Bee Better Garden Tour 2016

Nothing inspires you to whip your garden into shape like committing to a garden tour. Suddenly you have a hard and fast deadline. And then there is the pressure of dozens of people with high expectations coming to tour the garden and…gasp…critique it! I commit to a tour about every 10 years or so. So my garden looks (almost) perfect every 10 years.

This year I signed on to the Bee Better Garden Tour. Bee Better is a great local non-profit dedicated to educating homeowners on the critical importance of pollinators. http://www.beebetter.info  I kept bees for about 3 years, but the bees were better off with another beekeeper. This is not a hobby for someone who works 6 days a week. However, I learned quite a bit about what to do, and what not to do, and beekeeping strengthened my commitment to gardening organically.

Years ago, when I was young and my back was strong, my husband and I would have done all the work ourselves. This time around, I hired two dear friends (and excellent gardeners) to help me with the heavy work – removing overgrown and crowded shrubs, pruning the ones that had “high aspirations”, and hauling away the debris. The detail work I did myself. My husband was a huge help as always. The day was a great success! So much so that I am inspired to commit to another garden tour…in about another ten years.

 

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Gardening: It’s Not Just About Plants

Peacock I

With every garden space I create, one of my side goals is to invite more animal life into my garden. Butterflies, birds, bees, my dogs and my friends’ dogs, wandering cats, turtles, salamanders, and even squirrels and rabbits. I’m a sucker for a cute furry, flying or feathered face. I’ve always felt that since we have invaded their habitat, we should welcome them into ours.

Without meaning to (well, maybe, a little), I have brought that need to embrace all things animalia to my work world as well. My boss and my co-workers have been very supportive and understanding. I introduced two feral cats to our work environment. One is still here, but seen only on night camera footage. The other passed away weeks after her installation in my office. She was old and ill, and we gave her a wonderful place to convalesce. Maggie, the neighborhood dog, wanders in every other day or so, looking for affection and treats. Customers bring their dogs in pretty frequently, and they get balls or frisbees and treats. Always treats.

Peacock IV

Word must have passed through the animal pipeline that this was a pretty cool place, because a month ago Mr. Feathers, an Indian Blue Peacock, came to stay. What did we offer that was so inviting? Well tended green space, some rough green areas as well, a small shaded pond, open site lines, shelter, and food. Of course. But there is something special about this place. Animals just show up – uninvited, but always welcome. Turtles have ambled into the store. Little frogs hop in on a regular basis. Crows dance on the tin roof and eat the figs off the tree by the pond. No one shoos them away. Someone usually finds them food and water. None of the animals seem to mind the tractor trailers, the forklifts, the comings and goings. They have found a haven that may not be perfect, but it meets their needs. They are welcomed without questions, fed, housed, loved. And along with the ordinary creatures, a rare bird has graced us with his presence. There’s a lesson here somewhere…

Mr. Feathers Joins the Team at Super-Sod of Cary

Peacock 4

Mr. Feathers likes Soil3 compost!

A new team member has joined the crew at Super-Sod. Meet Mr. Feathers! He showed up last week and has made himself right at home – bedding down in the wheat straw, wandering through the store, and hanging out by Daniel’s pretty red Mustang. Zenith the cat, our Feral Farm Friend, must have passed the word that Super-Sod of Cary is an animal-friendly place, because when I went out to feed Zenith this morning, Mr. Feathers was hanging out by the back door looking for his breakfast too! It turns out that peacocks think cat food is a treat! Today I plan to pick him up some food more appropriate for his kind.

Peacock 3

After Breakfast, he even made a pass through the store. We have had lots of animal visitors in the past – Maggie the dog is a regular, as is Axel the Golden Retriever. We have had turtles and frogs come into the store, but Mr. Feathers is the most interesting so far! He’s still a bit shy, but he is getting used to the hustle and bustle around here.

