Sunday, December 5, 2010

In the Company of Garden Bloggers

In the company of garden bloggers.

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me --
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee --
Emily Dickinson

Gregarious. I always liked that word. I would rather be among a large crowd of merrymakers than alone. Perhaps that is why social networking feels so natural to me. I know there is plenty to worry about when we share so much of ourselves with so many, who are merely casual acquaintances, or even for that matter, strangers. 

But when we thrust out our hand and introduce ourselves, confident that we are among good company, we make friends of strangers and so this week, I made a lot of new friends when Garden Putter joined a host of other garden bloggers on the new website,

Take for example, my Indonesian friend Kaima Towira, who is an inspired craftsman of bonsai at This is a gallery of his work. My new friend would be horrified at the bonsai work I do in my garden, where one year I planted a Japanese maple in a spot where it could never possibly fit in its mature form. So every spring, I whack its poor top off, while apologizing profusely for the assault. Kaima has been practicing his self-taught art form for two decades and but for blogging and internet networks, I doubt we would ever cross paths.

This morning, I am enjoying reading from a new friend's blog, This Grandmother's Garden. She too has a beautiful rose clinging hopefully to summer in her garden. The difference is, her garden is in the mountains of Utah. The hardy Utah rose hung in through the chill of an icy snowfall, truly The Last Rose of Summer.

And here's Brooke Berry Kroeger of southern Indiana, whose November 7th photograph of the sunrise over her butterfly garden made me want to jump Mary Poppins-style right into the scenery. Brooke's blog is Creative Country Mom's Web Garden and she's my new friend, too. And I've always been inspired, if not a little intimidated by the talent of my local garden blogger friends Susan Harris, Elizabeth Licata, Michelle Owens and Amy Stewart, who rant and rave at Garden Rant. But they're my new friends, too.

So, though we've may have never met in person, I thrust out my hand and my heart to all my gardener friends--Susan Morrison, Jan Huston Doble, Charlotte "Daffodil Planter" Germaine, Anna "FlowerGarden Girl" Looper, Grace Peterson, Sharon Lovejoy, Carolyn Choi, Susan Tomlinson, Eddie Ceyssens, Tyra Hallsenius Lindhe, Kathy Jentz and Paul Nuhn. May there come many more. The Putterer

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rosa Gruss An Aachen: The Last Rose of Summer

Rosa Gruss said "Cheese" for Patsy this morning.
Photo by Patsy Lieberman
I went out to get the paper this morning and there on the stems of my rose bush remain two glorious blooms. Last year, I remember a cone flower that hung in until after Thanksgiving. Looks like our hard freeze once again is delayed thanks to global climate change. 

Rosa Gruss An Aachen is my first successful rose. It also represents my maturity as a gardener. The first roses that I bought and planted failed because I cared more about their evocative names than about their finicky needs.  "Eleanor" and "Passionate Kisses"--may they rest in peace. I had just been up to Hyde Park and toured Eleanor Roosevelt's home and retreat, Val-Kill, and was harboring a secret fantasy that I maybe could have been that great lady's friend and perhaps then, been invited to sit in those comfy chairs she kept in her living room and discussed the events of the day. 

And "Passionate Kisses," well need I say more? What else do you do on the weekends before or after you garden?

But last winter, I decided I'd let a rose chose me instead. Rosa Gruss An Aachen came about in 1909 after a German breeder named Philipp Geduldig paired the imperial Frau Karl Druschki' with the commoner 'Franz Deegan.(And I have no idea if those roses are royal or plebe, I'm just reacting to their names.)

The result was the first of the Floribundas. That term means that big heady roses with multiple petals grow in clusters from a single stem, thus seeming to defy gravity, and making for a very sturdy stem. I selected Gruss (gross name?) because my purveyor, Wayside Gardens, promised it would grow in partial shade. Here's where the maturity part comes in. I have long referred to my front fence garden, by sheer force of will, as a sun garden. It's not. It's not sunny like sunny should be, 6 to 8 hours. It's more like four or five.

Well, Gruss had a will to live, because I nearly killed her too. When the plant arrived in the mail on a Monday, I couldn't tend to her immediate needs. She should have been removed from the packaging and put into water. I stuck her on a dark shelf, still partially packaged and forgot about her until the following weekend. When I planted her, the stems stayed dead-like for what seemed like weeks this spring. And I was fairly certain that I'd failed yet again. But just as Gruss took her sweet time to green up and grow, she now refuses to give it up for winter. So in her honor, I sat on the sofa this morning, tears streaming down my face, listening to the sweet, dulcet tones of the lovely women in the group, Celtic Woman, singing Thomas Moore's 1805 poem, "The Last Rose of Summer."

'Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
To give sigh for sigh.
I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
To pine on the stem;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go, sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter,
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
From Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit,
This bleak world alone?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Laying In My Books For the Winter And Thoughts on Emily Dickinson

I just went crazy with one-click shopping on Amazon. I don't know how I'll manage to read all those books that I just bought. But sitting here on my comfy, white sofa this morning, my ankles feel chilly even as the furnace is trying to warm the room and I am thinking about reading my way through the cold winter months. I am wishing that I could burrow in and just absorb print material through the pores of my skin. Because I just simply don't have all the time that I need to keep up with all the reading that I should be doing, let alone the reading that I just want to do.

The books I bought are all old titles: Michael Pollen's Second Nature; Margery Fish's We Made a Garden; Eleanor Perenyi's Green Thoughts; Emily Herring Wilson's biography of Elizabeth Lawrence and finally, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

There's something seductive about an old book. I buy them from the used section of Amazon and when they come, many of them are hand wrapped. Sometimes, the book seller will write a little note card and drop it into the package. "Enjoy!" The pages might smell a little musty, or there's an inscription on the title page.

In my Emily Dickinson book that I ordered last winter, it says: "June, This is one of your Christmas books. Merry Christmas and many, many more. With much love, Mom, 1981."  I  wonder why June would give away such a lovely gift from her mother. (Note to June's Mother: Don't worry Mom, maybe June will have second thoughts and come looking for it. I'll keep it safe.)

I just randomly opened to this offering from Emily, perhaps she hints at what befell the book's previous owners.

Forget! The lady with the Amulet
Forget she wore it at her Heart
Because she breathed against
Was Treason twixt?

Deny! Did Rose her Bee--
For Privilege of Play
Or Wile of Butterfly
Or Opportunity--Her Lord Away?

The lady with the Amulet--will fade--
The Bee--in Mausoleum laid--
Discard his Bride--
But longer than the little Rill--
That cooled the Forehead of the Hill--
While Other--went to Sea to fill--
And Other--went to turn the Mill--
I'll do thy Will--

I think Emily Dickinson must have been bored with her life. I picture her stowed away in her bedroom, scrawling love sick, coded poems on thick pieces of paper before squirreling them away. Her only outings  to her garden. Likely, she didn't work too hard there either. Her privileged family would have afforded a caretaker to do all the backbreaking work keeping all things there lovely. So poor Emily had nothing to do but  sit quietly observing the interplay of the interloopers, "The Bird did prance--the Bee did play--" And writing and reading was her only outlet.

She, of course, didn't have the distractions of my life. A job, a social life, a dog, children, husband, the laundry. Would she have fussed about meals and menus? Would she have thought at all about fitness and health? She wouldn't be thinking how she might fit in a run before having to head off to have her hair trimmed. Or counted off the precious hours of the weekend before Monday's rapid-fire pace loomed once again.

See, she had to have been bored. This I will never be. (Nor will I ever write poetry). And as I said, likely I won't even find the time to read all those books. But for the moment, I do enjoy the fantasy of it all. Me. A musty book. Languidly lying about. The Putterer

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Compost, Therefore I Am

You cannot know the true joy of life until you've turned over leaf litter and sniffed deeply the sweet, raw odor of a compost pile in heat. By all other accomplishments available to you on this earth, and this includes even the engineering of a concrete and steel pylon six-lane bridge, you will not know success until you have made your own compost.
I am at this time gathering my leaves and mowing them into bits and putting them in the large compost bins that Montgomery County graciously gives to me free of charge. (Look at this picture that Patsy took about a month ago of my deck overlooking the forest behind my house. See all of the leaves that are available to me for my compost.) I can turn mountains of leaves into small bags of leaf bits in just a few hours. Even without any other green matter, the brown leaves are already toasty warm in their bins. A good compost recipe requires layers of green grass commingled with brown leaf matter. I also collect my kitchen waste and I bury it into the leaf bins. And no, I don't have rats or mice invading the pile. I do have in the summertime, tons and tons of earthworms, living in my bin, and helping to make rich, fertile material for my garden.

