The 41-year-old gardener

We got the keys to this house and moved our very first boxes in on June 2 of this year. Then school ended, and the big kid had various camps, and we went out of town for two weeks, and it was just busy for a minute. But since about mid-July, it’s been pretty chill. And every day, every single day, I have tried to get the big kid to UNPACK HER DAMN ROOM. The day the movers moved our stuff in, she and a dear little 2nd grade (I think) friend unpacked and organized her stuff. She was VERY excited and had grand plans. That was the actual last time she put any effort into unpacking her room. School starts this coming Wednesday, and finally last Friday I told her that whatever was left to do in her room would be done on Sunday, and she was going to pay us to help her. It worked! She spent all day Sunday unpacking and cleaning, and on Sunday night she was done, capping off what was basically a perfect birthday weekend.

You know what makes a perfect birthday weekend for me? Gardening presents, and time to garden. Also, snuggles, amazing food, fun childless time with my husband, and more amazing food with dear friends in my wonderful failure of a garden. Oh! I even spent some time in my garden but NOT DOING GARDENING. This is rare! Usually if I’m outside, I feel like I have to be doing something. But on Saturday friends were soon to arrive, and I was wearing basically the one thing I don’t want to get ruined – my aspirational denim jumpsuit from Goodwill. So instead of sitting in the dirt, I actually laid down on my hammock and just breathed. That was kind of incredible.

Anyway, my thoughtful husband heard me randomly say to myself one day that I needed a gardening apron, and he found a perfect one! And it even came with knee pads. So I spent all day Sunday gardening in my hilariously awesome get-up, while the big kid cleaned her room and my husband played with the little one. So what’s going on out there?

Well, I cleaned up the entryway bed, which makes me feel so much better. I just really hate walking past a bunch of dead stuff as I walk into my house. It’s another kind of messed-up bed, with plants planted willy-nilly as far as I can tell, and not with any sort of thought to sun needs. That’s the worst thing that whoever planted this yard did – NOTHING is in the sun it needs. So this poor fern is in the north-facing yard, with basically no protection. I just cleaned up us much brown foliage as I could, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with it.

But I did discover that it’s actually putting out new growth and it is SO FUZZY.

FUZZY
Also fuzzy and from a healthier fern a few feet closer to the house, more protected.

It feels just like petting Jasper the bunny’s feet. And now I know why there is that fern called rabbit foot fern, except let’s be real – those “rabbit feet” look like tarantula legs and I will never, ever have one of those. They scare the shit out of me. Anyway, this north-facing unprotected bed also has tragic hostas and a super crappy bleeding heart in it and it’s just infuriating to me.

But! After I did some stuff to the entryway bed, I was like, Ugh, I guess I gotta deal with the corner of the yard. This corner, it’s so weird. It’s one of the front corners of the front yard, up against the sidewalk. They landscape fabric-ed the whole sidewalk edge, but they only planted the very corners, and this corner…it has one blue fescue. That is it. And it’s not even really in the corner, it’s like…in a couple feet, all alone. Completely surrounded by the damn mallow. This is the first time I’d even weeded this corner and the mallow was GINORMOUS and at least not going to seed but whoa making some taproots. So I was out there cursing the weirdos who designed this yard, when a butterfly visited me! It was such a lovely experience. I put down my tools and just sat there and watched it, for a long time. Of course my picture sucks because iPhone 6, but it was honestly probably the calmest moment I’ve had in months.

Then I went to the stupid crabgrass bed, and I had a great time with a sudden bed renovation! I realized the strawberry coming in from the neighbor’s yard was being choked out by the kinnickinick and I was like, Oh hell no. Something that will give me delicious berries versus an aphid-harboring overly aggressive groundcover that the weirdos overplanted? Duh. So I ripped out a bunch of kinnickinick. I should maybe probably have cleaned it up and put it up on Buy Nothing or something like that, but that is not the half-assed way. I even discovered a tiny little Lupine struggling amongst the crazy! So that bed is looking much nicer, except of course for the constant onslaught of crabgrass.

After that I still did even more! There are these two Weigelas in the back yard that look terrible. They are obviously supposed to be a deep purple, but they really are not. I cut some back and the new foliage is looking better, but one still was a lot of dead sticks, so I did a very slow, thorough pruning while poor husband continued to play Octonauts with the little one.

Hi, Ikea weeding bin.
If it all looked like this it would be really pretty. It doesn’t and it’s not.
Weigela glow-up.

