Tuesday, April 30, 2013

making the world a better place...maybe....

When you woke up this morning, did you feel that something had been missing, but wasn't missing any more? Was there an overall feeling, maybe indescribable, but like as it might have been a peaceful something or other. You may have thought it was the sun, or if there wasn't any sun, the thought that there might be. No, that wasn't the reason. The reason probably was that your incredible, second sight - that magical mind reader deep inside you was telling you what I am now going to pass on also.
There has been much talk lately, or maybe not much, but some. (Of course there may not have been any, but I wouldn't count on it) "If that there ignorant gardener ever wrote a book, what would it look like? Many have ventured opinions as to the depth and breadth of such a work, however none could say for sure as up to this point, all of my ramblings have been kept to the simple auspices of a blog.
It was time to put all of this debating to rest, to create my Magnum Opus. To lay down the dizzying intellect, which for a simple fee, all of the world could know those little things they hadn't known before.
Yes, you may have guessed it already, but I can now put an "A" before ignorant gardener. I am now A Ignorant Gardener. (A stands for Author).
You may think this was written only for the favored few. The select group of individuals by invitation only, but no. There is no line with a bouncer or a stuffy butler checking invitations. All you have to do is go to Amazon.com and search "An introduction to Gardening" by Ben Phares. Yep, it's as simple as that.
I am going to get a couple printed so that when people come over. I can place it on the coffee table and alude to a ground breaking new book out that will pretty much change the world. Then when they ask if I know who wrote it, I'll blush and say, "Well, since you ask..." then after a long time, they'll hastily think of something they might have to do and go away with lesson learned, never ask an author about his or her book.
As we all know, the really good authors don't become famous until after they die, so even though I may only sell 1 or 2 copies in the next 50 years, as soon as I'm gone, they will find the manuscript (a tear stained, sweat beaded, rumpled and slightly dusty manuscript) in my attic and that will be my posthumorous launch to stardom. Posterity will wish I had died sooner so that the home truths could have been found at an earlier date.

Yet that is not all. As you few, you happy few have stuck with this, well we'll be polite and call it a "gardening blog" you can have a PDF copy of my book for free. If you read it on your iPad or kindle and make the text really large, it is a very long book. Just send me an email to benphares@me.com and I'll send it along. The one stipulation I make, nay require is that you send me back a couple or three comments on areas I may have strayed from the truth or stretched the limit of gardening facts. Also if you have any tips on anything (childraising, greenhouses, ph levels of water, or even your ideal date for the world to end). I request at least three of these comments before the 25 year expiration date placed on the document. If you don't fulfill the requirement, I will grant a few 5-25 year extensions.

So, that happiness you are feeling will continue to grow. The literary world has been saved from a fate worse than death...vis not having a book written by me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The flowers speak...

"...If we had our eyes and ears open, then the flowers would speak to us, as would our possessions and money; 'even the grains would talk to us: Be joyful in God, eat, drink, use me and serve your neighbor with me!'" Oswald Bayer