In the springtime, my multiple bins of leaves are all reduced enough in mass that I can turn all of them into one. And then finally, I distribute the rich material into my flower beds.

Last year in early spring, I used the partially composted leaves as the bottom layer of my lasagna garden, which I built up with sticks and newspaper and compost and garden soil, and which grew so delightfully warm that I was able to grow lettuce on top of it very early in the season.

At this time of year, beware my proselytizing. I am a fanatic about composting. And I am on a quest to convert as many of you as possible. But be not afraid, you too can compost. And if  I see you raking your leaves into the street for the county to sweep away into those foul-smelling vacuum trucks, I might judge you for your wastefulness. The Putterer

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Naked Garden

There was an original garden once where Adam met Eve and they hit it off big time. From my limited Bible knowledge, neither of them was properly clothed at the time, nor did they realize in their joyous celebration that they were sinners. Until they ate that bad apple and then all hell broke loose and the two naked lovers grabbed some fig leaves and covered themselves.

My garden is shedding all of its summer robes and vestments and revealing its bare naked bones and this is the time that I start re-imagining its structure. The slope at the back is revealed again. The paths are clearly delineated. I can see the places where I made errors and the places where it all came together. I've got a grand plan (that would need heavy investing) to fence out a corner and create a better vegetable garden with a wall so high that any deer trying to leap in would smash his sweet Bambi face and go elsewhere.

Nakedness is on my mind for other reasons too. I'm thinking of the  Puritanical brethren and Bible-thumping conservatives out there beyond my secular bubble. I'm talking about those wing nuts that I keep encountering on my Facebook page. (Recently, I was unfriended for being too liberal and another effectively called me a communist. Sheesh! Here's a song for you, my sweeties.)

So I'm wondering if the sign posted recently in our gym locker room has anything to do with this bitter zeal and hostility that seems to be trending in our great divided nation. The sign declared new locker room etiquette rules.

And incredibly, item "number 4" chastized all of us for being naked in the locker room! According to the new rules, we must cover ourselves while walking to the showers and getting dressed. Now, for those of you who workout in the gyms across the land, you all know that there is usually a place for the modest to go behind a curtain. But for the great vast numbers of us, the locker room tradition is to bare all. In our gym, we have a rockin', good time talking up our lives and laughing together as we cleanup, dry off and primp ourselves back to business casual.

The amusing notion of getting dressed while hiding behind a towel makes for a contortionist's nightmare. I mean if God meant for us to be clothed all the time, wouldn't She have given us a third arm with which to hold the towel up?

I don't know. I'm feeling so edgy these days with all the intemperate outbursts and hate mongering and unabashed name calling, I feel like doing something in my garden in protest, something terribly anti-establishment, like ripping off my clothes Adam and Eve-like and dancing to Lily Allen's FU song.

Glad to get that off my naked chest. The Putterer

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Leaves Are Coming Down

 "A sudden splendor from behind
Flushed all the leaves with rich golden-green"
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It's a beautiful chill October morning, notable for the anniversary of the birth of my first child, who turns 21 today. All around the house and all along the pathways in the garden are the leaves that I'm going to have to rake up soon. These are the worker bees of the plant world. They really get little respect given that they take the energy from sunlight and manufacture the sugars and starches that feed the plant all year long. But in the fall, when their verdant prospects are dimming they flash in glorious golds, reds, yellows and blazing oranges in a kind of botanical smack down on their dainty flower counterparts.

When they are all finally off the trees, usually in the week just after Thanksgiving, I like to run the mower over them just enough so that when they go into the composters, they'll more quickly break down into the wonderful black gold that I'll use in the spring. It's a little hard now however not to feel intimidated by this seasonal task, given the volume of leaves that fall on my garden every year. And the chill in the air makes it more likely that the hard freeze will come sooner than last year. (It was quite late--after Thanksgiving, as I recall.)

In fact the rushed holiday season begins today with my daughter's birthday. From this point on, we head pell mell into the triumvirate of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. These are the domestic goddess's glory days, when home and hearth must be tended with a fury. The cooking, the shopping, the entertaining, the parties. It's breathtaking really, and the forever quest of making our lives seem flawlessly Hallmark rests on my shoulders alone.

Tonight, I'll pull my witch costume from the closet. (And by the way, I AM a witch, in the sexy and giving ways of the earth goddess). Next come the tricker treaters, and for them, I decorate the door and put out a tasty display of chocolate offerings. Some friends have invited us to go leaf peeping and so we'll wake early tomorrow to head off for a hike. But I'm leaving out the crazy Rally on the Mall today. (I have to hurry and get dressed now and walk the dog).

And at work, the little goGuide has to go to press. But the leaves are piling up on the walkways and can I possibly get to them before Thanksgiving, when I must insist on making all the food from scratch, the pie crusts Julia Child style, the turkey brined overnight? The table must be set with the antique china, which all has to be washed of the dust it gathered over the year. And yes, I'd better press the linen table cloths. What's that a stain? Quick let's throw them all in the wash and freshen them up. And the table centerpiece, I hate to buy someone else's work. Shouldn't I arrange the flowers?

Next comes the gift getting and giving. A wisp of Hanukkah to celebrate Jim's heritage. We light the candles and give the girls a symbolic gift. And sometimes a dreidel and chocolates come out. I love to wrap the presents with playful decorations. And we have to get those for the cousins early in the mail. The card? Should I write one of those dopey letters again? My family just hates them and we always argue over them. But our friends and family seem to enjoy them. Maybe I can do a few leaves, too.

Now the tree must be hauled out of the attic. (Years ago, I gave up the fresh tree thing. It just is so messy to clean up, when a few fresh boughs on the hearth will give off the same eau de pine.) The kids in the neighborhood would love it if I also took out the silly little Christmas land city/town/village that I sometimes put on display in the living room, but oh, that is just so over the top. I will skip that once again this year. Oh, I'm exhausted already thinking of it all. But give it up? Never. And I have to do the leaves, too.  The Putterer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fifty Petals on My Dahlia

I had Patsy shoot this picture for me this afternoon. I'm too tired for much blogging, but just wanted to get it in the record. Goodnight. The Putterer

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ten Things I Learned From My 2010 Garden

Sometimes gardening just has to wait. And so too the garden blog. It's kind of amusing how a place created for solace and peacefulness can swiftly become yet another chore. Over the closing weeks of this year's intolerably hot summer, the garden was left to its own devices. Weeds and mosquitoes and excessive heat made the garden a hostile place and the gardener's gloves dried stiff hanging in the closet. But now, the garden beckons. And as I planned my day this morning, I began to think of the successes of my 2010 garden. So herewith, my list of ten things I learned this year.

1. I Can Proudly Say I Am No Longer a Death-To-Roses Gardener Finally, I met with success this year growing two rose varieties, Rosa Grussan Aachen and Rosa Marmalade Skies. Both of these came from Wayside and both require less sunlight. Wayside even said they would grow in the shade, yeah right. I planted the Grussan Aachen at the front fence and she buds with a beautiful pink blush that opens to white. Marmalades Skies is a light orange, and I planted her on a pathway to the lower deck. Both of them came bare root and kept me guessing through most of the spring after I planted them and they sat stick-like in the dirt looking more dead than alive. Then slowly a few nodules of green began to poke from the sticks and my heart soared when I realized I hadn't killed yet another rose. RIP my rose called Eleanor and my rose called Passionate Kisses, both of which sat in my front yard dirt and tried mightily to flower, but toppled and succumbed to diseases and pests.

2. Deer Like Cucumbers and So Do I One cucumber plant is just not enough for all the fans of cucumbers in my garden. That stupid deer came nibbling and severed the tops of my cucumber plant and I didn't think I'd get any cukes this year, but turns out the plant practiced a kind of subterfuge and grew its fruits on tendrils that hid from view under other plants. I must have harvested at least a dozen delicious cukes this year. So next year, I think I'll plant more so that there'll be enough for both me and the deer. (That fuckin' deer. I'm still not over his visit when he took out all my day lilies.)

