what’s going on around here (?)

You may have noticed that this site is looking sort of strange. I’ve been tinkering with the code and am still a long way from getting it to look the way I envision it. Snatches of time get devoted to this experiment, so please bear with me. I figure as long as the words and pictures come through, you won’t mind putting up with a little “under construction” disorganization. So let’s get on with it.


This little fella is perusing the salad bar. If you look closely, you may be able to see the little buds of antlers on his forehead.


Which means that by next year he will have added this kind of damage to his repertoire. Funny how they have zeroed in on just two of the Italian cypress trees to use for antlering and leave the others alone.


Wouldn’t you think Mom would teach them to steer clear of the castor bean plants? Maybe they’re just going through that rebellious phase.


Here’s his sis on a brighter day. They sometimes visit together, but Buster will make himself scarce once those antlers become obvious. We’ve never caught them in the act of antlering the trees.


I expect the spiders to want to move indoors, but slugs? I’ve been finding about one a day on the doorstep. This one was getting ready to ring the doorbell.


The Brugmansias got moved into my studio. They dropped all but one bud, but that one put on a pretty good show. The tall one from Means is now completely bare, but the one I got at HPSO in spring is still adding leaves.


It’s worth tipping up that dangling blossom to get this view.


Campsis ‘Madame Galen’ produced several huge pods this year. Just one pod yielded all these seeds. Anyone want some?


Here’s my Echeveria ‘Haagal’, looking leggy and anemic. I’ve been told that this is their response to light levels that are too low, but even when it is placed in brightest sun, it stretches out like this. You can see where I have cut back older stems. HERE it is in its former glory. I have this problem with all Echeverias, so as much as I love them I’m about to give up unless I get some terrific advice in response to this plea.

death & rebirth

We watch nature shows, so I’m well aware of the struggle for survival that goes on out there.

Pinus densiflora Oculus Draconis ‘Dragon’s Eye’

Once my pride and joy, this is all that’s left of Pinus densiflora oculus draconis ‘Dragon’s Eye’. It had been in place since ’06, but ailing and losing its variegation for a couple of years. Finally pronounced “just plain dead”, no digging was required to remove the 6′ carcass. Do you see any root? No, the poor thing had been gnawed clean off just below soil level. The culprits? Gophers. Every garden chat I have engaged in lately has devolved into plots to kill gophers. Know any hit men for hire? They would have an eager clientelle in our neighborhood.

leaning fig tree

Another case in point: a fig tree that has been limping along for years. We looked out one day to see it tilting at 90º. This time some digging revealed damage to some roots and a tunnel system. R dug a nice big hole, lined it with rocks and replanted the tree with amended soil and stakes to hold it upright.

new fig leaf

The tree is saying “Thanks” by putting out a few fresh leaves, so maybe Dr R has saved its life. Only time will tell.

Oxydendrum arboreum

Another cherished tree, Oxydendrum arboreum held special significance because it was a memorial to a beloved cat. It was doing well, then, with no warning at all, it up and died. Soon, lo and behold: new growth began to appear at the base. The deer noticed this right away and found it quite tasty. Up went a chicken wire barrier to foil the little deers.

Oxydendrum new growth

The new shoots shot right up, to the delight of the feasting fawns. R added another layer of chicken wire and I went out there with a spray bottle filled with a disgusting tasting (and smelling) mixture. I’m afraid our landscape is peppered with these makeshift eyesores. There is chicken wire caging around the trunks of the quaking aspen and birches to protect them from girdling by the sapsuckers and pileated woodpeckers. Stakes surround the Rhododendron sinogrande to facilitate a quick cover when temps drop. Several young trees are caged against the antler rubbing of male deer. But sometimes aesthetics must take a back seat to protective measures. Our hope is that eventually the trees will gain enough heft to stand up for themselves, the wraps will come off and all will be beautiful. Next, we will find a non-lethal way to drive out the gophers, our fortune will be made and we can turn our place into the paradise that exists in our imaginations.

