting speed, I'm feeling much better and am almost up to solid food again, finally. I've just been left very dehydrated, exhausted and feeling weak, so I'm taking small steps back....
So, given the recent interest here in Celosia, these are a couple of shots from the 2007 archives that should give you some more tantalizing ideas of just what these versatile plants can get up to when left to their own devices. I've often mentioned Celosia's propensity to "sport" freely in the garden when planted with other varieties nearby and these are just two of the examples we had show up in last year's garden. I called the first one "Pineapple" (for obvious reasons!), which was apparently a cross between some 'Cristata' (cockscomb type) variety and a yellow 'Plumosa,' both of which we've had over the years in the front boulder bed. I wish I had collected seed from this one, because after appearing for a couple of years it has vanished this year and perhaps reverted to its original from, as I posited in an earlier post here. If you click through to the full view, you can see where the seeds form and emerge once the bloom has dried ... this is how all the 'Plumosa' varieties seed, so it's easy to see how they lend themselves nicely to profligate cross-pollination.

And who could quibble with the sheer, bizarre brilliance of this second sport? Again, an example of some 'Plumosa x Cristata' definitely, and wow, I should have tried to replicate this one, but as we are both often wont to do, we let them go back to ground to re-emerge in a different form the next year.... But then there's our new crush, Caracas, which we will definitely be collecting this year, as well as any of the odder ones that may still show up...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Monarch Chrysalis Update and Other Treats

Here's Thursday's update on our developing Monarch Chrysalis ... Fernymoss took this shot a little after 6:30 tonight when the light wasn't the greatest (it's been cloudy and rainy again today). We can detect a little more progress (you can begin to see the coloring in the wings), though the chrysalis still seems a bit on the cloudy side, but at least we didn't miss the emergence yet! I'm wondering if this sudden cool down has slowed its development a bit (care to weigh in on that, Shady?). We're supposed to get back into the sunnier 70s this weekend, so maybe that will make things move along more quickly ... No matter, we'll keep watching and posting on its progress...
Ok, this is an evil teaser shot of an upcoming post on the Toad Lilies who are starting to burst into bloom in the Woodland Garden, and there are going to be a lot of them! This particular cultivar, 'Amethystina,' was really slow to get going at first (it was a tiny mail order plant about 4 years ago), but this year it has really come into its own, and this the most it has ever bloomed thus far. What we really liked about this particular shot is that it shows the flowers at all stages of blooming ... from the bulbous buds, to the half open, fully open and even spent blooms. It's part of an ever expanding Toad Lily colony very close to the house, just outside our dining room windows, so every morning when I put up the blinds, I can get a good look at them. All 3 of the ones in this location in the Woodland Garden are spreading quite nicely, and our original one (which goes back about 7 years or more) is positively huge this year ... almost 4 ft tall! It's currently putting on a lot of buds, but has yet to start blooming in earnest.

Can you see now why I'm always proselytizing Toad Liles for the late summer/fall garden? They thrive in moist conditions in part to full shade, are virtually maintenance free (unless it's dry when, of course, they must be watered regularly), prolific bloomers, and produce downright fantastical flowers. Fernymoss likes to refer to them as 'Dr. Seuss Flowers' because of their whimsical forms ... they inevitably evoke comparisons to Orchids, but are in fact members of the Liliaceae family. One warning though: once you get hooked on Toad Lilies, it can quickly become addictive! I did refrain from buying any new ones this year, but that was only because the ones I saw for sale we already have! Stay tuned for an entire post on them coming soon....

Obviously there's a lot going on in this shot, so a little explanation is in order ... I think I've already whined and moaned about how the volunteer morning glories are threatening to take over again this year, but this is a kind of fun shot nonetheless. Believe it or not, that pole in the foreground is the support for a Blue Wisteria that Fernymoss is training into a tree form ... he had tied it earlier this summer and then these morning glories came in and picked up the task, so when we figured out that most were the purple ones (Grandpa Ott) we'd just let them do the tying for us. Since it was so cloudy today, these were still open in the early evening when he took this shot.