3. It's Okay to Hire Help Patrician gardeners of yore with their acres of glorious gardens with pathways and gates and hidden nooks, all had help. I have labored solo in my garden and dug, tugged and hoisted until my back aches and my fingertips throbbed. But this year, I looked out at my garden in August and saw how the wild space next door was slowly invading. The poke weed, the wisteria, the porcelainberry, the poison ivy was creeping into my garden. The porcelainberry had grown like a blanket overtop of my bushes and so finally, I admitted, I couldn't possibly clean it all out myself. So I went over to Maryland's Casa program and hired two workers one Saturday. Edi and Mauricio worked that day like whirling dervishes, pulling, cutting, tugging and eventually gathering up some thirty lawn bags of detritus. I bought them lunch and paid them each $10 an hour. I gave them gloves and tools and made sure they had plenty of water, and I worked alongside of them all day long, so that at the end of the day my back ached and my fingertips throbbed, but without them, I could never have accomplished so much.

4. You Can Never Have Too Many Books This year Smithsonian magazine shut down its library. The books were sent away to other libraries or tossed, depending on their age or if the other libraries already had copies. When the staff was invited to pick through, I found on a dusty shelf a wealth of field guides and gorgeous old research relics on plants, trees and botany. I took armloads of them. I've already amassed quite a library of gardening books and now my books are piling up in stacks around the rooms. I risk being called a hoarder. But I think that no matter how much one googles or bings or yahoos, nothing surpasses the organization of a book with its contents page and its illustrations and its photographs and its index and its bibliography and its footnotes. I came away with books like the 2001 America's Famous and Historic Trees by Jeffrey G. Meyer and the 30-year-old encylopedic Flowering Plants of the World. One Saturday morning when it was too hot to be in the garden, I sat on my comfy white sofa flipping the pages of one of DK's huge tomes called simply, Plant by Janet Marinelli (2005), and its rich large-format photographs made me a happy plant lover.

5. Lasagna Gardens Work I made a pile of sticks and compost in early spring and planted lettuce on top. The composting action brought warmth from below and made a wonderful hotbed and my lettuce grew up thick and delicious, when ambient temperatures were still too cool for planting. When it got warmer, I planted my egg plant and my cucumber plant there and I am still harvesting eggplant and I found one more cuke a few weeks ago. From the compost, a volunteer tomato plant from last year's garden reached maturity late in the season is also still delivering.

6. Tomatoes Will Grow On the Deck If you water them everyday, that is. And since I have a rain barrel right there on my deck now, I can easily slip outside every morning in my heels and give everybody on the deck a nice drink before I head off to work. We had two bush tomatoes, Carmello and Celebrity, growing and delivering on the deck, as well as a fig tree, and a strawberry plant and a big pot of sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley  and chives. When I was cooking, I could dash out to gather a handful of herbs and be back before the garlic burned in the pan.

7. Potatoes Will Grow in a Sack An experiment to grow potatoes was mostly a success. Though a failure in that the potatoes were so delicious, we wanted more. The plants gave up enough to serve twice at table a hearty feast of roasted yellow fins. I set out these fabric sacks in a sunny spot in early spring. Two sacks were planted with five starter potatoes each. At first I filled the sacks with rich potting soil and then much to my dismay, I read you had to grow potatoes in bad soil. so I dumped the sacks out and started over again with some dusty, clay-filled, rocky aggregate that I acquired from my neighbor's yard after she dug up a corner of her property.

8. You Can Never Grow Enough Basil I had basil on the deck and in the garden and still it wasn't enough. One pesto meal and it's all over. Basil needs to be planted at every nook and cranny next year. Enough said.

9. A Single Yellow Squash Plant Will Feed A Family of Four For Most of the Summer At one point, Patsy looked up from her dinner plate, which had on it my frequent side dish of pan-roasted yellow squash in garlic and said, "Mom, I've eaten enough." The deer don't eat the squash and they grow so fast, it's a wonder you don't actually see them enlarging before your very eyes. Squash went into everything this year from sweet breads to ratatouille.

10. Sage Tea and Other Herbal Infusions will Soothe the Soul Everybody is making fun of me at work these days when I bring along my mystery drink of the day. My oat straw, my nettle, my red clover herbal infusions are poured over ice and sipped all the day long. Go ahead and laugh my friends, but I'm convinced I'm healthier, happier and even wiser, drinking all the micro-nutrients that my plant buddies offer. An old saying, "Where sage doth grow well and vigorous, therein rules a strong woman." Strong, maybe, but when I learned of the benefits of a tea made with two leaves of sage set steeping for five minutes, I surely felt I'd met with sage advice. The Putterer

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Putterer Sputters and the Garden Grows Wild

I've selected this tender photograph to head up the post because I'm afraid to even enter the garden today, let alone take any pictures. I know it will be a wild place given over to spiders and their webs, mosquitoes and their stings, and rampant weeds and their climbing vines. This has been a rough summer for the kind of gardener, who hopes to keep nature tidy. But for nature, it has been a rambunctious and wild ride.

The image was taken a few weeks ago, when I was home from work recovering from surgery. Patsy was babysitting the neighbors' children and we took her charges to Brookside Garden to see its most excellent butterfly exhibit, "Wings of Fancy." The monarch alighted on little Maya's hand and her brother Johannes reached out to share in the experience. It was enough sentiment to make you want to weep. And Patsy, the photographer, caught the decisive moment.

Meanwhile, as the Putterer sputtered, the garden was left to its own devices. I clipped around the edges and Jim helped with some of the heavy, heavy stuff. But the mosquitoes took over, and though the spiders tried mightily to eat them all, they constructed their webs across all my paths. Then the sun beat down in one of the worst heat waves ever and the hydrangea that I transplanted from sunny spot to shady side last spring still took a hit as the soil cemented itself around its weary roots. The single squash plant took over the vegetable bed, it's prickly stems grew wickedly sharp. The cukes tried to fruit even as the deer nibbled its leaves to a quick. The eggplant delivered, but then toppled. The peppers gave up. The tomatoes did fine, but the squirrels and the raccoons stole the fruit. And then the rains came. A deluge, that bent the flowers over and dropped dried branches from the trees. I've seen evidence that locusts are on their way.

Today, strong and recovered, the Putterer will don long pants and sleeves, pepper herself with DEET, sharpen her clippers, and after asking Mother Earth's permission, she will advance into the wild place and make tidy the garden. The Putterer

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ginormous Harvest Today

Four foot-long cukes and four foot-long squash.
What happens in the garden when the gardener gets laid up and can't get out to garden? Worse yet, what happens when the quick-growing poke weed jumps up so tall that it towers over the squash and cucumbers, providing cover so a few of the fruit can go rogue? That's right, the gardener reaps a harvest that is so enormous, so ginormous, so beyond big, that it borders on the obscene.

Today, after wrestling with about 25 four foot tall poke weed plants, yanking them free of the soil and bagging their sorry hides, I was able to pull from deep under the yellow squash plant four amazing foot-long wonders. After that, I freed up four more cucumbers. Two of them had grown so large that they'd given up being cukes, having turned from green to a scary pale yellow that made them look more like an alien-like birthing pod.

Preliminary research seems to be indicating that this biomass of vegetation is going to be either too course, too bitter or too seedy to eat. But I'm not inclined to give up just yet. So I've found a buttermilk squash recipe that calls for two-and-a-half pounds of yellow squash (One down, three to go.) and I've got another cucumber and yogurt soup recipe that calls for three "large" cukes. (Hmm, I wonder if that means some 36 inches of cucumber, the length of my three-foot-longs laid end to end.). We're also going to have some sliced cukes marinated in balsamic vinegar, more bathed in ranch dressing, and still more dipped in a vinaigrette.

And I may have to make more squash bread and stick those in the freeze with the half-dozen that are already there. On the other hand, if you're reading this, maybe I could foist a two-pound squash off on you? If nothing else, you could try hoisting them numerous times as a healthy knew way to build up your biceps. The Putterer

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's Hear It for the Fig

My little fig tree, Ficus negronne, a self-pollinating dwarf that I got from Wayside Gardens early this spring is happily bearing fruit. We've just sampled our second of its offerings today for lunch. It has a delicate and subtle flavor, but when I bite into it, I'm registering a powerful amount of delicious satisfaction simply because I grew it myself.

Even though I've had to share a lot of my harvest with my intruder friends--the squirrels, deer and raccoons--this year's garden has been delivering all sorts of sweet surprises--the tomatoes, the occasional cuke, the eggplant and the squash, not to mention all of the arugula, mint, sage, basil, oregano, lemon balm, rosemary and lavender.

