Monday, August 28, 2006


Fall is coming. I can feel it in the air in the early mornings and late evening. When I get into bed I find myself pulling the comforter up for the first time since late spring. The crickets that have been chirping so lustily on my windowsill each evening are beginning to sound like electronic toys whose batteries are dying down.
The birds are flocking. They're flying from field to field and bush to bush, gleaning all the seeds and insects they can find to get ready to migrate. And my wimpy little Amur Maple needs tree wrap to survive the upcoming winter.

When I had a huge overgrown upright juniper removed in the spring I really wanted to replace it with a tree that would sport bright red leaves to complement all the evergreens in the neighborhood. All I could find was this little Flame Maple, a Charlie Brown tree if I ever saw one. It's needed lots of support to even stay upright but I have high hopes for it. So I want to make sure it makes it through the winter. I swung by WalMart to get some tree wrap for it and also to see if they had any "Croc"-type shoes to wear in the garden. My gardening shoes of choice, flip-flops, are so slick on the bottom after a couple of years of wear that standing on a wet patio is like trying to stay upright on glaze ice. Well they didn't have any Crocs but I did find six other pairs of shoes.

These are my favorites. None of them will do for the garden but I can wear them to work and I spend more waking hours there anyway. So $1.87 for tree wrap turned into a slightly larger dent on the debit card, but hey, we're talking WalMart here. I'm still going to look for Crocs, and I bet if I wear them with a pair of socks I can even go outside in the middle of a blizzard-y night and knock the snow off my Charlie Brown tree without falling on my butt.

And when I'm snuggled back under my comforter, I can dream that my tree will look like this in a few years.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Million year old garden

Somewhere in those layers of shale and sandstone were some pretty amazing bog plants at one time. I never really understand these geologic cuts, I guess because I can't conceive of layers of rock that were once flat on the ground being tilted on their side. Yeah, I know, uplift and mountain building and all that, but I think interpretive signs were meant for people like me who can't visualize it otherwise. And how about these fossilized ripples in the sand that were once the beach for an ancient sea that stretched from Colorado to Missouri?

This site is on the hogback ridge west of Denver, which would have been the edge of the seaway. You can walk right up to some dinosaur tracks along here too. I love the tenacity of plants that insist on growing in cracks in the rock face. These are asters and sages. They remind me of the volunteers that spring up in the cracks in my driveway, though that's usually a malva plant that doesn't want to stay in its crowded bed.
This photo is a shot of the surrounding scenery today, lots of red sandstone which also is what the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre is carved out of, which is just around the bend. It's a favorite venue for every band that ever played there, but back in the day the Brontosaurus made the area rock.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


These are pods from a Honey Locust tree outside my kitchen window. This is known as a bumper crop, highly undesirable (to me) when it comes to pods. I guess I should count myself lucky that this isn't a native variety which has wicked thorns as an added bonus. An arborist told me 20 years ago that this tree was dying. I think he was wrong about that though it did develop a huge gall at the base of the trunk which just gives the squirrels a leg up. I've read that Honey Locust are short-lived trees, only attaining an age of about 125 years. Maybe that's what the tree-man was talking about.

At over 60 feet tall and about 50 years old, it has good years and bad years for pods. A good year being one with no pods. There was an article in the paper the other day explaining why it varies from year to year, something about perfect seeds and imperfect seeds. I read it three times and still didn't understand it. But the bottom line is these pods are going to turn brown and crispy and fall off the tree. They start coming down in autumn and they continue all winter. During high winds they'll strike my skylight like little kamikaze bombers until it sounds like I'm under attack. Good thing I'm not fanatical about a tidy yard or I'd drive myself crazy cleaning up after this tree.

