*Cue bad eighties hair and power guitar…*

OK, I’m done rocking out now.

Seriously though (because we’re a *very* serious blog here), you might think that a rose is just a rose, but trust me, these puppies are no wallflowers. Always the center of attention, these garden beauties are Marcia Brady to the tulip’s Jan. Neve r lost in the shuffle, no middle-child-syndrome here, roses stand tall, and they’ve got the thorns to remind you they’re the top dog, lest you forget. Symbols of romance, and the de-facto “I forgot it was Valentine’s Day” gift, there a re literally hundreds of varieties to choose from.

Above and beyond the tried and true blood red blooms – this year at Springwood, FDR’s Hudson Valley estate, its all about variety. From yellow to white, vine to bush, these roses are anti-establishment powerhouses ready to take over the floral scene. A rose isn’t just just a rose, anymore…

Want to grow ’em? Because there are so many species, no matter your climate (excepting extreme tropical), there’s most likely a rose for you. Because they’re propagated from cuttings, look for root stock at your local nursery. Most of them need some serious sun, though, so shade dwellers need not apply. Still not sure? – All America Rose Selections can help you get started, with their handy guide to roses by region. In addition, be sure to check out their fantastic growing guides for more information on cultivating this prickly perennial.

For the information-junkie, be sure to also check out the American Rose Association for even more useful info, especially since June is National Rose Month! Yes, this is seriously another useless holiday. Oh, well — I’ll let this one slide, but be forewarned, roses — I’ve got my eye on you…only one useless holiday per customer!
For those of you who don’t feel so inclined as to celebrate National Rose Month, at least take a trip if you find yourself in the Hudson Valley, up to Springwood. There’s a Presidential Library, FDR home tours and walking trails if the rose garden doesn’t strike your fancy (although, if that’s the case, I’m not sure what you’re doing here…) Either way, take a long summer afternoon and meander down the winding paths to the Hudson River’s breathtaking tidal marshes, or ramble on down behind the home of FDR to get a glimpse of the panoramic Valley views.
Roses, trails, and librarian’s tales…what’s not to love about the beautiful grounds of the home of FDR? Are there any local gardens by you that you’ve visited lately?

Its a bit grey here today, and I’m having a doozy of a time getting motivated. The drone of a backhoe is wailing in my ears, and the clouds are hanging oppressively low in the windless, swampy air. I went on a few minitrips that I can’t wait to tell about, including the Rose Garden at Springside, FDR’s estate in Hyde Park, NY. Alas, I can’t muster up the correct words to do justice to my beloved Hudson Valley today; it seems like whenever I’m locked inside working on a grey day like today, thoughts of travel sweep over my mind.

If I had a magic wand, or perhaps some ruby red slippers (mmm…ruby red slippers…), I’d click or wave, or do whatever I needed to do, and there would magically be a wild parade of color and horticultural delight marching across your screen. Unfortunately, I have neither a magic wand nor ruby red slippers. Hmm…this is embarrassing…you came all the way here and I don’t even  have any magical powers!

But, after that wildly depressing into and embarrassing lack of powers of the magical persuasion, here’s what I can do for you… Come with me back in time, if you will, to my last visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, one beautiful afternoon early in the year two thousand and eight…Its no magic, but I hope it’ll brighten up your spirits as well as mine, whether your day be cloudy and stale, or Oz in Technicolor. Now, just step into the time machine, if you will, and be sure to keep all hands and appendages inside the car. No flash photography, please…

Japanese Tea gardens are famous in their own right, but San Francisco takes the cake, in my humble opinion. I love how the geometric symmetry in the architecture is complimented by the round, flowing lines of the plant life.

Integrating horticulture, rocks and natural geography with streams and ponds gives the garden a relaxing feel. No artificial colors or flavors here.

Not sure if this driftwood is natural, or purposely placed. Short of going back to San Francisco to find out, I think its a little bit of both. No real definition, feel free to color outside the lines, because this can be whatever you want it to be.