The garden seems to be offering us a rather interesting trickle down effect. Nothing miraculous, of course, nobody is jumping up to say, "Hey Mom, should I go out and weed for you? Can I mow the lawn? How about I sweep off the sidewalks and the deck and pick up all the sticks from the storm." (Call me a failed parent?)

But instead, the garden has been slyly infusing our lives with an overwhelming desire for delicious, nutritious foods. One example a bunch of bananas grew dark and unwanted in the fruit bowl on the counter top. It looked time to pitch the contents of the bowl, when Patsy decided she would make us a banana bread. Herbal teas and infusions are the drink of choice. And nobody has any desire for fast or frozen foods. When I ask what they'd like for dinner, the girls come back with requests like salad nicoise or brussel sprouts. I even cooked up and served a bowl of dandelion leaves one evening and while we all thought the flavor too harsh and bitter, everyone dug in, eating the greens if only to benefit from its healthful properties.

So let's hear it for the fig! The Putterer

Monday, July 26, 2010

In A Pickle

I crave a pickle. I want the kind my grandma used to make and I don't have her recipe. So I made some this weekend and I've got my fingers crossed that they'll at least be a close approximation.

I had to buy the pickling cukes at the farmers market. I was growing cukes in the garden, but the deer chewed them to the quick.

These pickles will have to sit in the fridge now for two weeks.

Let's just hope this will satisfy my intense craving. The Putterer

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Not So Nettlesome Nettle

“Yield stinging nettles to mine enemies.” – Richard II III.ii.

Today it will be 105 degrees and I will venture little in the garden. Even in the shade, the humidity makes any outdoor activity akin to a death wish. But still even on the hottest day of the year, the garden delivers.

I am snug inside my air conditioned home, drinking a tall glass of stinging nettle tea over ice. I made it with a dried herb, one cup to one quart hot water (not boiling), and left to sit overnight. It tastes like a glass of fresh goodness, giving first an aroma of a hay-filled barn on a hot day and a vibrant flavor of wholesome greens.

Quick Wiki: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a dioecious herbaceous perennial, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals.

Now, I have often seen this plant in my garden and pulled it out and tossed it as any common weed. But this gardener promises to redeem herself from now on. In my quest this week (I had two weeks off from work to recover from surgery. And while the body mended, the mind was free to range) to learn better solutions for coping with the symptoms of menopause, I've discovered a range of plants that offer solace. Nettle is practically the Wunderkind of garden herbs.

Herbalist Susun S. Weed crowns it with "miraculous" abilities. As a source of calcium, magnesium potassium, silicon, boron, zinc and vitamin D, it is an agent for healing and restoration. Weed says it energizes the endocrine glands (critical to women who have lost the hormonal function of their ovaries); it nourishes the cardiovascular system, normalizes weight, eases and prevents sore joints, relieves constipation, and helps to maintain supple skin and healthy hair.

So on this hot day as the body continues to mend and the mind to wander, I'm thinking of the possibilities. Newly restored, refreshed and energized, I look now into my crystal ball and see multitudes of ideas and opportunities. How is it that a simple green friend had so much to offer and yet, grew in my garden weed-like overlooked and unwanted?  This week, I walked the trail in Sligo Creek Park, the tendrils of unknown plants tickled my legs as I navigated the path, and I felt the magnitude of my botanical ignorance. I want to know more of the secrets of plants. And so a new quest begins.

Gardener of flowers and vegetables seeks herbal wisdom and knowledge of nature's ways. The Putterer

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sage Advice

This afternoon, I clipped six leaves off my sage plants and made an herbal tea for me and Patsy and Claire. I poured  hot (not boiling) water into the teacups (two leaves a piece) and left the mixture to steep for ten minutes. The drink turned out to be a soothing minty-flavored tea and we all enjoyed it. The tea idea came from some sage advice found in the book, "New Menopausal Years: the Wise Woman Way" by Susun S. Weed.

I went kind of crazy on Amazon, recently, with one-click shopping and bought enough books on menopause that it should take me into the next decade to read all of them. But the most appealing one so far is Weed's. She didn't start off first with a patronizing sermon about losing weight and starting an exercise program like one silly book did. It didn't start off, either, listing all the symptoms in a terrifying sort of mantra of doom and gloom as another did. And it didn't ask you to purchase a confusing and likely toxic recipe of expensive bottled nutritional supplements.

Instead, Weed's Wise Woman Way appealed to my inner goddess, or rather my strong woman credo. Her sensible advise and soothing words explained that this path is just like any other of life's hardships, one to face bravely and to conquer, but to do it with acceptance, grace and commitment. (Alice must slew the Jabberwocky! Me, I've already done that. Bring on Menopause!) And really it went straight to my heart with a rather appealing idea that any gardener would appreciate. Weed's approach is to enlist "herbal allies," common plants found in most backyard gardens.

"When we consume phytoestrogen-rich plants we allow our individual bodies to create precisely the hormones we need," says Weed. Phytoestrogen plants are those that contain an estrogen that is similar in chemical structure to human estrogen: seaweeds; roots of dandelion, carrot and yam; seeds like nuts, grains and beans; buds like artichokes and berries. Women who consume these estrogen-rich plants in their diets "don't need to adjust their hormone dosages the way women on pills and patches do," says Weed.

Well, I'm down for that. I'm not taking any more pills. I'm already a tamoxifen junkie, who has to pop an aspirin every other day so that the darn tamoxifen doesn't cause me to stroke.

I'm going to carefully study each of the ten herbs that the Wise Woman recommends. Today, I went to Weed's sage page (p.159). I'm growing sage (Salvia officinalis) in my container garden on the deck just outside my kitchen door. An old wives' tale says that "where sage doth grow well and vigorous, therein rules a strong woman." Huzzah!

According to Weed, it will prevent and regulate night sweats, reduce mood swings, calm your crazy side, ease inflammation, aid with digestion (be gone flatulence I trounce you with sage!), help with headaches, strengthen your liver (Woo Hoo,  Margaritas?), vanquish joint pain. 

And for you still youthful ladies, it will sooth menstrual cramps, too.

Let's hear it for the sage old sage plant! How about you come over and we mix up a pot of sage tea? The Putterer

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Rainy Day Recovery

I probably shouldn't be blogging just yet. Doctor's orders say I should avoid operating heavy equipment, or signing legal documents, (really it says that on my orders). But early mornings are my favorite time of the day and since I've spent the last 18 hours sleeping or dozing, I'm feeling not so bad. The weather is working out well for me, too. After about 10 hot, hot dry days, in which I diligently maintained my container garden with rain barrel water, it is raining. It's a slow steady soaker, the kind that a gardener appreciates. And the rain barrel is filling up again. In this picture, you'll see my rudbeckias and my Russian sage and the moonlight coreopsis all commingling together at the front fence. In the heat of the past few days, over 100 degrees at times, these plants thrived, casting an ethereal beauty to the entrance of our home. When you walked through the gate and passed alongside them, there was a sense of a slight drop in temperature and maybe even a fragrant breeze.

And now the rain coming down makes me feel at peace and content to just do nothing at all but snuggle in for a few days and let myself heal. The Putterer

Saturday, July 3, 2010

As the Garden Matures, So Goes the Gardener

I'm thinking about how we age and what that means. I remember when I was going through chemotherapy and I was caught up with a passion for admiring old women. Worried that I might not get to be one, I was entranced by women in their 60s and 70s. I studied the wrinkles around their eyes, the soft flesh on their arms, the heft of their stout bodies. And I saw these women as beautiful, desirable, admirable. I wanted more than anything else to live to be an old woman. To age, by most accounts, is something to fear. In our culture, where youth and beauty is a commodity, the aging process becomes ugly, sad and frightening.

The July garden is an aging garden. In places, the plants are wrinkled and browned at the tips for lack of rain. The early blooms are limp on the stems. The soil is cracked and parched. Some of the flowers are nipped and damaged by the deer. The grass is thinning. But, like an aging woman, a mature garden is a thing to behold. Now in July, the rough and ready coneflowers make their sturdy appearance alongside the cheery rudbeckias and the phlox are emboldened by the bright, hot sun. The tomatoes ripen. The leaves of the basil grow rich and full. And for the gardener, the task of gardening becomes nothing more than clipping, watering, mowing  (if the grass will grow) and untwirling the bindweed tendrils from around the stems of the hydrangeas.