 

Feral Cat “Zenith” Joins the Crew at Super-Sod

Cat 2

Everyone loves a friendly kitten. They are cute, fun, energetic, bouncy, cuddly…did I mention cute? And friendly adult cats are almost as adoptable as kittens. But the overlooked cats in shelters all over the country are the feral cats brought in by animal control officers. Feral cats are different from strays. Strays are domestic cats who have been lost or abandoned, but who still want to interact with humans. Feral cats were usually born wild, and have not had much if any positive interaction with humans. They are nearly impossible to place because they are so fearful.  They will likely never cuddle with a human. Giving a feral cat a second chance is not about our needs, it’s about their needs – a purely altruistic gesture.

One solution is TNR (Trap Neuter Return). If you see a feral cat with a notched ear, that is the indication that they have been neutered and vaccinated through one of these programs. But many were taken from locations where they are not welcome to return. So the sad reality is that many feral cats captured by animal control officers are euthanized. But at the Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, NC, staff have come up with a creative solution – a program they are calling Feral Farm Friends (check out their Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/Feral-Farm-Friends-1721076118136119/?hc_location=ufi ). They are reaching out to farms, garden centers and storage facilities and encouraging them to adopt feral cats.

And what does this have to do with gardening? Farms, large gardens, and garden centers are great placements for feral cats. They can keep the rodent population down without using poisons (organic pest management), they will have outbuildings for shelter, and their lives are saved! The Super-Sod team in Cary (my workplace) thought this was such a good idea, we have adopted a feral cat for our store through Wake County’s Feral Farm Friends! Daniel is cleaning out the shed and turning it into a cat house with a cat door for access. I’ve set up the transition crate with a warm nest out of a milk crate, cardboard, wheat straw and a blanket, as well as a temporary litter box and food and water dishes. Our cat will stay in the transition crate for several days, getting used to the fact that we are a good food source, before being released to the property. The crate will start out in my office, and then be moved to the shed.

ShedCrate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have named our Feral Farm Friend “Zenith”, after our best-selling Zenith Zoysia, hoping she will be as resilient as this beautiful, adaptable turf grass. www.supersod.com/sod/zoysia-sod/zenith-zoysia-sod.html So far Zenith is very shy and quiet. We are giving her space and time to learn that she can trust us, and that we are her food source. So keep checking back in to Personal Edens to follow the adventures of Zenith. Better yet, come by the store and meet her! If you would like more information on adding a couple Feral Farm Friends from your local shelter to your farm, garden or store, just ask. I’ll help in any way I can.

Snow Is Good For Your Landscape! (with caveats, of course)

From South Carolina to New York and points further North, this weekend was full of winter precipitation. Rain, snow, sleet and … well, you know the saying. Monday morning, the questions came rolling in from concerned gardeners – will the snow and ice hurt my garden? my lawn? what should I do? The simple answer is “relax”, and I’ll tell you why.

Snow 2016 Sign

Nitrogen: There are two old sayings worth mentioning here, the first being, “Year of Snow, Crops Will Grow.” The second calls snow “Poor man’s Fertilizer.” Precipitation captures atmospheric Nitrogen molecules, and studies show that snow does a better job of this than rain. The Nitrogen comes from many sources, but the most prevalent is industrial output. This map shows the concentration of atmospheric Nitrogen and its concentration in industrial areas of the United States. http://nadp.isws.illinois.edu/lib/brochures/nitrogen.pdf

Nitrogen Map

Another major source of atmospheric Nitrogen is lightning activity. The Nitrogen added to the soil by precipitation is not as concentrated as one would find in a chemical fertilizer, but it helps. Now I am not an advocate of pollution, but precipitation does, in fact, clean the air, and contributes Nitrogen, Carbon and trace minerals to our soil.

Insulation: A layer of snow protects the plants in much the same way as a layer of mulch. The soil temperature is stabilized, protecting tender roots from radical temperature changes like deep freezing or abrupt thawing. Deep freezing can inhibit the activities of earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms that are still active in the Winter, breaking leaf litter down into compost. Quick thawing can heave the soil, damaging roots. Plants covered by snow are protected from the drying winds of Winter. But here’s one of the aforementioned caveats – heavy accumulations of snow and ice can damage shrubs and tree branches, so, if possible, gently remove heavy snow to avoid splitting and breaking. Snow covered ground can also act as an insulation system for irrigation pipes, protecting them from cracking and bursting.