The Dutch Windmill truly makes me feel like I’m in another country (or at least on a movie set). I’ve never felt so compelled to frolic through a field in my life.

Ahhh…I feel a little more uplifted, and I hope you do too. Sometimes we all need to take a break from our black and white days and add a little color. Now, about getting those ruby red slippers…

Gardening Trends

So, probably because I’m a giant garden-geek, I decided to go a search of Google Trends, to see what people have been looking for relating to gardening.

Seems like those Brits have got us beat, since the term “gardening” is searched the most in the United Kingdom, with the United States coming in third after Singapore. Kudos to the US cities with the highest search numbers…  Portland, OR (#4), NYC (#6), Irvine, CA (#9) and Seattle, WA (#10).

In all collective world regions, the phrase “garden” has been relatively constant over the last six years, waxing and

The results of a Google Trends search for "arugula" over the last six years

waning with the change in season, as you would probably expect. It gets more interesting, though, when you search by more specific terms or locations and years.

Maybe we truly have become “The United States of Arugula,” because a quick Google Trends search of “arugula” shows a pretty substantial increaseover the last six years.

Are Middle Americans becoming foodies all of a sudden, or perhaps just trading in the Golden Arches for a little garden greenery? (No offense Middle America, I still love ya!) Meanwhile, searches for “brussels sprouts,” no matter what kids think of them, have increased steadily.

This one is a little but more subtle, but searches for “roses” have definitely decreased in the past few years. Come on boys, I know its a recession, but can’t a girl still get a little lovin’ once in a while? 

Unfortunately though, for reasons I can’t understand, searches for the phrase “gardening” have been decreasing every

year. What gives? I hope its not because search trends for “take out” are going through the roof.

The one ray of hope is the fact that those of you who are still searching the phrase “gardening,” are also searching for “heirloom seeds” like they’re going out of style – take that, Monsanto! Anyhoo, that’s probably enough garden-geekiness for one post today…time to work on moving New York from number six on the top searched gardening list to number five… 🙂

The garden is getting to be into full swing these days, and doing fairly well. We finally got some rain here in the Hudson Valley this past weekend, and my rain barrels were (mostly) filled. It was the kind of summer storm that rolls on fast over the hills, picking up moisture from the creeks and leaving steaming mist in the valleys in its wake. Lightning pierces the sky so brightly that it might split in half from the force. Of course, such storms are almost inevitably followed by a sky so crystalline blue you wonder if the whole thing was just a dream. While I was waiting out the storm, I found this great report that certainly be of interest to any Hudson Valley gardener. (If you’re not lucky enough to be in the Hudson Valley – I found this through the County website, and many other counties have commissioned similar write ups – check your local government’s website) Anyhoo, the report deals with a lot of interesting climate issues that are facing the Valley today, and is definitely worth a quick look.

Storms are always a great opportunity to take a minute to catch your breath from the action in the garden and take a quick mental survey for anything you may have too much of, or perhaps forgotten to plant. So far, in our garden we’ve got:

  • two each of six varieties of heirloom tomatoes, three each of two hybids
  • four each red and purple bell peppers, serrano chiles

    My harvest, 6/8/2010

  • sweet corn, two varieties, two blocks each (hybrids)
  • a few baby carrots
  • a patch of red and yellow intermediate day onions, a small pot of chives
  • a patch of radishes
  • eight (some slightly cabbageworm damaged) broccoli
  • for fruit, a (very) small strawberry patch and a grape vine
  • two (I think) each of white eggplant, four each of purple eggplant
  • four bush cucumbers
  • a small sunflower patch
  • three each of eating pumpkin vines
  • oregano, dill, parsley, basil, rosemary
  • two to four each of mesclun mix, buttercrunch, romaine, red sails, spinach, arugula
  • two each of green and yellow summer squash

Its been a lot of trail and error so far, but I think for the most part, everything is going well. My champions are the sugar snap peas, tomatoes, basil and corn. The ones lagging behind include the onions, squash and broccoli. Of course, for the rest of the plants, there are many shades of success and failure as well. Here’s a look at what’s been going on in my garden lately.The raised bed on the right in the photo is from last year, while the one on the left and the fence are new this year.