Not to mention the miniscule leaves. Here's the promo on those: "In autumn, the small leaflets filter into the grass as they fall, requiring little raking." Right, unless you have a 20 x 20 foot concrete patio a few feet away, and where the first September snow makes them stick like glue. But they're a nice fern-type shape, and a million years from now they'll have made great leaf fossil imprints.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


See all these baby seedlings? (Ignore the dead bush.) I didn't plant them, but I'm responsible for them. Every year I rhapsodize over a Nicotiana Sylvestris I planted several years ago. Its heady fragrance in the evening, its startling size, its huge sprays of white trumpet-like flowers. People would stop and ask me what it was. And every fall I would sprinkle the dried seed heads from it over the rest of the beds hoping for new plants. Nada. Zilch.

Except for this spring. Suddenly they were everywhere. About a hundred of them. Bemused by this sudden explosion of nicotiana, I let them grow. And grow. Now I am overrun by tobacco plants and I can't even smoke them. Some of them are still babies, others grew into teenagers and young adulthood, grew tall and flowered like their parent. I haven't seen the small junipers I planted for about 6 weeks now. The miniature roses are hidden under giant nicotiana leaves. The Canada Goose decoys look like humpback whales cresting a sea of green, and the Japanese anemones are vying for air space to unfurl their blossoms.

I transplanted some to the back yard, the side yard, and next to the pond. I sent some back home with my brother-in-law when he came to visit. I'm getting ready to pot them up and leave them on the neighbors' doorsteps like babies in a basket. When fall comes, there's going to be a lot of digging-up going on around here. Hope I'm up to the task or Nicotiana Sylvestris will become my new nemesis of the garden. And I won't be doing any overseeding this fall. In fact I think I'll collect the seedheads carefully and seal them in plastic bags on their way to the garbage bin lest any stray seed fall on this suddenly fertile ground!

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Yesterday afternoon we had a great rain. It started out as a gentle drizzle and turned into a veritable downpour. Let's see, Saturday afternoon, it's raining, can't garden, what better thing to do than to lay back on the sofa, read a book and doze to the sound of raindrops on the roof? It was great and I slept for awhile but woke up to find the raindrops had fallen not just on the roof but right through it. The skylight in the kitchen has leaked off and on forever but frankly, with as little rain as we've had in the last few years, I'd forgotten about this minor problem. Mopping up wasn't too bad (wish I'd cleared the kitchen table of all the papers and mail and junk that accumulates there) but the thing that worried me was all the little Post-its with the ink washed right off. Hope those notes weren't important. I'll be darned if I can remember what any of them said. Details.
There was a nice rainbow afterwards. Looking around the yard today at what plants the rain beat down reminds me that it's about time to do some serious cutting back. The mailman still hasn't forgiven me for the Nicotiana Sylvestris that he has to push back to get to the mailbox on the porch, and on the other side is a Graham Thomas rose that prefers to reach out and touch someone. The Russian Sage is practically sprawling on the ground, and has been helped along by the House Finches that like to land on the long wands and peck away at the purple flowers. Anyway, I won't have to water again anytime soon, and the birdbaths all got a fresh refill which helped along my lazy Saturday afternoon. Oh, I finished the book, "The Lost Van Gogh" by A.J. Zerries. Nazi-looted art turns up in the U.S., long convoluted plot. Interesting read, no gardening in it though.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I always find garden blogger talk about using barrels to capture rain water an interesting concept, and one unknown here in Colorado. State law requires that precipitation that falls to the ground runs off and into the rivershed where it fell, without any intervention by water users. Mean, huh? Well, we've been in a drought for a long time and on water rationing for ages. Water in the west is liquid gold. Re-using grey water is a no-no, too. You can't capture your shower water before it runs down the drain (not that I'd want to do that) or throw your dishwater on the lawn (not that I'd want to do dishes).

So how to keep 1/3 of an acre of Kentucky bluegrass green? Normally I don't. But this year we had way above average snowpack in the mountains which meant more runoff for us and restrictions were lifted. Hooray, a green lawn for the first time in years! Of course I had to pay dearly for it. My water bill for the first couple of months made me cringe but I found if I didn't eat or buy any clothes I could pay it.