Snow 2016 Iris Snow 2016 Lawn

Nature’s Drip Irrigation: Rain soaks into the ground to the point of saturation and then runs off. Snow melts slowly, allowing the moisture to be absorbed more deeply into the soil before it starts to run off. The actual depth of moisture penetration is dependent upon the depth of the snow, the permeability of the soil, and the pace of the temperature change. Deeper moisture penetration means deeper penetration of the Nitrogen found in the precipitation as well. Caveat number two – snow treated with salt or chemical ice melt products can be harmful to gardens and lawns. Avoid piling treated snow on your landscape.

Snow as a Pesticide: Warm Winters mean buggy Summers. Snow, ice, and cold temperatures may kill off some of last year’s insects, leaving us to deal with newly hatched bugs, but not with as many over-wintering bugs – specifically Emerald Ash Borers and Japanese Beetles. Mosquitos, unfortunately, seem immune to cold Winters. This is an important part of the balance of Nature – organic pest management. Low Winter temperatures can kill off fungi and some bacterial diseases as well.

So rest assured that the recent precipitation is good for your Personal Eden! Now where did I put my seed catalogs?

 

 

Winter Warm-up – The New Normal?

Like most folks I know, I have been enjoying this taste of Spring in December. Long walks in the woods, evenings around the fire pit, games on the lawn with my grandson, cut flowers in Winter… But at the back of my mind there has been a nagging worry. What does this mean for gardens and gardeners? Is this the new normal?

First let’s focus on what it means for our plants this year. These unseasonable temperatures will have consequences this Spring. The plants themselves are not at greater risk, but blooms now mean fewer blooms in Spring. Fewer blooms mean less fruit, seed and nut production. Less food for us, less food for foraging animals, and less nectar to feed our pollinators.

I’ve seen a few bees out foraging this week.  Foraging now means they return to the hive hungry, and feed on their precious store of honey – honey that they will need to get them through the Winter. If you keep bees, make sure to supplement their food this Winter. Come Spring, they will venture out and find fewer blooms, less nectar. The life cycles of pollinators may not coincide with flowering this year, and that will have a negative effect on both pollinators and plants. We will see reduced pollination and thus less fruit production. This is sad for home gardeners, and financially troubling for commercial growers.

Whatever you do, don’t prune yet! It is tempting to get out in the warm weather and do some cleanup, but pruning now will encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter kill when the temperatures drop again. Fruiting plants need more cooling hours before they are ready for production, so leave them be until February.

So is this the “new normal”? Climate science says we can expect continued gradual warming, and Winter warm-ups like this will become more common. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=353 While an individual cannot change the weather, we can do our part to reduce our personal carbon footprint, and put pressure on corporations to do the same. And we can keep on gardening, organically whenever possible. Please reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides to give our bees a fighting chance. Our Personal Edens have a net positive effect on our local air quality, soil health, wildlife health, and our own health. So keep up the good work, fellow gardeners! Keep Calm Garden On. Magnolia in December

 

Personal Edens Returns

A few years ago, I started blogging about my garden and other gardens designed, tended and loved by avid gardeners. It was one of very many things to which I had over-committed. As often happens, the things you enjoy doing get pushed aside for the things you must do. That path has been trodden by many before me and will be trodden again by many to follow. If you see yourself falling into this pattern, take heed. Take care of what really matters – there is only one unique and special you. Take stock, decide what matters most, what you love to do, and free yourself from the energy vampires. And welcome back to Personal Edens!

I have loved the term “Personal Eden” for as long as I can remember. To me, it means your paradise, and your own garden can be just that. It doesn’t have to be magazine-worthy, it doesn’t have to follow current design trends, it just has to be a place you love to be. The plants, the outbuildings, the paths, the hardscaping, the yard art…all express your style. You walk outside and your blood pressure drops. you breath deep and relax. You want to be outside. You built this. That’s your Personal Eden. So welcome! Check back in soon for garden tours, tips, advice and lore. Follow me down the garden path…