Redbud reborn

I leave you with one last, hopeful example of rebirth. Like the sourwood, this redbud died for no apparent reason. Again like the sourwood, shoots came up around the base. The new growth is vigorous to a fault, and now stands taller than the original tree. All of this took place with no intervention whatsoever from us. What is the lesson here? I have no idea. Any thoughts? (see Sarah’s comment below. I think she got it right)

Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.


On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

bloom day & other stuff


Talk about your unassuming little flower: Liriope would probably never make its way into a post if it were not for the paucity of bloomers in mid-November.

northern sea oats and fallen leaves

Wet fallen leaves are a more likely sight, with northern sea oats shuddering in the wind in the foreground, refusing to come into focus.

Fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’

The hardy fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’ is hardy indeed. It is holding on long after most have succumbed to cold, rain and wind.

dying hydrangeas

I usually allow the Hydrangeas to dessicate on the bush, becoming lacy shadows of their former selves. This is ‘Limelight’ going the rusty pink, with ‘Preziosa’ turning a complementary rose to sepia behind her.

Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies’

See the tassel of buds forming on Mahonia ‘Arthur Menzies’? It has done that every year, then been frozen so that I never get to see that wonderful burst of blossoms. If you are longing to see a riot of color provided by blooming plants, you will have to visit other parts of the world. No problem: Carol, of May Dreams Gardens can transport you there via the magic carpet that is the internet.

praying mantis

And now to the “other stuff”. We were working on tidying up an espaliered firethorn the other day when R said “come over here…you gotta see this.” He held the shrubbery aside while I took the picture. Notice how distended the abdomen is. Isn’t it the wrong time of year for any creature to give birth? A raucous scrub jay was kicking up quite a fuss in that area once we moved on to something else. I hope he didn’t make a meal of Ms Mantis.

caged R ‘Ebony Pearl’

You may remember the troubles we were having with rodents tunneling into the roots of newly planted treasures. Our latest solution is to build wire cages for special plants going into open ground. It’s a lot of extra work, so it tends to hold down the flagrant purchasing of new plants…they have to be worth it. The new berm I am working on will have wire mesh at its base. The sound emitting devices seem to be slowing down the lawn damage, but we’re not taking any chances with Rhododendron ‘Ebony Pearl’ shown above.

mushrooms gathered on my walk today

Now just take a gander at what I filled my pockets with on my walk this morning. There are about five different kind of mushrooms here. They look and smell like the varieties I remember from childhood. Referring to the Peterson field guide to mushrooms is only minimally helpful…hard to find an exact match for any of them. Here’s what I have been doing: take a tiny taste of one style, holding it on my tongue to let the flavor develop and see if there are any superficial ill effects. If no problems have surfaced…yes, I swallow. I still feel fine these three or so hours later, so I am planning to feast on wild mushrooms this evening. Wish me luck.

my book, BeBop Garden, is here!

BeBop Garden cover

In case you didn’t know, I wrote a book about getting bitten by the gardening bug and the revelations and little observations that came with that new pastime (some might call it an obsession).

You can order one at the sneak preview price by clicking here. Or, if you just want to know “Why the goofy title?”, the first few paragraphs tell that story, and are included on the order page.

A couple of blogging buddies have written reviews. To read what they have to say, go to Danger Garden and Gardening With Grace. If you haven’t already discovered these two excellent gardener/writers, you are in for a treat when you browse through their blogs.

Please let me know if you would like to be in the loop for notifications of related events like readings, signings, etc. Just leave a comment here, including your email address. I promise not to bombard you with missives…just the occasional update when something new happens.

critter wars

ant guard

Our cheapo hummingbird feeder had outlived its usefulness. At one time, it had effectively foiled the ants attracted to the sweet nectar, but now they were back and the results were fairly disgusting. At our local one-stop-shopping center, I found this glass ball feeder. It is better than the kind with the feeder tube, because several birds can use it simultaneously. My experience has also been that the rubber nipples on those tubes have a tendency to fall off, letting the nectar drip into a big, messy, sticky puddle. On the same shelf as the feeder was a baffle device to repel ants (it’s the green thing at the top). Guess what? It works!..at least, so far.

foiling the raccoons

We have tried several methods to protect the goldfish from marauding raccoons. The water lily pads and duckweed give them places to hide, but lately the raccoons have taken to feasting on the lilies. The small stakes placed across the pond are not about to prevent them from having their salad course, but by disturbing the stakes, they signal to the fish to swim for cover. So far, they have avoided becoming the entree.