The main garden...

Even though the door got  a little messed up, it still serves its purpose pretty well. I actually have grown to really like it – so much so that I don’t think I’d even want it to be fixed anymore – because I think it really well frames our sort of quirky personalities. (Kind of makes me feel like I’m in a Salvador Dali painting, though…)

My trusty red wheelbarrow is kind of cheap, but it helped me move a whole garden’s worth of compost over from the other end of the yard, so I felt like I had to include it in the scene. That’s pretty much it for today, I’m working on some projects for the site that I hope to have up soon so be sure to check back. In the meantime, what are you growing in your gardens this year? Is anything working much better or worse than the other plants?

Good morning, fellow dirtboxers! Today, I’m going to take a break from the “Five Tips for a Great Garden in June” series, to bring something that I hope to be a little more engaging, inspiring and original to the blog. Tips and tricks are great and all, but that kind of thing can be found in any dime a dozen garden book. Going forward, I think I’m going to focus a little more on happenings in my own dirtbox, so that hopefully you, as readers, will leave filled with ideas about what you like, don’t like, and most importantly, feeling like you want to get outside and get digging!

Finally found the place where the sidewalk ends...

So, without further ado, today I’m going to take you on a virtual vacation to the place where the sidewalk ends. I found tons of design inspiration from nature, here, and hopefully you will too! On a whim, I went to Saugerties, NY, a historical mill town at the mouth of the Esopus Creek, somewhere on the west banks of the Hudson River between Kingston and Albany.

I loved this sidewalk for its rambling look and abrupt end, because it reminded me that perfection is not always the greatest attribute in design. Although the path is straight and narrow, it has less of a sterile look than a poured concrete walkway, making me feel less like I was part of an institution and more like I was on a walk to find some great, hidden treasures. I’ve been slowly applying this idea to my own garden, digging up large slabs of slate from my backyard (I live on the crest of a hill) and lining the outside of my garden with them. I had considered ordering stone, but this is turning out to be a much more cost effective and original design concept. (Not to discount, though, the back-breaking labor of digging up long buried slate, but its well worth it to me)

"Hey, you - get off my beach!"

The path where the sidewalk ends eventually brought me down a long, sloping hill filled with tidy, tightly spaced frame houses with neatly tended flower gardens. The tinkle of wind chimes hung in the air on the cloudy late afternoon. I noticed a prominent lack of vegetable gardens, but couldn’t tell what was going on in backyards. The prevailing themes seemed to include window boxes and raised beds, filled with decorative shade-loving grasses and tulips. (Since it was a few weeks ago that I went, the tulips were just coming into full bloom) There to greet me at the creek cutting through the basin of the hillside was this great (swan?) — I’m not entirely sure what kind of bird that is. Nevertheless, with his broad and graceful body, he followed me down the beach, chattering all the while in hopes, no doubt, of the possibility of bread crumbs or other treats.

An alleyway, since converted to decorative garden and sitting area.

Next, I hiked back up the hill into the center of town, flanked on my right by views of the Esopus Creek waterfall and the high gorge walls on its south banks. Looking for a place to eat, I noticed that a local restaurant had turned an alley into a beautiful sitting area and garden. (Forgive the crooked picture) With beautiful trellis work and lush green ivy, I felt transported back to another world, where garbage cans and grime would be the last things you’d expect to find in an alley. (There are actually several groups out there working to beautify alleys, like the Alley Gardens Project.) Further back into the alley is a small sitting area, allowing patrons a comfortable and beautiful place to regroup and relax.

Path to the Saugerties Lighthouse

After lunch, which was at the wonderfully authentic Fez (71 Partition Street), I went down to the river to check out the Saugerties Lighthouse and the tidal walk, which takes travelers from the mainland out to the lighthouse on a short trail, which becomes submerged and impassible at high tide. This archway, made entirely from logs, is just as beautiful, but the polar opposite in feel to the previous one I found in town. Personally, I love the natural look and am considering building something similar at the entrance to my raised beds. I have one lonely little grapevine, but this archway would be the perfect place to plant more.