No worries though, the Wisteria is doing fine and is nicely supported, but the morning glories are going to have to go either before or after frost. To the left, and in the background, you can see our Castor Zanzibariensis in the back yard where it continues to grow ... seemingly by the minute! It's at least 7 ft tall now, and provided we don't get an early frost, it should put on at least a few more feet before all is said and done. Personally, if it doesn't get a chance to bloom, I'll be ok with that, because we have so many seeds from last year's plants we're in good shape for a couple of years (and have plenty to share). Castor seed viability is remarkable in that it will last at least 2-3 years, though when planting older seeds, we always plant several just to make sure at least a couple germinate. They're such an exotic, easy and fun plant to grow that we just have to have a few each year. I keep dreaming of an entire row of them lining the back garden space ... though if we did that, Fernymoss would have a lot to saw down after the killing freeze ... still, I think it would be a fun experiment!

Ok, this one's for Gail ... Here's a quick update on the new Celosia 'Caracas' plants that we have out in the front boulder bed ... this one is leaning over a bit (got top heavy!), but it shows how well they branch and bloom without any prodding. I continue to be impressed with this new variety, and look forward to seeing more of it next year (we'll be spreading a lot of seed around!) ... with its bronzy red foliage and stems --not to mention the blooms!-- so if you're already a fan of Celosia in any form, this is definitely one to look for in garden centers next year! Oh, and it's grown to over 4 ft so far ... what more could you ask of a Celosia?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Monarch Chrysalis in the Woodland Garden

Just to follow up on the Monarch Caterpillar I posted on Tuesday ... and a big shout out to Shady Gardener for her comment providing us with such great information about the progress to expect over the next few days! Thanks so much, Shady! (Need any more Monarda? LOL)

This afternoon, after Fernymoss got back from work, I was telling him what we might see be able to expect from the caterpillar, so he had to grab the camera and head out to get some shots of what has happened since he first discovered it back on August 24. Lo and behold, our friend is well on its way to full adulthood and will probably emerge within the next few days and then wing on out on its migration south (perhaps after lingering here a while I hope...). We both are really excited about its decision to undergo its metamorphosis in our humble Woodland Garden, but apparently it was an inviting enough place for it to undergo the most important phase of its life so far. We feel really flattered and privileged that it has chosen our garden which, as most know by now, we try to make as butterfly friendly as we can by planting some of their favorite feeding and resting places. I think that this year, we definitely hit pay dirt for a bit of butterfly love, and from all possible ones, it's a Monarch!

In this shot you can clearly see the outline of the fully formed wings through the still somewhat opaque chrysalis, but according to Shady, it should clear up gradually as emergence time approaches. Also note the interesting gold spots on the outside of the chrysalis .. I'm not sure exactly what those are all about in the greater scheme of things, but they surely mark this butterfly in the making as a Monarch. Never fear, we'll be out every day now until it emerges to chronicle the progress going on just outside of the living room windows! So stay tuned, so to speak....

Work is shaping up to be another busy week, so I offer my apologies in advance if I miss a post or two here, or if I don't visit the other great garden blogs that I've been in the habit of haunting the past several months. I have to admit that I was a bit lax last week, due in part to the Democratic Convention (yes, I'm a political junkie if you hadn't figured that out yet) and part due to work demands, so I got a little slackerly on keeping up with things around here and the garden blogosphere.

I usually try to keep politics out of the garden here, but there are some times when I'm compelled to devote a post or a link or two to the election, and the truly inspiring acceptance speech last Thursday by Barack Obama is one of those exceptions. If you're one of the over 40 million people who saw it live last week, you know what I mean ... and in my opinion, it was truly the best political speech I've heard in my lifetime (if not in several generations), not to mention its historic proportions. Yes, I've heard all the major Kennedy speeches over the years (though I was but a toddler when he ran for president), and in my estimation, Obama rose to those legendary heights and then managed to go even further as he laid out his vision for his Presidency. We watched it live and we were both electrified and energized by the power of this man's vision and were left, quite simply, overwhelmed. On MSNBC that night, even Pat Buchanan (yes, that Pat) had nothing but praise for Obama and gushed on endlessly to my surprise.

Folks, if you didn't see this speech in its entirety, you owe it to yourselves to watch, no matter what your own opinions may be regarding the election. This is truly one for the ages, and will be cited in the history books one day, it's that brilliant. You can see it on YouTube here, in the unedited CSPAN high quality video from their website. This week, out of a somewhat masochistic sense of fairness, we also plan to watch the acceptance speeches of the Republican ticket, just to compare how their respective agendas play out at their convention. Then at least we can say we gave each side a fair shot at winning us over. Honestly, we're unlikely to be swayed, but we're going to try to at least approach it with an open mind. I would hope that more Americans would try to do the same, but I'm not holding my breath....