I have written here about our many pacifist efforts to come to terms with wild visitors. Gophers, on the other hand, have been known to drive the gentlest of souls to acts of revenge. It is only in the last couple of years that they have shown up here. Neighbors who have lived here for 30+ years say that it is a new problem. Our yards look like the battlefield after a cannonade.

gopher’s victim

The Pinus mugo ‘White Bud’ is not the first precious plant to fall victim. When something begins to look a bit peaked, we can be pretty sure that when we dig it up we will find the root system eaten away. Sometimes we will find just the tip of a plant showing where the rest of it has been pulled down into the villain’s tunnel.

illustration of gopher

Last time we went to Portland Nursery, we picked up one of the sound devices advertised to drive rodents mad (or at least drive them AWAY).

sound device

Four D size batteries go into that white tube, which is then inserted into the black tube. The whole thing gets buried in the ground and capped off with that green lid, emitting a high-pitched sound that goes undetected by all but the target varmints for the life of the batteries. It has been successful enough to prompt the purchase of four more, to keep at least the areas close to the house from looking like a war zone. When we first googled the problem, we laughed off many of the suggested remedies as far too violent. As conflict escalated, we found ourselves praising the cats for their hunterly instincts. Yesterday, I caught sight of R oiling and cleaning his .22

winter delights


There are a couple of things about this photo that I want to share with you. The first is that winter sun above the treetops, which needs no pointing out from this guide. The second thing, you will just have to take on faith. See the black specks in the treetop front and center? When I looked out this morning, they were moving. At first, I thought they were leaves, but they were floating from branch to branch, rather than falling to the ground. Quick…the binoc’s…they were hummingbirds…lots of hummingbirds! This is definitely the sort of thing that can make one’s day!

the doe and fawn show

We had friends staying with us for a couple of nights, and we could not possibly have scheduled better entertainment than that provided by resident deer. The mom seemed to be trying to teach her young ‘uns to jump the fence. She would take a long, running approach, then float over it effortlessly. Standing on the other side, she would make encouraging gestures. The kids must have been the deer equivalent of teenagers, because they completely ignored her. They were gamboling (bouncing along as if on springs) between snacks.

Speaking of deer snacks, I adapted several formulas for discouraging their munching found on the internet. Here is what I came up with, and it seems to work:

Into a blender, crack an egg, throw in about 3 cloves of garlic and a handful of the hottest peppers you can find. Squirt in a little dishwashing soap and top off with water. Blend thoroughly. Strain through a fine mesh into a spray bottle and let stand for 24 hrs before spraying it onto the leaves of the plants to be protected. I keep the spray bottle in the refrigerator and replenish the spray each time it rains.

Apparently, the spray is most effective if used in the early spring. The new generation of deer will get the idea that these plants are distasteful and leave them alone. Every source seems to warn that new strategies will be needed over time, but this seems to be working for now. Two disclaimers: 1) once you have rendered the plants they have been feasting upon disgusting, they will move on to things they had never bothered before.  2) the stuff will leave you choking and gasping for air if you happen to breath it in.

The only final solution to the deer invasion is a very tall deer fence around an entire property…but then you would miss the show. An earlier post here describes an in-between measure to protect individual trees.

studio visitor


The above is a picture of a pin. Whenever I wear it, there are comments about how realistic it is. The other day, I was sewing away on banners. When I looked down, there by my feet was, I thought, my pin…but no…on closer inspection, it turned out to be a live critter. Poor guy had obviously been hiding beyond the reach of the vacuum (he was covered with little tufts of lint) and scared out of his wits (or maybe into his wits, as he was holding still as a statue). Rather than add to his anxiety, I simply opened the door to the outside and left him alone to find it. Next day he was in the bathroom. Obviously, an intervention was called for, so I scooped him up, deposited him in the woods and wished him well. Usually the lizards seen around here are bright orange, so he may have a tough time meeting up with his own kind.