Working among the lilies of the field, the roses of the... well of something and even the ivy of the back fence, there are times when they start talking to me. Our discussion sometimes is one sided as to they are letting me know I haven't been taking good care of them or else I am letting them know that with all of my sweat, tears, water, fertilizer, and love; they refuse to do their part and bloom. For the most part our conversations are amicable though. I tell them anecdotes I've hear recently and they politely laugh. I think it's a little like Geico. They state that will all of the money you save, your wallet would like to (now it has been a bit, so I'm not quoting exactly) give you a high five... the kind that burn so good... but they can't. Wallets don't have hands. Flowers and trees and ivy would love to slap you on the back and take a walk down memory lane, but with the limited society they entertain, they don't hear new stories very often and don't usually become great orators.
No, this isn't a plug to instruct everyone to move their plants around a lot so that they get more of a mixed society. I believe in finding the perfect spot and leaving well enough alone. "Then what is this?" you may want to ask, but being polite you might say something like, "This is very pleasant conversation, but no doubt I'll be able to read it in your memoirs under the chapter 'plants I have plucked the gowns fine with'. Perhaps you could get to the point."
To which I would respond, "You haven't grasped the nub? Well let me explain."
Earlier this year, or perhaps late last year I read a business/life book on Kiazen. Kiawhat? I don't have a full grasp on the subject, so those of you who know it better will laugh at my ignorance - don't worry, I get a good laugh at my ignorance also and my wife tries not to laugh too often - but it a nutshell Kiazen is a Japanese word and technique that describes doing one little thing at a time so that you achieve incredible results without even trying. Thus we avoid the try really hard for two days then give up method. (The book is called, "One Small Step Can Change Your Life" by Maurer)
One example is a person didn't like to exercise so they started by just standing in front of the TV instead of sitting down for one minute. Then they walked in place for a bit, then step, by step they are now an avid "get up early and exercise" type of person.
Being one of those people who like to get busy, but then give up kind of people, I have to some extent tried to implement this. Then I started trying to wok on our ivy.
Years ago, when I was a little lad, my dad decided it would be nice to have a tall wire fence in the back yard, and then to plant lots of ivy so that it would be a living fence. Sounds nice, but a lot of work. So he had my brother, sister, and I do it instead. Then we pass through time as only memory can and we see the ivy growing, punishment for not eating your vegetables being to go out and wind the ivy through the wire fence, and the ivy growing more. Now it is not so much an ivy fence, but an ivy continent or perhaps an ivy juggernaut. It laughs at trimmers and scorns the poisons. Its roots go deeper than the mariana trench, its branches are as thick as Arnolds (when he was Mr. Universe) biceps. "He turneth not aside for any, but strideth forth fearing none." His favorite song goes something like "tum te tum te tiddly, I fear no foe in shining armor, though his lance be bright and keen." Though sometimes he forgets the words and sings "though his lance be sharp and clean."You are telling yourself, he is exaggerating quite a bit. But that is not all. No, he also has another defense. The first time I went to prune, I cut a few of the tiniest strands with the greatest of effort and a bee came out and stung me right between the eyes. Yep, its a fact.
So this is the year of the Pig and of the ivy. I will use Kaizen to get the ivy down to a lovable huggable size. I have been going out for 10 minutes every night, except the ones I forgot or did something else, and been cutting away at the ivy. I am almost 1/2 way done! Yes, progress is almost visible  I have to decide what to do with all of the toxic waste and how to prevent it taking over our toolshed and finish pruning the other 1/2, but after that herculean feat, the job will be done. 10 minutes at a time will work. You will notice that ivy doest things slow and steady and wins the race, but I will also be slow and steady and will win. Ivy has taught me its own undoing. Ha, ha ha, or even bwahahahaha.
So the moral of the story is talk to your flowers and they my tell you a good anecdote and teach you a lesson or two!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

a little fun in the sun...

The weatherman predicted a nice week here in our part of the world and for once, he wasn't wrong!  It has been nicer and nicer each day, but it is expected to go down hill fast and end up raining on the weekend. I think it is probably part of our penance for having a few nice days. We could all lash ourselves or pour lemon juice on our paper cuts, but as everyone would not do it the same we must suffer another way. Rain. 
Well, we aren't the kind who let future rain spoil our sunny parade. Every night we've sat in our fragrance garden and ate dinner. Then we, depending on the age of each member, did what was fun. I weeded, pruned, planted, watered, etc. Lucy and Helen swung? swang? swingded? on the swings and went down the slide. Helen had a bad landing on the slide, so now she just waits at the top until my wife or I are ready to catch her at the bottom. Lucy doesn't like this arrangement as it gets in the way of her sliding. We've yet to come to a solution happy for everyone. Lucy thinks a gentle, or not so gentle push solves the problem. Somehow Helen doesn't agree....
The birds have been enjoying our feeders as well. Last evening I went to refill this sunflower seed feeder and the young gold finch (as you can tell I didn't take the picture. my wife, well, anyway) didn't want to leave. It seemed to know that I wouldn't eat it for dinner and stuck around quite a bit. At last it was reconciled to the fact it had to leave for us to fill the feeder, but it came back right after we were done. I think I could have touched it, but the next human it meets may not be so kind, debonair, honest, and good lookin' to boot as me (if I do say so myself) so I thought better of all that. Read Bambi if you want to know how evil we humans can be! I think it scarred me for life. 
Well, hope you Pac NorWesterners have enjoyed the sunshine as well and the rest of the nation gets back to "normal" weather without all of these blizzards, floods, and the like. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

It's all relative, but yes, they are back....