Oh and I even deadheaded my lavender! And that was a really lovely way to end the gardening, very slowly intentionally deadheading and dropping the seeds on the ground to see if they’ll take. I have no idea if they will. But it smelled so nice and was so calm. Then I had to go back to real life and play Octonauts while husband made dinner.

So anyway. 41 is looking pretty decent. I’ve got a garden and a thoughtful husband and good friends and funny kids and there is good food for us all to eat. And a bunny. The big kid starts MIDDLE SCHOOL Wednesday. How is that even possible? Go back in my posts – it seems like she was a funny little baby with raspberry juice all over her face yesterday. Wish us luck.

Oh by the way something made a hole in my yard WHAT IS IT HELP ME PLEASE.

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The discouraged gardener

Do you like getting advice about successful gardening, and looking at professional-level photographs of beautiful blooms?  This might not be the blog for you.

I generally try to, at least publicly, deal with my negative emotions with a sense of humor.  As you may have guessed.  But I need to be real for a second.  My garden is kind of sucking right now.  I don’t think I have ever, in a personal garden, dealt with so many annoying factors on so many plants at once.  You know what is maybe the worst thing about it?  I live next door to such a nice family, and yesterday the lady said hi to me and I just casually asked her if she had spider mites all over everything in her yard, because I sure the hell do, and she told me that actually, there was all this stuff in the yard when they move in ten years ago and she doesn’t know what any of it is and doesn’t do anything to take care of it.  Her yard looks AWESOME.  Meanwhile, every single time I go outside I see another dying plant.  And, I keep adding new plants, and they keep looking terrible.

Let’s think this through.  I have over twenty years of home gardening experience.  I have a degree in Horticulture.  I worked in commercial horticulture for years.  I have read a bajillion books, nerded out on all the websites, followed all the Instagrammers, and joined the Facebook pages.  I AM JUST SO INHERENTLY HALF-ASSED.  I don’t really need any advice about most of my tragic garden, I know what I’m doing wrong.  Although I will accept advice and also sympathy, but not judgement please.  I just needed to vent for a minute.

So what’s going on out there right now?  Well.  I have this vine maple that rather suddenly got some brown leaves and then even more brown leaves.  I was actually surprised that there was a vine maple in this full sun bed because I would have imagined it would do better in a shadier situation, but the internet tells me I am wrong, so my theory that it was sun damage was wrong.  I went to just cut back the dead branches, and then found that the branches were not, in fact, dead after all.  Just the leaves.  I see a very small amount of stippling and very, very small amount of webbing, so I suppose it does have the currently ever-present spider mites, but I really don’t think that’s what is doing the damage.  The stems are a bit sticky?  I just don’t know.  I ended up taking off all the brown leaves and leaving the branches, maybe it will put out new healthier growth?  It’s not truly my tree since I rent, so I’m not ready to heavily prune it yet because I don’t know how much the owner cares about the eventual shape of the tree.

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This just doesn’t look like spider mites to me.  

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But this does.

 

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Vine maple glow-up.

This vine maple is in the crabgrass bed, with the strawberries I didn’t plant right away.  The FIRST batch of strawberries I didn’t plant right away, because I AM SO HALF-ASSED THAT THERE ARE TWO BATCHES OF STRAWBERRIES I DIDN’T PLANT RIGHT AWAY.  These strawberries are actually not looking so bad, whereas the ones in the strawberry pot, yikes.  Anyway so this bed as the dying vine maple, the brown strawberries, the kinnickinnick with the aphids, whatever the hell that ugly perennial was that is now past bloom and covered in powdery mildew, and the oregano that went to seed and I did not realize would then completely defoliate, the half dead ratty sandwort, and the really beautiful when I bought it Campanula that the big kid did not notice so she did not water it at all for the first week after I put it in the ground.  It was in the high 90s that week.

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I see this every time I drive into my driveway, and it just makes me cringe.

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Wondering if this oregano will self-seed.

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See how pretty the red parts are? They are galls caused by aphids and I had to cut them all off.

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Wondering if something else is going on here.  Those crunchy black parts are only where the plants are meeting the rocks, maybe they don’t like the heat from the rocks? Is that even a thing?

Right in the middle of this gruesome bed is this tall, healthy plant that iNaturalist tells me is Fagopyrum esculentum, common buckwheat.  I…really don’t care for this plant.  It’s the one plant in this bed that is thriving other than the crabgrass, and it’s basically a weed.  Sigh.