And so with little to do in the garden, it is appropriate that I choose July to advance myself into the world of the old woman. Next Friday, to hedge my bets against ovarian cancer, I'm going to have the last of my reproductive organs removed. My ovaries will be snipped and removed through tiny laparoscopic incisions. The urgency to do this presented itself a week or so ago, when doctors discovered that a few ovarian cysts were producing whooping levels of estrogen--not a good thing for a survivor of an estrogen-receptive breast cancer. The irony is I'm young again these past few weeks, since I'm hopped up on estrogen. I'm feeling remarkably well. My hair is thicker and more manageable. My skin is soft and clear. I'm sleeping through the night. I have gobs of energy. Nothing aches. This morning, I slept in until almost 10--something I haven't done since before Claire was born.

So I'll age like a garden in one season. Lush and lovely one moment. Mature and fading the next. The doctors call it surgical menopause and they use phrases like "dramatic" to describe my symptoms. I have no idea what that means but I wonder if instead of hot flashes, I'll experience something more incendiary? The other symptoms are simply too gruesome to talk about in polite company. But the upshot is this, I'm certain to be a sagging, flatulent, bone weakened, ornery, sleep-deprived old hag by the end of the month.

Okay seriously. It's not that bad. No worries. In fact earlier this week, a friend--a fellow survivor--had a terrible scare when she thought that a large mass in her ovary was cancer. It wasn't, thankfully. But for a few terrifying days, she feared for her life. The entire incident put some perspective on my situation and vanquished my pathetic petulance. Life is good and I'm going to get old enjoying more of it. And maybe my super hot flashes will provide some extra warmth to keep all my tropical plants alive through the winter. The Putterer

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Last night, I went out to the garden and came face to face with the first deer of the season. I'd seen her damage that morning. A host of the old yellow daylilies on the path rising out of the wild meadow had been deflowered .

Her head poked out of the rich vegetation and the two of us just stared at each other. And then I began banging my fists on the rail of the deck in impotent rage. "Get out of here!" I screamed. "You don't belong here." She stood blinking doe-like at me as if she lacked any trace of comprehension, or fear, for that matter. She was just a large, pre-programmed eating machine. Her destiny was to snag any botanical hors d'ouerve that fate sets before her without caution or prejudice. And indeed, as I stood there screaming at the unwelcome intruder, my periphery vision was registering her destruction. All my budding daylilies were gone.

Only earlier that day, I had taken one of my good friends into the garden for a tour. And poking out from the black-stemmed hydrangeas were the gorgeous first flowerings of the daylily cotton candy. Tamara, my friend, who has as much interest in gardening as a hermit does in entertaining, commented appreciatively. I was a proud gardener. It is too early in the garden season for this deer to come. A gardener must learn to share her garden with all comers, even the pests. Slugs munch the lettuce. Caterpillars defoliate the bushes. Something else causes the peaches to rot. It's all part of a master plan that not even a master gardener controls. But last year, the destroyer waited almost a full month longer until July 18 before intruding in my paradise .  So I'm selfishly sad this morning. I even shed a tear or two. Okay, I admit, it was an all-out snotty blubber. I hate you deer! The Putterer

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hot Out and The Cones are Coming!

It's quiet. Not even the birds are chattering. Both daughters are home and sleeping the morning away in their beds and today promises to be a crisis of demands. My time will be divided among everyone's needs. Likely, I won't garden. But now the garden hardly needs me. The squash plant has so far delivered three golden fruit (yes, I checked squash are fruit!). The tomato plants have tiny green nodules. The cukes continue their ingenious climb up the cage. The eggplant could use perhaps a little spray of soap-sodden water to ward off the pest that's nibbling away at its leaves. But other than pulling out the occasional bind weed or poke weed intruder, the garden is likely the only one who won't make any demands on me today.

Out front, I am waiting with anticipation the arrival of my purple coneflowers (right). This heroic lady was the last to give up her glorious reign last Thanksgiving, when her purple pedals stood firm against the chill breezes rolling in. Already, her cousin Rudbeckias, the crazy daisies are in full bloom. And her companion black-eyed Susans are vigorously green and full of promise.

The Rudbeckias, or Beckys as I like to call them, are members of that huge family the Compositae of which the majestic sunflower is king. But I didn't realize that the name "Rudbeckia" stems from a little Linnaen payback to a wealthy patron. Poor impoverished Linnaeus, who stuffed his shoes with paper and often went hungry, was invited to live with Rudbeck the Younger in the town of Uppsala in 1702. (Readers of the Girl with the Golden Tattoo, which I just finished, will recognize that significant town from the story.)

Rudbeck was working on a thesaurus of English and Asiatic languages and the Linnaeus was engaged in sorting out the order of plants. The two hit it off and as a guest in Rudbeck's home, Linnaeus got to eat well. So in naming this genus, he declared: "So long as the Earth shall survive and as each spring shall see it covered with flowers, the Rudbeckia will preserve your glorious name." Word is that Nissan Pavillion must now be referred to as Jiffy Lube Live. Indeed, as naming rights go, Rudbeck has had some staying power.

I hurriedly type now to finish. One daughter is up. Pancakes anyone? Then, we're off. Claire wants me to sign her up for a gym membership. Patsy needs scores of documents prepared for her school counselor to begin helping her with the college search. There's no food in the house. The bundles of mail are stacked and in need of sorting. The sheets and towels must be laundered. Shouldn't I finally sort the winter clothes out of my closet and put them away for the summer? And the yearly physicals and doctor's appointments need to be scheduled before school starts again in the fall. And the dog needs a walk. And the Sunday meal must be prepared--a fish dish? And all the friends will be over soon to welcome Claire home. The morning quiet is ever so short lived. But to tell you the truth, I'm poised and ready for all the noise to begin. The Putterer

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cuke Cuke Ca-Chew

The cucumber plant is my newest fascination. I'm watching this botanical engineering wonder and I'm starting to get my hopes up for a bountiful cuke harvest.

The searching tendrils that the plant sends forth before it ventures any further growth has got to be one of the more ingenious in the plant world. A delicate finger reaches out tentatively for the next rung on the tomato cage. It grows randomly, blindly searching for something to grasp onto. I help it by gently nudging it toward the green cage where it wraps its tiny tendril lasso-style around the rungs.

I've never grown cukes before, but I feel a genetic closeness to this awesome vegetable. I can almost smell my childhood in a cuke. It's cool, soft flesh and prickly parts take me back to my grandparents' farm and the sweet green cukes that my grandma pickled in jars with dill and vinegar  and stored on wooden racks in the cellar is one of my most vivid childhood memories. Grandma and I would labor in the kitchen side by side making pickles. It was my job to label and date the jars, so that years later I would come back to her house and pull those dusty jars out of  the basement, bearing my little girl scrawls.

My cukes are salad bush hybrids. They are supposedly perfect for small gardens and indeed, they seem to know their place in my tiny vegetable plot. I have two plants set side by side. Adjacent to these I popped in radish seeds, because I'd read that the radish guards against the plant's enemy, the cucumber beetle.

This evening after a particularly violent thunderstorm birthed a cool breeze in my garden, I went out to study my cucumber plants. And between the time that I took this picture yesterday and today, already the plants seem to have grown another level of infrastructure. There's a rosebud structure forming at the top of the leaves and a few more yellow blossoms have opened. How is it that I don't actually see these plants actually growing before my eyes when they morph so rapidly from one day to the next?

The cuke, it turns out, is a mighty versatile fellow. It can be counted on to erase cellulite, banish pests from the garden, freshen your breath and even cure a hangover, according to this fellow garden blogger.

Me, I can't wait for the day I become that obnoxious office mate forcing dirt-caked cukes on my colleagues. The Putterer

Monday, May 31, 2010

Forget Me Not, Dear Garden Putter

I selected this photo of my False Forget Me Nots, which finished blooming a few weeks ago, as an homage to negligence. I have lapsed in my care and upkeep of Garden Putter. If one is to blog, one must be consistent and maintain said blog, just as one maintains a garden. But, alas, there comes a time when we must admit that it simply isn't possible to do it all.