Finally at the lighthouse (and still dry, remarkably), I had the chance to look at the beautiful grass at the end of the trail. Although I believe grasses like these are usually confined to coastal areas, I’ve seen many people integrate them into their landscape design. There’s a small marsh across the street from me where cattails grow, and I wish I could convince them to grow up the hill a little bit onto my property, where I could use them for their decorative properties, but also as an on-property edible. Nearly all of the cattail plant is edible to humans!

Filled with ideas and inspiration, I left for home, ready to get to work on my garden. I picked up a lot of ideas from the trip to Saugerties, most importantly the concept of working to integrate a more relaxed and natural feeling into my neatly planted rows of corn and tomatoes.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this narrative and experiment away from the more conventional “How-To” feeling of this blog. As both my garden and I mature, I’m beginning to realize that sometimes the best garden is not the one that sticks to all the rules, but the one that isn’t afraid to break them every now and again, and takes inspiration from unlikely sources. What do you use to get garden inspiration (books, other gardens, the outdoors)? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

#3) Go on a bug hunt

I have a problem. I noticed that some of my lettuce leaves had holes in them shortly after I planted them, but assumed it was an isolated incident and didn’t worry too much about it. I’ve never been more wrong in my life. Fast forward two weeks and nearly my entire lettuce patch had suffered slug damage – they were everywhere! If you ever see a slug, take care of the problem fast! Because they’re hermaphrodites capable of producing dozens of offspring in one year, one little slug will never remain just one little slug.

In case you’ve suffered plant damage but aren’t sure what did it, the Gardener’s Supply Company has a great “Pest & Disease Detective” that helps you ID garden pests by type of plant, pest or damage.

Going forward, I will apply this philosophy to any and every garden pest, not just slugs. Letting the problem go will not only make it exponentially worse, but as an organic gardener, there is no simple quick pesticide fix for the problem. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to reduce further insect damage:

1)       Watch the watering. Slugs like to come out at night in moist areas. To keep them at bay, water your garden in the morning, so that the moisture will be mostly absorbed by the time the sun sets. If you have a day job or something that prevents you from morning yard work, water the plants as soon as possible while its still light out in the afternoon. After I discovered the magnitude of the slug problem, I actually restricted the amount of water my plants got (much to my chagrin, as I love a nicely watered garden), and noticed a substantial decrease in the insect activity almost immediately. (This begs the question of just how much water is too much — the quick answer is one inch per week, but that’s a post for another day)

Slugs love leafy greens, like these Red Sails!

2)       Bait ‘em with beer. Slugs like the booze almost as much as I do – and the sweet moisture will bring them right into your trap. Set out shallow dishes of stale beer wherever you detect the most activity in the evening, and by morning, your culprits will have drowned in the stuff. (But what a way to go!!!)

3)       Flour. Like I mentioned earlier, slugs LOVE moisture. As a last ditch effort, I sprinkled flour around my affected plants, since I heard that the dryness of the flour is unpleasant on their sluggy tummies. Surprisingly, I noticed that the slug population decreased even further after the flour experiment.

4)       Hand to hand combat. When all else fails, go out in the evening and pick the buggers of yourself. I know it sounds disgusting, and it sort of is, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of your crops. (And because you probably want to make sure that crisp Buttercrunch you’re about to eat doesn’t come with a little extra added protein!) I wear gloves, because I’m definitely skeeved out by the idea of touching them, but I make sure to get the job done. Remember – do NOT dispose of them anywhere near your garden! That means no compost, no flinging them to the side, nothing of the sort! I put them straight away in the garbage.

Whatever method you choose, remember that early detection is key, and will save you a whole lot of loss and heartache down the road. What do you do to keep the bugs at bay in your garden?