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Buckwheat? Seriously?

 

 

The spider mites really got to the Veronica that is at the end of the driveway and is the first plant you really see as you enter the yard.  I had to pull out about 2/3 of the whole plant that was just straight up dead, and cut what was left way back.  It’s brutal.

I’ve spent all my gardening time over the last two days laboriously planting teeny tiny bare-root sedums.  Someone on Next Door posted they had sedums to give away so we scooted over there on the way to run some errands and grabbed the trays and brought them home.  I didn’t realize until I went to plant them that the lady had pulled them out of the ground individually and I guess shaken all the soil off, then laid them on the trays.  Each of these is just the tiniest, barely rooted bare root fragment of sedum.  But, as I said to my poor husband, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of time in order to save some money.  And truly, if they take, they are perfect for what I’m doing with them.  I think.  Remember the garbage can area that is two unidentified unhealthy shrubs and a lot of Malva that I pulled?  Well, I put the sedums there.  It’s a pretty sad soil, covered in crushed rock.  I just dug holes, dropped some decent potting soil in, laid in like five sedum fragments, and covered the roots with the ground soil and the rocks.  I also put them against the fence on the other side of the sidewalk there, then today I put them all around the gravelly perimeter of the patio.  I STILL HAVE SO MUCH SEDUM LEFT.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it!  And the lady is so nice, after corresponding a bit, she has invited me over to her house tomorrow to get MORE sedum, and also to do a garden tour to see what other extra/dividable plants she might be able to share with me.  I can’t turn it down but holy cow.  Do I just throw the sedum at a rocky area and run???

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Like 1/6 of all the sedum in the garbage can area.

I guess somewhat finally, while I was planting and weeding today I noticed a little area full of tiny seedlings, most of them don’t even have their first true leaf yet.  I honestly have no idea what they could be.  I’ve had some suggestions from Instagram, but nothing that sounds correct to me.  They are near the bindweed, but don’t look right for that, plus I’ve been keeping the bindweed way too small to seed.  They are closest to a crocosmia, but the seedlings are dicots.  They are near a birdfeeder, but no birds go to the birdfeeder so they wouldn’t be scattered seeds.  I’m stumped, so I’m leaving them alone for now, but I’ll probably regret it when I figure out which awful invasive I’ve let live and start feeding its taproot.

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Oh, finally finally, a note on pictures…again.  I just really wish they were higher quality.  My iphone is great to grab when the little one is doing a funny dance, but for a carefully composed shot of the teensiest first baby leaf, it’s terrible.  I really like photography and have done it as a hobby in the past, and this is just super frustrating to me.  Right now I just filter the hell out of everything on Instagram and then shrug my shoulders, but I’m hoping to get a macro lens for my phone for my birthday which is FRIDAY.  I have a feeling I am getting lots of garden and bunny accoutrements, which is perfect.

And that’s that!

 

The End of the Strawberry Onslaught

With many jars of jam put up, popsicles in the freezer, and tubs of strawberries offered and ignored on a group camping trip, it was time to put the little sweeties to good use, lest I feel guilty for wasting such a beautiful (and not free) bounty.  I didn’t want to make more jam because that seemed redundant, and I didn’t want to simply freeze them because, honestly, frozen things languish in my freezer for years while I stare at them with increasing hatred in my eyes, knowing that one day they’ll be chucked in the trash and I’ll feel like a failure.

So…what to do with pounds of strawberries before they turn into an unrecognizable mush?  Fruit leather!  A quick Google turned up a variety of similar recipes, and as usual, I kind of sloshed them all together according to whimsy and proximity to ingredients.  I love me the flavor combo of strawberries and basil, so I decided to go for broke and put some herb in there, despite the concern that crazy Hazel would notice and refuse to eat it.

First up, glorious, gorgeous fresh strawberries.  How many of these went straight into my mouth rather into the bowl, we will never know:

I mean, really…could you resist this?  None of that starchy white core here.  I don’t care what anyone else says, Hoods are the most delectable strawberry of all time.

Next up I cooked the strawberries up with a random amount of water because some recipes didn’t tell how much to use, and some did as a proportion to the amount of strawberries, but I forgot to measure the berries.  Very typical.  Got the camera nice and steamy, hiding my shoddy photography skills.

And into the blender it goes.  Careful not to let it explode sugary goo all over me. Note realistic drip of strawberry juice down the blender.  Cooking is never clean in my kitchen.  At least not when it’s done by me.