I like to blog in the early morning hours when I can't sleep. I wake up too early and I drink coffee and I sit and ponder the day. I've read the paper, I've Googled a few phrases and then an idea comes to me and I write. I love the blog for its ease in the making and  practice of churning a mental flow of ideas into sentences, and if luck will have it, a narrative. But with the hoisting, lifting, bending, kneeling, twisting and digging that it takes to launch a garden in the spring, sweet sleep keeps me glued to the sheets every morning. The alarm sounds and I drag my aching body up and have only time enough to dress and get to work.

On this Memorial Day Monday, I lingered long and lazy, luxuriating in the hot sunshine streaming in on my pillow. I don't miss haunting the dark morning hours. It's good to sleep in.

But today, when I finally got up, I had to race to the garden, even before I'd had my coffee, carrying water can after water can to dowse my potted plants. It will be the first hot day of our growing season, a high in the 90s. The air conditioning is on. The dog is splayed out on the wood floor, panting. I think I'll need to spray the vegetable garden with the hose later this morning to shield it against the coming heat. It's now officially summer and the garden--potatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, tomatoes, basil, marjoram, chamomile--is planted and ready for the hot, sunny growing season ahead. I hope to continue sleeping soundly in each morning, but I'm sure I'll be back to rising before the sun, and sputtering here on Putter. The Putterer

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weekend List

Friday. First thing. Make a list. First thing on the list, coffee. Now, pencil in items one through a dozen or so more:

Mow, compost, run, garden, go to garden store, plant, weed, clip, bag, rearrange plants, heave and lift, advil, lawn chair, dream of new ideas, execute a quick few, pick lettuce, make salad, groceries, margarita, wine, walk dog, neighbors, deck, baseball, movie, Jim, moon, coffee, newspaper, politics, bird song, dog, iron clean sheets, bike ride, recipe, grocery store, meal, sun set, sleep, groggy, sore, coffee, back to work. The Putterer

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Flags are Flying: Iris Sibirica

You can't go wrong with Iris Sibirica. These white and blues I planted in 2007 from mail order supplier Bluestone Perennials and this morning, Claire and I went out to the garden with our coffee and sat within feet of these beauties.

Delicate. They look almost as if someone folded them origami style from a piece of paper. They sit atop strong stems and their delicate skirts are each patterned with a hint of yellow (the whites) and purple (the blues). There are some 300 varieties of iris and most people grow beardeds, Japanese and Sibirica. The beardeds are also in bloom guarding my front fence like the sturdy, good soldiers they are.

Today, with Claire home, I wanted to spend just a small amount of time gardening so that I could be with her for most of the day. (We went out for a run together this morning and she reported that I "kicked her butt." Go 49-year-old Mom!) So I did very little yard work, a little trimming and some weed wacking, but I got my seeds planted. Put in some Zinnias in rows at the back of the vegetable garden. Behind those, I put in four seeds that will hopefully sprout to those wonderful tall sunflowers. I've rarely been successful at growing those easy weeds, so fingers crossed. I also laid in some nasturtium all around the vegetable box and I put in a row of radishes in the lasagna garden.

No sightings of any toads. I bet for all the tadpole rearing, any of my little guys survived. Sniff. The Putterer

Friday, May 14, 2010

Goodbye Garden Warrior, Hello Contemplation

I love the mornings and this morning is particularly fine. I've said it before, working on deadline all the time can be so exhausting, but the complete relief that comes at the end when the project is done is so satisfying. I am close to completion on the next issue of the little visitors guide, goSmithsonian, at work.

And so is the garden in a state of near completion. When I step into it now, after so many years, I no longer see ungardened spaces that I want to conquer. The warrior gardener in me is waning. Instead, the contemplative gardener is emerging. I go there now and find it a place for deep breaths, for letting my shoulders sag just a little, for sitting, for listening. In my chair, I've watched a few shows take place, little dramas of nature. There's a cardinal, a male, who comes to the bird bath and he doesn't like the mosquito disk that I put in the water to keep the bugs at bay. With his beak, he flips it out on the ground. His mate hangs out in the rhodedendrum and sounds a cheery hello. The catbird, meanwhile, squawks at some unknown offense. And a tiny no-see-em tickles the back of my leg.

The trouble with loving mornings is the lack of sleep that eventually takes hold. I'm not a napper. I've never liked sleeping in the day. It makes me feel sick and groggy when I finally emerge from the coma that I descend into if I ever I let myself sleep during the day. But recently, in my chair, I took a tiny nap. It was the kind of nap that nappers brag about. "I shut my eyes for 30 minutes and I feel so refreshed," they say so smugly. And so with my magazines and my books, my journal and my kindle, piled up around me, I let myself drift off.

Today, my daughter is home from college. I won't be going to work. I have a few medical errands to tend to in the morning and then it is time to putter. The Putterer

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Tadpoles Go Terrestrial

Their little tails are slowly ebbing away. Forearms and back legs are growing. And this morning, two tadpoles, aka toadpoles, had climbed out of the water and up on the gravel rocks. So I transferred them from the glass bowl on my desk to a terrarium to keep them from jumping all around the kitchen. The Putterer

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Convergence of Work and Play Today

Today, work is play. I have an interview at one with HGTV's The Gardener Guy, Paul James. Tomorrow is National Public Gardens Day and Mr. James is its spokesperson. And the Smithsonian is home to some of the most unique public gardens in the U.S., perhaps even the world.

Most days, I'm a crazed editor, attempting to do far more than it is humanely possible to accomplish, and do it in the face of major stumbling blocks such as faulty publishing software platforms (don't even get me started on yesterday!). But today, in a state of utter calm, I will take leave of the cubicle and join Mr.James for a stroll through the native plants and vegetation and ponds and other delights that make up the garden surrounding the National Museum of the American Indian.

My friend and colleague Barbara Faust, an associate director at the Smithsonian and its chief horticulturalist (also a member of the American Public Gardens Association, sponsoring National Public Gardens Day) says she'll likely stop by to join us. Recently, Barbara told me that the Smithsonian had allowed her unit to change its name from the work-a-day Horticultural Services Division to the far more enchanting and certainly more authentic, Smithsonian Gardens. I know these places as nothing less. I have taken refuge on more than hundreds of occasions in my 20-plus years at the Institution within the sweet confines of these sanctuaries. (I always laugh at my frequent tardiness to any meeting scheduled at the Castle, because I always stop and smell the roses on my way over.)

Whenever I can, I grab a salad and a seat in the Mary Ripley Garden. My favorite bench is a shaded one in the horse shoe curve just on the outside of the Arts and Industries building. Here, petty office disputes melt away, office gossip grows insignificant, peace reigns and thoughts are collected. Namaste.

And this is also my botanical university. I see plants here that gardener Janet Draper collects and I make mental notes to have them also in my garden. I'm now a proud owner of a Harry Lauder Walking Stick. And this year, I'm going to nestle parsley in between my flowers, just like Janet does. And I'm absolutely going to have to figure out a place where I can put one of those tree peonies that bloomed earlier this spring. There are plants that stink and plants that soothe and whenever I'm there, I'm picking up tips, hints and ideas.

Now as for my interview with Mr. James, I hope he won't mind that I've never seen his TV show. (We came late to purchase cable, thinking we could keep our kids from watching so much TV.)  But perusing his website, I'm thinking we're going to get along just fine. My favorite one of his rants is one he did on gardeners who dump tons of fertilizer into their yards. I think he'll enjoy the native plants and restored ecology of the gardens surrounding the American Indian Museum. That place is a happy, healthy thriving space that rightfully shames the National Park Service and its nasty grass habit. NPS insists that grass is what should dominate the National Mall. Even though the original Mall was a beautiful garden of trees with meandering paths and a whole lot less grass.

Aha! I think I've found my topic now. I wonder if I can foment Mr. James into a rant about grass. I hate grass. I bet he does too. I'm off to start the day. The Putterer

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mouse & Trowel Awards: Garden Putter is a Finalist!

The Putterer is pretty pumped up today. She just got news that Garden Putter is a finalist in the 2010 Mouse & Trowel awards! Now, that is news to make a garden blogger's day.

Lest I forget to tell you, click here to vote.

And here without further ado, is just what you need to know about the awards.