"It's all relative." That's what I told Lucy as we walked around examining the garden on Saturday morning. The rain has stopped for a few minutes in hopes of luring us out then dumping on our heads. 
"It's all relative. Like you me, Lucy. We're relatives. Someone even made a theory of relativity." I was trying to explain that although it seems like about 30 years since we've had a nice weekend, this wasn't the fact. It had been nice once before, I just couldn't remember when. That's when we stumbled upon the next perplexing item. 
How does algae grow in a water fountain when it has literally, quite literally, rained all week? I remember venturing out in the rain last weekend and there was very little algae, yet this weekend it was more like algae with a bit of water fountain to go with it. Well, there is only one thing to do - well two if you count raising your hands to heaven, falling to your knees and crying in a distraught voice, "WHY!"
I got the scrub brush and hose and cleaned it out. As I was there, I thought it would be a good time to pull some weeds and plant a waterlily. I mean, what else would you do? I bought these two waterlilies for half off a week ago, but needed the wine barrel, which I purchased, and if luck holds, the advertisers for the lily aren't bending the truth, and everything works; just drop in and watch the magic. We should have a water lily in the barrel in a short amount of time. Seems a little too good to be true, but if it doesn't work, then I won't buy another one.

I also am trying to lure in some colorful birds and heard that fresh fruit is helpful. So I bent a hanger and applied an apple. It may be too early though because since friday night not one of them were eaten. I also laid a few on a branch and they too were sedulously avoided. I may try again in a month or so. 

On to better news! This is the first D'Avignon radish growing nicely. It has been about a month and a half, but they survived the odd weather and are almost ready to start enjoying. Lots of other stuff like lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, peas, and stuff are growing, but not as far along as our brave little soldier here. 

Also, our clematis is about to bloom. I am looking forward to this as two years ago, we did a major pruning and last year there were only abou 10 blooms. This year will be much better.

You may have wondered what the "but yes, they are back" part of the title meant. I may also have wondered when I wrote it, but it fits in here. Yes, the gold finches are back. The males are much easier to spot, but the females are a nice addition also. Every spring I wait for them and don't put out the expensive finch seed until they arrive as the red wing blackbirds and starlings aren't picky. In honor of their return, though, it is out and we enjoyed watching and hearing them!

One last bit of good news. Here is the poppy bed that I spoke of a few posts back. You can see little patches of the seeds coming up and starting to fill out. I am hoping for oodles of poppies and it looks like that may happen!

Last, but definitely not least, Saturday was the plant sale up at Federal Way Rhododendron botanical gardens by warehouser. It is a smaller one, but they have more of the hard to get varieties of not just rhodies, but lots of others. Usually around 30 nurseries participate. 
I escaped and "only" bought some trilliums, iris', a korean lilac, another viburnum, and some little orange and yellow flowers I had never heard of but just had to get even though I had no idea where they would fit, but I just couldn't live without. There were much more I wanted and a very knowledgeable staff to answer questions, but alas it is over and we'll have to wait til next year. 
However if you are about to wonder if you can survive that long, the WSU master gardeners sale in Puyallup is on next weekend. I am debating if I will go because I am sure I'll find stuff I really really need, but don't know where I'll put them. It is always enjoyable though as the staff is first class and can't get annoyed with all of your questions as they want you to buy! Well, we'll see how things go.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


And when the sun brings forth it's light
and dashes the cold starry night
The morning robin chirps in its cheer
Telling one and all "spring is here!"

There's nothing like a little sunshine to brighten the day. We have had almost two whole days of it and the garden is enjoying it - along with the gardeners. Our yard hasn't changed much since sunday, but when it is basking in the warm golden glow, it sure look a heap better. I didn't want to spoil the evening  by weeding or planting or pruning, so instead I took lots of pictures. My wife mowed the back yard, so with that peaceful hum and the birds a-chirpin' Lucy, Helen, Paul and I sat in the sunny front yard and just enjoyed.

wall flowers


violas from last year and some asiatic lilies starting to come up

one of the hanging planters


Apple blossoms

We also received the Cedar furniture we ordered at the Northwest Flower and Garden show. There are two small chairs for Lucy and Helen and two more large ones for friends to sit in. They don't all match, but it doesn't look too bad. Once the rest of the fragrance garden gets into the sweet smelling swing of things and the temperatures are a little warmer, we'll be able to light a small fire and enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sun go down. good times!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A concatenation of circumstance...