Add the basil last so it doesn’t get totally dismembered in there and give it a whirl in the blender and a good stir.

Into a 170 degree oven it goes, looking not unlike a pizza.

And, voila! Some amount of hours later, it comes out as fruit leather!  Magic!

I’d like to be able to tell you how long this transformation took but the truth is, I’m not really sure.  I put it in at about…2 pm, maybe?  And it was in there all day.  But our stove is kind of unnerving, and we didn’t want to die in our sleep, so we turned it off when we went to bed at about 11.  By that point it was actually looking pretty good already, and by the next day it was basically done.  One little part was a little sticky so I cut off the done parts and put the other bits back in and it was done in about 2 hours. So somewhere between 9 and 11 hours, roughly.

Overall, this was a total success.  I luuuuurve it.  I can definitely identify the basil flavor in it, it tastes way more pure and real than store-bought fruit leathers, and it has a great crunchy texture going for it.  I thought it’d be kind of a fruit roll-up, but it’s really more a fruit jerky, which makes sense. And best of all, crazy picky weirdo kid loves it too.  I have no idea if I actually saved any money over the store-bought stuff, but it was easy enough, and I know exactly what it is made out of, as opposed to the innocent sounding but potentially misleading “organic natural strawberry flavor” that is in the one we normally buy.

Next up: who wants to stay inside and made homemade laundry soap on the first beautiful sunny day in weeks? I do, I do!

Popsicles: I’m not always a failure

While I frequently achieve less-than-successful results with my projects, I do also succeed with some regularity.  Good thing too, otherwise I would probably get depressed and give up completely.  One of my favorite projects is popsicle making, because it is pretty much foolproof.  It’s almost always delicious, is a great way to use up leftover things from other cooking projects, and my 3 year old loves the results.

I have two sets of popsicle molds, both wedding gifts from years ago, but often both of the sets are fully in use.  When that happens, I use a method I found in a Highlights magazine that works really well and also uses up some random stuff I have around the house.  I have a giant box of tiny paper Dixie cups (for making baking soda volcanoes, obviously) that I use, and while Highlights suggests that you use actual craft/popsicle sticks, I find that we almost always have multiple packages of cheap wooden chopsticks from takeout Chinese or sushi, so I just snap those in half.  Pour popsicle liquid (juice, etc – more on that to come) into the paper cup, put it in the freezer for an hour, then stick your chopstick half into the somewhat solidified popsicle and leave it until you are ready for it. When it’s popsicle time, you just peel the paper away and voila – homemade popsicle.

I really like doing this because I can experiment with flavors that you don’t see in stores, each popsicle can be customized, and I don’t use any extra sugar (usually) so it’s pretty dang pure.

A few weeks ago I had almost an entire can of coconut milk left over from a curry that only used a teeny bit, and I know from experience that though I might have the best of intentions, that leftover coconut milk will almost certainly sit in my fridge until it is unusable.  So, I busted out my Dixie cups.  In one I mixed the coconut milk with some lime juice and zest from a random lime I happened to have in the fridge. In the other I mixed it with some canned pineapple juice that Leo uses in cocktails sometimes.  We debated trying to make some fruity cocktail popsicle, perhaps with a rum float.  The decision at the time was no, but I’ve actually been regretting that ever since, and I think boozy popsicles are going to happen in this household pretty soon.

Then I made my failed strawberry jam.  The recipe called for eight cups of strawberries, to be crushed down to five cups, but I wasn’t paying attention and enthusiastically crushed waaaaaay too many strawberries, so I decided to make some super chunky popsicles with the leftovers.  It ended up enough to make several popsicles – one each of strawberry with: lavender, balsamic, chocolate, heavy cream swirled through, thyme, basil, and vanilla.  They were absolutely beautiful and smelled like summer.

On a lovely, warm summer evening after dinner on the patio, we decided it was popsicle time.  Hazel chose strawberry thyme, and chose for Leo coconut lime.  In the end we all ended up sharing, and I was pleased that Hazel actually preferred the coconut one – it’s always satisfying to see her palate expanding, and I didn’t think there was a thing in the world she would choose over strawberries.

Both popsicles were total successes, although I might blend up the strawberries if I do it again instead of just crushing them…not a complaint, just an improvement.

And I still have huge tubs of strawberries from our picking adventure.  Next up – strawberry basil fruit leather!