The Mouse & Trowel Awards were founded by garden blogger and writer Colleen Vanderlinden in 2007 to draw attention to the hard work that gardenbloggers put into their blogs and to earn them some well-deserved recognition. Soon dubbed “The Mousies” by the garden blogging community, the awards have been covered in the Detroit Free Press, and on several blogs and websites.
“Think of it as the ‘People’s Choice Awards’ of the dirty hand set.” — Shirley Bovshow, garden designer, writer, speaker, and creator of Shirley Bovshow’s Garden World Report
Honoring garden blogs in a variety of categories including “Best Photography” and “Best Writing,” the awards try to bring attention to all of the effort that goes into our quirky but ever-growing niche. After all, we don’t just blog — we have to grow the gardens, too!
“… the Oscars of the garden blog world…” — Fran Sorin, garden designer, writer, and blogger at Gardening Gone Wild
The 2008 Mousie awards drew over 500 votes in the final round of voting — amazing considering that there were only ten categories of awards. This year’s Mousies will build on our prior success, but also take advantage of something we didn’t have back in 2008 — social media. With associated Twitter and Facebook fan pages, we’re going to make it even easier to spread the word about both the nomination and voting phase — even allowing nominees to easily link to the category in which they’d like to drum up some votes.
“Blogosphere changing…” Susan Harris, garden coach and blogger at and
If you are involved with a garden-related company that would be interested in providing either financial support or prizes to the winning bloggers, please contact Colleen Vanderlinden at colleen {at} . And if you have questions, those are welcome, too!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hooray! Hooray! It's the First of May

Outdoor fucking begins today! (Shame on me!)

But my dears, you can't deny it, there is some amazing outdoor fucking going on out there beginning around the First of May. I had a botany professor in college, who taught with relish the way that the flowers of spring dressed up to attract their suitors, the pollinators. Just look at the way the azalea flaunts herself in her flashy pink dress. Her antlers begging with that come hither look.

My brother and I hold this long-standing tradition. It dates back to the days when we held down minimum wage jobs in a shopping plaza on the Outer Banks. There in the dunes amongst the sea grasses, lovers lurked and well, if it happened to be the first of May, why what else could we say? So on the First, we race to be the First to scream it into the phone at each other. My colleagues at work, by necessity, are well familiar with the ritual. Some have even tried to get in on the deal. But alas, with the date falling on Saturday this year, they'll miss out. (Chip, First of May! First of May! Outdoor Fucking Begins today! Do I win?)

Searching for enlightenment, I though I'd Google that licentious lyric and find some cultural or historical significance. But rather my cheeks are still blushing at the nasty material that lined up on my search page. So I abandoned that effort and began to think about Garden Porn instead.

Garden Porn is what comes in those gorgeous glossy magazines that leer at me from the newsstand. I am a hopeless sucker for them and almost always grab Fine Gardening and happily shell out the outrageous $7 cover price. And then at the end of the day, when every brain cell is kaput and when Smithsonian, The New Yorker or even Time magazine presents too much of a challenge, that's when I grab my porn. I peruse the monthly rewrite in Organic Gardening, of how to compost, the compelling story of how Miss Flowers of Anytown, USA, ditched her grassy lawn and turned her whole front yard into a fetching display of seasonal blooms. There's always a nod to the water-challenged folks of the west coast and how succulents and rocks can be landscaped in glorious repose. And then there's those lucky southeastern gardens where the bells of the south create luscious Colonial-era edible gardens and ooze Charleston charm. I dream about winning the container garden challenge and study the swell way that others have managed to cram such variety of unique plants into a beautiful urn (my selections always seem to fight with each and then die off when the summer grows too hot). And with a mind full of seductive and sexy gardening successes, I drift off to sleep. The Putterer

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Mom: Lucille M. Py (1936-1998)

I think when I am old and in a state of dementia with all my memories lost or buried, I will still suffer the memory of this week, indeed the whole month 12 years ago when my mother lingered in a death coma and finally died on April 29th. She was only 63 and though cancer had eclipsed most of her body, her life-long passion for life fought the inevitable, and so she held out as long as she could.

My mom was one determined gal and she made the rules. Or, defied them. "Some rules are just meant to be broken," she'd often say with a smile playing at the corners of her eyes.

And she loved. She loved Claire most of all. When Claire came along, she transformed herself from mother to grandmother with ease. To love unconditionally without having to parent, or punish, or bear any financial worry or burden, was her ultimate goal in life. She could at long last turn all her focus and energy into what she most wanted in life.

My garden was started the day she died. It was a beautiful day just like today. She was a gardener and so the greenery blowing in the gentle breeze outside her window was bittersweet. She died before dawn. The dog howled. The children and Moms waited for the school bus. Everything went on as normal. But it wasn't. I didn't go to work. I hadn't really worked much throughout the month. My boss, a compassionate fellow, just knew what I needed to do. So my brother and I  went to a flower nursery. And we wandered around and giggled over stupid things. And I bought plants. A canna. I couldn't remember the name. So I told the nurseryman that I wanted that plant "with attitude." Like Mom. The nurseryman knew just which plant I wanted. And Chip made me laugh so hard. And I can't remember what we were laughing at, but I do remember that it was a beautiful day.  The Putterer

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cloudy, Cool, Comfortable, And Crazy

The weekend was not a washout and a lot of gardening was accomplished around the edges of a fairly busy social life. We had a house guest, Tayla Eulom, an artist in town from Los Angeles for an arts festival, who joined us on the heels of two other prior guests. There was a canceled Friday night party that turned out to be not canceled when everyone met up at a restaurant. And since Friday night had been previously canceled, the new Friday night was Saturday, so guests joined us for a second fabulous Friday night party on Saturday night. Sunday, we headed off to the water for a celebration of Maggie Wiles' 60th birthday party. And in between that, I got most of the new perennials planted. I went to the National Arboretum Plant Fair with Kate Newman, who is masterfully reestablishing her front lawn into a Maryland natives garden. While there, we ran into neighbors Ann and Chris, who also only plant natives. And also attending was former Smithsonian magazine Kenny Fletcher, who is now working part time at a nursery. He reports that he has recently finished building a greenhouse. The versatility of Fletcher, writer, traveler, Spanish speaker, videographer, musician, kite builder and now, nurseryman, never fails to impress me. Also, I met a new friend. Children's novelist, Amy Brecount White, whose new novel, Forget-Her-Nots, I bought and she signed. Meanwhile, Jim dug out that patch of invasive lilies for me and we filled four waste bags with the caste-off plants. Very productive weekend. Here's what I planted and where:
1. A Rosa gruss an aachen is at the white fence out front. The Rosa marmalade skies is in the side-yard next to the bottom of the deck.
2. A Hemerocallis clothed in glory is in the back garden along the path by the vegetable garden.
3. Two Astrantia moulin rouge are next to the lily clothed in glory.
4. Baptisia australis, the 2010 perennial of the year, is in the newly cleared space where the lilies were and next to it, I planted three butterfly weed plants.
5. Three hollyhocks, the old barnyard variety, are out by the front fence.
6. The new blueberry bush is potted on the deck in the container garden with the lemon tree and the new fig tree.
The Putterer

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Preparation For Rain

Sometimes you can smell the rain before it comes. There's a pleasant spicy aroma that fills the air in the garden as if the plants are in anticipation. I don't know if you would call it ozone or ion, but the splashing of water is one of the most restorative sights and sounds. I think that's why we hike to waterfalls in Yosemite or risk sun poisoning by sitting the entire day on the beach.

I am looking forward to rain because there is grass seed strewn about in the back. And my potted plants, which came inside during the chill, need a thorough dowsing. I am also hoping that my gutter man will show up in time to route the gutter into my new rain barrel.

And I also like the rest it affords me. If it's raining, I won't be able to go out. And if I can't go out, maybe, I'll sleep in a little this weekend.

Every year, I've kept a rain journal in my garden books. I write down the day it rained and what sort of rain it was, light in the morning, steady all day, night-time soaker. In this way, I keep a mental calculation of whether or not, I need to supplement the plants with any additional moisture. Last year, we had a wonderful year of rains. They came consistently throughout the year every three or four days, so that I hardly ever had to water. And the garden up through July was self-sustaining. Someone has told me that we are certain to have a moist year ahead of us and that the February snows were just the beginning of it.