Then we had an unusually wet July which made me cheer. We had so much rain the mushrooms sprouted like dandelions. I mow the lawn once a week on the highest setting of the lawnmower which makes it look like I need to mow again immediately, but the height of the grass keeps the roots cooler and less likely to dry out. It's not a manicured look, which I don't care about anyway, but I like this method of conserving water better than this sage advice from the Water Board: "Try catching water that comes out before the shower water warms up and then use this water to flush toilets or rinse the shower." Geez, I can hardly get to work on time as it is.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


This little triangular bed next to the street has more flowers in it than it should but they all do well and there's no room for weeds to grow. Because my back yard is mostly in the shade I tend to cram lots of sun lovers into the smaller beds out front where the sun shines all day. The rose next to the street is Dainty Bess, with some pink lavatera and dark rose-colored valerian in front of it. The Blue Mist spirea is in full bloom and you can't see the purple asters behind them that think it's September. I can't remember the name of the pink rose in the foreground, shown in the close-up. Sometime this fall I'll grub around in the dirt and see if I can find the metal tag that is probably buried near the graft.

Also in this bed but not in the picture is a faux Gloire de Dijon rose. I was about ready to order one when I saw an unnamed variety at Home Depot a few years ago and it looked all the world like Gloire de Dijon and was twenty bucks cheaper. I'm happy and it's happy with a Comtesse de Bouchard clematis twining up the iron pillar frame around it.
I think I was in my "pastel palette" phase when I planted this bed. Now I like lots of vibrant colors too. Here's my favorite Firebird penstemon that's in a bed farther back toward the house. It doesn't look as red in this picture as it really is. I love looking at these. Makes me feel like Georgia O'Keeffe.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Several times a week for years the raccoons knock the top off this birdbath. I guess they're washing whatever they found in my yard, though God knows what that might be. Usually the bowl lands harmlessly in the ivy below but a couple of times it has cracked clear across. I've glued it back together a few times in the 15 years or so that I've had it, but it happened again a couple of nights ago and this time I think it's a goner. So I had a pedestal with nothing on it and after a little thought I plunked a clear blue glass ball on the top of it.

The rest of the afternoon I watched finches fly down to the spot where the birdbath was and do a quick backpedal as they almost landed on the globe. We aren't the only ones that are creatures of habit.

Footnote: Last night the raccoons knocked over a different birdbath, one they've never paid any attention to before. So apparently they need to do that as part of their nightly ritual in my yard.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


These are actually "approach branches". The birds that come to my feeders prefer to scope things out first and bare branches are the perfect perch. The Silver Maple in the center is suffering from several years of drought and the bare limbs are a typical reaction. Yeah, I should get it trimmed, that'll be the first thing I do when I have an extra $400 for the tree man. The bare branches from the Honey Locust on the right are intentionally left on the tree, otherwise I'd need a skyhook about 15 feet long to hang the feeders. So no matter how it looks, it's a perfect set-up for our feathered friends. They can check out whether they have a clear shot at the feeder or if they have to wait till the squirrels are done gorging themselves. If the coast is clear the House finches and Black-capped Chickadees will perch on the sunflower seed feeder until the squirrel or a bunch of bullying Grackles dislodge them.

The peanut feeder is an old nesting shelf with a missing roof meant for the Robins but it's gotten more use as a hangout for the "big guys", mostly bluejays and magpies, than it ever did as a nursery The robins preferred the downspouts. Magpies, affectionately known to some as "scavengers in tuxedos", are making a comeback in the Rockies after their numbers were decimated by West Nile Virus a few years ago.
There are those who don't like jays and magpies because of their nest-robbing tendencies but I subscribe to the "nature, red in tooth and claw" sentiment put forth by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. A far cry from the anthropomorphic "Old Mother West Wind" stories I devoured as a kid. But occasionally in the late evening I swear I see Reddy Fox slinking around the backyard heading for the Old Briar Patch, with Hooty the Owl eyeing him from an approach branch high above.