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Maybe Not the Best Place to Spin a Cocoon?

Today's shot is actually from last weekend, but I've just not found a place to post it before now, with all the Mantis sightings of late ... during our labors in the Weedorium Fernymoss discovered this erstwhile caterpillar getting ready to spin her/his cocoon in a most precarious place, on the stem of one of the bindweed vines we have in the Woodland Garden. Of course he didn't have the heart to rip it out (in vain) as we usually do, but decided to get a few shots instead. I won't identify it just yet because I thought it might be fun for readers to test their skills at IDing caterpillars, so here's your chance! What do you think (s)he's going to turn into when all is said and done? Let me know in the comments....

I'm a bit concerned about the choice of this particular place, because even if we let the bindweed go, it will die in the fall and any cocoon will likely fall to the ground, but maybe that's her/his plan? Or perhaps (s)he will finish the metamorphosis before frost and wing on out before the cold weather sets in? I have to admit that as much as I love butterflies, I only have a rudimentary knowledge of their habits ... we just try to provide them with as much food and shelter as we can to keep them thriving and coming back each year. We've really been seeing a definite uptick in the number of caterpillars around the garden lately, though this one is very special to us ... there seem to be a lot of 'Wooly Bears' out and about, not to mention the one in yesterday's post, which Shady Gardener has tentatively IDed as some sort of Sphinx Moth.

And finally, for you Pepa fans out there, I'm posting a video of her prowling around yesterday as we grilled in the backyard ... just her usual survey of her domain, but she does go to the area where she discovered the nest of 3 baby bunnies last week, but no one was home, so she quickly lost interest! It's a bit longer than usual (43 seconds), but I thought Olivia would appreciate this one! Enjoy, doggie fans!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Return of the Mantises Part II

Mantis Watch continues here at Casa IVG, and here are some of today's results! We (separately) found both green and brown Mantises lurking around today in the back garden. Fernymoss captured this one on the Phlox Paniculata in the savage back corner of the garden, most likely guarding and feasting on the numerous insects that must be skulking around in this most uncontrolled corner of our gardens. Interestingly, we've been wondering if we have two species here, one green and one brown, or whether the green eventually morph into brown, but no matter what, we're still happy they're established inhabitants of the garden (as I've no doubt noted before). So ... we wish them well, to live long and prosper, and above all, send forth their progeny next year!

Below, you can watch a brief video of how this one was spending his time observing the observer early this evening....

And here's one final shot of him surveying his Phloxy domain for food ... happy feasting our friend!

And here's a video I took about an hour earlier of one of the green Mantises still hanging out on the Heliopsis (aka: Yellow Rogue) growing out by the decrepit shed. Though most of this video is in pretty decent focus, there are a few blurry moments as he was buffeted about a bit by the breeze, but it didn't need extensive editing (unlike those I took last week). Here he's just going about his business, as (if you turn up the volume) you can hear the sound of someone playing the bagpipes up the street to the north of our house. At first, we weren't sure if it was just someone playing music loudly, but when we heard people clapping, we concluded that we have a bagpipe player in the neighborhood. How cool is that? Who knew? (My favorite line from Transformers, by the way!) A nice touch to this (relatively sedate) short video, I thought....
Finally, here's a close up of a caterpillar who was doing whatever it does on an adjoining flower to the Mantis ... Fernymoss has already consulted his field guides and hasn't found out what this is yet, so if anyone can ID it, please let us know. If you look closely at this shot (click through, as always), you can see one of the red aphids lurking on this flower as well ... and as I noted in a previous post, I think this is what is attracting the Mantises to this weedy marauder in our garden. Rest assured, if not for the Mantises' preference for hanging out here, these would have been pulled a while back, but they escape, merely because they are apparently a Mantis magnet, due to their pests!

So there you have it for Sunday at Casa IVG ... lots of life going on out back, when one takes the time to really observe it. We thought it was a particularly rewarding afternoon ourselves, and the early evening temperatures were delightful for this part of late Summer. We couldn't have asked for much better! Today life was good in the garden....