So I am ready for rain. The Putterer

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Plumbago Is Killing Me

The Garden Doctor
Do you suffer from plumbago?
Is your back a little sore?
Or perhaps it’s pyracanthus
Which you caught in Singapore?
You’ve a nasty little hosta
Which I think you’ll have to lance,
And I notice a spiraea
Has been leading you a dance.
Are you getting forgetful?
Is nemesia the cause?
Does your antirrhinum pain you
When you’re walking out of doors?
You’ve had skimmia rubella
I can see that by your nose
And cornus capitosa
Has played havoc with your toes!
How is your viburnum tinus?
Have you lost your sense of smell?
Use a syringe reflex
That should keep it well.
I’m afraid your macrocarpus
Isn’t really up to scratch,
And do avoid nigella
It’s a nasty thing to catch!
Still I think you’re doing nicely,
Watch the quercus in your knees
Take your berberis twice nightly
Next patient please!

Anonymous Poem Courtesy of the 
Beltsville Gardening Club

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Announcing the Garden Putter T-Shirt

I'm just tickled pink this morning--having figured out how to create, design, and even sell (if ever you'd want one) my own Garden Putter T-shirt. My own will arrive this week.

Yesterday in the garden, it was all about steady preparation. I did my first mow of the season and started the layering of this year's compost--green and brown and a heavy spray of water to make the mixture nice and wet and ready for its magical microbial processing. Compost is the alchemy of gardening. Turning kitchen waste, grass clippings and leaf litter into the black gold that feeds the plants is one of the most rewarding practices of the gardener. I distributed last year's compost all around the beds in the front yard.

The temptation to run out and buy bedding plants was overwhelming, but fortunately, I held strong against it, because last night the air grew ever more chilly.

And before bed, I had to bring in all the pots on the deck. This morning it's nippy, but I plan to get out there to spread more compost on the beds and just "BE There."  The Putterer

Friday, April 16, 2010

Longing for Saturday

I can't believe it isn't Saturday. I am in a gardener's state of mind this morning and drat, if I don't have to go to work and be an editor.

Jim took the day off and I am more than envious.

This wood poppy is a transplant from my neighbor's yard and this year it is practically a bush with babies coming in around it. It's a spreader, but I don't mind. I love it's lemony color protruding from the shady spot next to my chair.

Important ache and pain news from a crazed doctor with as much personality as he had medical knowledge came yesterday. I am, in fact, he said, getting old. This news I celebrate, since the alternative--sickness and death--contradicts my life goals. (And since, deep inside, I've been worrying that it was metastatic disease.) I couldn't be more elated.

Thus, my urge to be out in the dirt reveling in the quick-time growth of the plants, speedily arising so incredibly fast, that you wonder that you can't actually see them morph before your eyes. Life is good.

This weekend, after I dig out the lilies, (which by the way, are an invasive type that I've learned are not welcome because they crowd out other plants), I plan to dig in some milkweed, which I've ordered specially to supplement my butterfly bushes. The bushes attract the butterflies, but the milkweed nourishes them. They are a host plant for the monarch butterfly and so I hope to do my part in helping my butterfly visitors find comfort for their journey. Another tribute to Earth Day?

Speaking of which, my Earth Day tadpoles are swimming strong in their dish. I am going to drop in some stones to create a kind of beach for them to crawl out onto. They are still living on my desk in the kitchen and I'm watching them for evidence that they might need to transition to the airspace above the water. I worry I'll come down in the morning to a toad infestation. But I'm afraid to leave them outside at night as they might fall prey to some nighttime predator.

The morning light was a blue and pink and yellow in the sky over top the spring green in the treetops. What a shame, I'm bound for a cubicle today. The Putterer

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Blossom of Youth Ebbs Away

I took this picture of the blossoms on my dwarf peach tree about 10 days ago. Now, the blossoms are crumpled and sagging off the branches and the little fruit tree is setting up to deliver a half-dozen peaches or so.

The last few years, this guy has worked mightily, but was foiled in the end by the onslaught of the voracious tent caterpillars. Last Saturday, a cluster of the little bastards was breeding in the crock of the nearby crab apple tree. So I took aim at them with a 50-50 mixture of ammonia and water and then wiped the tree clean of the nest and the insects. This year, I plan to put little nylon socks around the fruits to protect them from any eaters, but I doubt I will win. The raccoons will likely think the nylon mere relish for their fruit meals.

I have now finished all major heavy lifting in the garden, which waits only for just a little warmer weather before I can set out the tender annuals and vegetable plants. There remains one corner where I might dig out some tough lilies to give more space for the squash to spread, but only if I feel mighty and strong will I do it.

Meanwhile, my poor body is aching more than it should. The feet have this awful deformity that the doctor calls bunion, which sounds likes the diseases that plagued the characters of an historical novel, like pleurisy, dyspepsia, or gout. It's an ailment that grandmother suffered. Her poor feet when pulled out of her ugly orthopedic shoes always frightened me. And even as I remain convinced that I am too young to be old, I can't ignore that when Grandma was my age, she actually was a grandmother. Bunion, what a disgusting word.

Just up from the feet, the knees are holding strong, but giving off  warning signs. Along the side if I press on the muscle, after a good workout or run,  I can solicit a solid, sharp ache or pain. Above the knees, the hips are really a mess. In the seated position,  hips are happy, but unfolding them to rise to standing, there appears a dry rubbing as if I needed to oil them like Dorothy's Tin Man. "MMoilcan!"

The lower back has weighed in also. Last week, after coming out of a shoulder pose in yoga, a spasm took hold and deep yoga breathes proved almost fruitless in seeking relief.

I remember my father being old before his time. He would complain of ailments and bemoan youth culture. What a surprise it was to figure out that he was the same age as the rock stars he disdained. I am not old. I am not old. I won't succumb. Come on body. Be strong.

This weekend, I'm going to dig out the rest of those lilies. Roar! The Putterer

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lettuce Plan Our Day in the Garden

At the bare perception of daylight this morning, my eyes popped opened. I tried to stay in bed and rest a bit more. But when the eyes open, a neuroreceptor triggers the brain and thoughts ping pong like Beatniks dropping acid.

Every bed in the garden is ready for planting. The lettuce in the new lasagna bed is growing neatly in rows and the arugula in the raised bed is showing in a crazed pattern from the scattering throw I made of the seeds some three weeks ago.

Yesterday, I planted yellow finn seed potatoes in cloth bag containers on the lower deck. I can't wait to see if my potato experiment will work. I come to potato farming genetically. My grandfather used to plant rows and rows of them up on the hill overlooking his farm.

Inside the tiny tadpoles are fattening up, growing broader in the chest and little nubs are forming where their arms and legs will emerge. Yesterday, two of them got tangled in the cardboard and cheesecloth construction that I'd made for the toads to crawl out on. The two had died. I scooped them out with a plastic spoon and felt great remorse for my stupidity. The paper bridge was replaced with a more suitable stick version. (Why I didn't think of that in a first place is probably the reason why I always got Bs instead of As in school.)

My friend, Molly, came over and we dug up irises, lilies, hostas, sedums and sage, which she carried off to her garden. And I acquired a new garden buddy, a little girl from across the street came over and helped me weed, pot plants and carry things from bed to bed. We visited and chatted. It was like having my own little girls back again.

Today, I'm reading of how others have planted their bedding plants and tomatoes and other tender annuals and I'm tsk, tsking at their gardening naivete, but secretly wishing to do the same. The temperatures are in the high 70s during the day, but they are dipping into the 30s at night. The week of high 80s was a fluke and we could well pitch down below freezing yet. The rule is not to plant until Mother's Day.

There is still yet some clean up that I could accomplish. The nasty honey suckle is emerging despite my best efforts to beat it back. We have Dr. George Hall to thank for this invasive. Hall brought the plant from Japan in 1862. He offered it royal passage and cared for it during its journey as if were a treasured artwork. Once unleashed however, the plants wicked tendrils have slowly woven itself into the landscape up and down the entire Eastern seaboard and choking out natives as it claimed its supremacy. I, who vowed never to use herbicides in my garden, made one exception this winter and squirted its base (where ever I found one) with Roundup.

But, as I plan to release my new toady friends into the garden, I'll have to retire the Roundup for fear that it will taint their environment. I heard a commercial this week from the Ortho company exuding the benefits of its herbicide products. Urging customers to apply the stuff into their grass to kill the clover. "Clover is over," the narrator declared, never of course mentioning the benefits of clover in your lawn. And then incredibly the narrative followed that once the grass was free of all broad-leafed plants, the lawn owner was going to build a pond in his yard. Good luck with that I thought, the chemicals will all drain into the pond and kill his plants and wildlife there.

The house is awakening now. Time to get my day underway. The Putterer