Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Wildflowers - Naturalizing

Emerging Trillum Wildflowers - April 2011
Springtime wildflowers are plentiful near my yard.  There are a few Trillium recurvatum  and  White Trout Lily  Erythronium albidum.  and Solomon's Seal (although I don't know if it's a real one or a false one. :)  )  The problem was that these wildflowers shared the same space as and overgrowth of Buckthorn, scrub trees and who knows what.  So it needed to be fixed.

So we reclaimed it - taking out all the small trees and buckthorn, and the poison ivy and kudzu.  We took great care to preserve all the wildflowers as we took out all the garbage.   It took us nearly a month.   We then layered in dirt and had sod put down.  Also put in a stone border.

West shade Garden - White Trout Lily

Here you can see some of the native Illinois spring wildflowers in full bloom.  There are 1000's of the Trout Lily - it's a wonderful blanker of white.  This close up picture shows the neat varigation on the leaves.  They come and go pretty quickly.  They are doing awesome!  The other beauty is the Trillium.  It has three petals, three sepals and three leaves.  I have both red and white flowers. 

You'll see that we also put down sod lawn. It's very shady so I keep putting down seed every spring as well  - although I think there is not enough light for even the best shade seed. Hence, over time this area might take on a more woodsy feel, which is just fine with me!

I spent the whole day today in the garden. It was awesome!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Seed Starting - an experiment

This time of year I think serious gardeners have all started up this years prize annuals and perennials from seed.  I have typically not been one of those folks.

I really hate starting plants from seed - and probably because of that, I'm terrible at it. I've never invested the time to get it right. This year I tried two new things - one was the seed bomb that I recently posted about. The other was starting seeds indoors.

Even after making seed bombs, I still had plenty of old sees around to use for this little experiment.  Plus you know I didn't want to invest in any special trays or pots for my seed starting - so I used leftover plastic from take-out and frozen food containers and similar sources. Reuse, recycle and repurpose!  I took items that were exactly the same size and punched holes in one tray, then nested them together.  These are pretty shallow - but I think for seeds that isn't an issue.

Then I sifted some potting soil to create a very fine "seed starting" mix.  In the bottom of the containers I did put in a small layer of regular potting soil, then topped it with my mix.  Next I placed the seeds and then covered with another layer of the mix - per instructions on the packets.  I made sure they were all moist and happy, covered them with plastic to retain the moisture, and then set back to watch the magic happen. Every few days I add water in between the two plastic containers to keep them all moist.

5-10 days later and I do have a few seedlings appearing.  Here you can see some decorative grass starting.  This perennial grass costs over $50 a container at the store.  If I can get this going - it will have only cost me a few dollars!

A girlfriend came over last night (a real seed starter!) and shared some tips to improve my success. First off I need to continue to maintain the moisture - so that there is always condensate on the inside of the plastic. Secondly the trays need more light and heat.  So I have to work on that.

Nonetheless - I'm calling it a success for now, I have some little plants growing. Whoo Hoo! 

Meanwhile - I'm making a list of the plant sales that I want to hit in the next few weeks!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clayless Seed Bomb - (Updated 2/24/13)

I first heard the term "seed bomb" while attending a presentation on guerrilla gardening at the Chicago Botanic Garden a few months ago.  It was then that I realized I'd been a Guerrilla Gardener for several years - and even been fined for it as well.

The term was originally "seed grenade" coined by Liz Christy when she started the "Green Guerrillas" in New York City. The first seed grenades were condoms filled with wildflower seeds, water and fertilizer. This was the start of the guerrilla gardening movement in the early 1970's.  Current "seed bombs" typically use clay as a binder to keep the seeds protected from being eaten prior to germination.

For years I have tossed seeds into the lot across from my house in hopes that something wonderful would take root. I've even transplanted a few perennials over there to have at least some bright spot! However, this morning, when I found several packets of old seeds - I thought why not try a few bombs!

The recipe I used did not include clay, as I didn't want to run to the store first. Plus, there are lots of good substitutes for clay, after all it is just a filler. So a creative and frugal approach was born. The clayless seed bomb!  I've also made cast paper seed bombs that I use as gift tags and ornaments. Different recipe, but still easy. That blog post is here. 

Here is what I came up with for recipe and process using items which you have in your kitchen already:
In a large bowl, mix
- 1 1/2 cups of flour and 8 - 10 TBS corn starch 
-  Place seeds into flour and mix. Observe distribution of seeds to estimate amount of soil to add 1/2 to 1 cup of water  & mix into a smooth paste or dough.
- Gradually add 1/4--cup of vegetable oil
- Knead the dough until it develops a firm consistency.
- Sift about 3 cups of potting soil and add into mix (Easy method, just dump it in, but then you'll need to work it more to get is smooth.) 
- Continue to knead to spread seeds and get to desired consistency. 
- Pull of pieces and roll into balls or logs – can add more soil as needed.

Here is a picture of my resulting seed bombs. I did make them rather small.  I had lots of seeds to use and because of the high seed density I made them smaller. Just in case they all germinate - I didn't want too much crowding.  Also since I will be hand placing them I thought I could go with a smaller size.

OK, I'm off to change clothes and then bomb the lot across the street!

Happy Sunday!


PS I updated this recipe. In subsequent trials with the seed bombs I used more corn starch and sifted the soil mix to have only the finest grains. This helped make more homogeneous dough.  I also add the seeds into the flour first. This way I can see how many there might be in a clump. If I use more than 2-3 packs of seems I will add more dirt, but with only 1 pack of seeds maybe just a dusting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Huntington Garden visit - lovely desert section

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena California.  Classic example of a wealthy individuals creating a large public space – and I thank him for doing so.

In 1903 Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. Today there are 120 acres landscaped and open to visitors. More than 14,000 different varieties of plants are showcased in more than a dozen principal garden areas. My favorite by far is the desert section – which seems to go on and on and on!

For me it is a special treat since I love working with succulents at Garfield Park Conservatory – but here it is all natural and outside. A very different experienceJ.   While lingering in this part of the garden I started to actually prune and clean up many items which appeared to be suffering from too much water. Some also had a blight or fungus on them.  This was much to the dismay of my companion who said that I wasn’t trained to work here – and she was right. So I sought out one of the gardeners and curatorial staff to get a bit more information.  Small world – as we realized that one of his acquaintances had worked at GPCA.

It turns out that it has been a very challenging year from them. In December they received over 12 inches of rain – which is what they typically get all year.  They do not have a way to drain the area – not update the soil for many of these mature plants. Hence, several are suffering from overwatering.  Also the nights have been cold – and the heaters which are arranged around the African cultivars are working overtime.

Two varieties surprised me.  One was a yellow jade tree – I believe a Crassula ovata 'Hummel's Sunset'. It was a stark contrast to the greenery around it. And I do love Jade J  The second I believe was a variation of a Schlumbergera a genus of tree-dwelling cactus which is a tropical rainforest epiphytes.  I took my picture next to it – you can see how awesome this is. 

I highly recommend!  It was a very enjoyable day. And after you wander the gardens – you can visit the art museum and store.