If you've read much Jeeves and Wooster by P G Wodehouse (Pelham to friends) would put it, “there was – what’s the word I want, Jeeves? Something to do with circumstances. Cats enter into it, I seem to remember. Concatenation, that’s right. You’re a marvel, Jeeves – a concatenation of circumstances.” 
Friday morning, my wife found a cat in our car. No, not in the driver seat or strapped into the child booster seat, but in the engine. We are still not sure how it got there as the hood was down and the way up from the bottom seemed unclimbable. To top it off, our car needed to go to the dealership to get the alternator replaced, which had seemed to want early retirement - the alternator, not the dealership. Not wanting to cook the cat with a long drive on a hot engine and the cat on it's side not wanting to come out and meet the gang; we were at a stalemate. The only thing to do was to call a tow truck and have them take it in and maybe the nice technicians at the dealership would be able to sweet talk him out. As luck would have it, the cat decided to come out of its own volition as soon as the car was hooked up to the tow truck and about to drive off.........yes, this is true. painfully true. The kind of story you read about and think "those hollywood producers are getting desperate to try to pawn this off on their public!" Well, there is only one thing to do. Go work in the garden.

Despite our friday episode, Saturday turned out to be an ideal day for gardening. There were lots of hail and rain showers, with spots of sun to trick the gardener into coming outside, they raining on the parade. To liven things up we bought a bunch of annuals to fill our hanging baskets and a few spots in the fragrance garden.

Our columnar apple trees are in bloom

The bleeding heart and tulips don't seem to be damped by the weather!

We bought and planted, lets hope not too early, wall flowers and heliotrope.

Here is our first rose bud! We hope for many, many more to come, but the first beautiful rose is on its way!

This is a hanging basket from Costco. Not bad for $20. 

This is (i hope) going to be a hummingbird planter. I bought it from american meadows. It contains some of this and that all of which is supposed to be beautiful, colorful, and maybe cure cancer. Ok not the cancer part, but I'm going to watch it grow to see if it was worth the investment.

Here is the clematis for the back arbor. I planted them on Sunday and now we get to watch them and the yellow rose climb, bloom and make our back pathway a happier, brighter place

This is one of the 3 hanging baskets I did. We packet in the petunias pretty tight and added a few misc trailing plants to help the show!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweeping statements...

If you turn to page 279 in your Western Garden Book, 8th Edition, Library of Congress Control Number 2006932574 you would come across the Citrus plants section. They are usually referred to as C. Jambhira or perhaps C. reticulata. We all know that edulis means that the fruit is edible and that floridus also means that it a a free flowering shrub. However, it may have escaped a less observant gardener that Jambhira is the Meyers Lemon tree. Some call it improved, meaning it is disease free (to some) however I will refer to it as the the Meyers lemon (really small) tree.
As you run your eye over the character traits of the Mevers lemon tree you'll read the following, "Fruit is quite different from commercial lemon - rounder, thinner skinned and orange yellow in color." This may or may not be true as mine has never attempted to grow lemons. Further down you'll find "Tree is not a dwarf...can reach 12 ft tall and 15ft. wide."

Being the courteous and even gracious gardeners that we are, we won't mock its thin skinned fruit or its largeness of girth. No, we shall pass on. It gets really interesting when you find "Low heat requirement makes lemons widely adapted and especially appreciated in regions where sweet oranges and grapefurit won't ripen. Do best year-round near the coast, though some varieties are successful in the desert." Sweeping statements like these are made to be contradicted. Take my lemon tree as a case in point. Not only does do best, but seems to keep doing worse and we are near a coast. Perhaps I lack that necessary greenness of the thumb or perhaps it is the left pinky. Or it could be they meant a coast where the sun shines more than a few times a year. I will not point any of this out to the editor as they probably are busy with real problems. I'll just point it out succinctly here and warn future lemon tree buyers. The "improved" Meyers lemon tree is really nice in the nursery and even nicer in California - but beware. In western Washington we may not have hippogriffs or huffalumps but we do have lots of cold cloudy weather that will slowly stiffle the lemon tree faster than any hippogriff or woozle.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Me so happy...

In an old movie, one of those ancient black and whites, Louis Armstrong plays a musician alongside Humphrey Bogart in a movie called Casablanca. Nothing to do with gardening (although they do speak of watering the garden with champagne, which I don't think worked well) but Louis did sing and play a few songs. (Another side note, I've still never discovered the moral behind the movie - I'm wavering between shoot the really bad guy and you won't have to go jail or the alternative of stick with your husband even if you love another guy) All of that is not the point, though, the point is that in the early stages of the movie Armstrong and company sing a song something like....
Tum, te, tum, te "now who's happy?" (the band answers) "we are happy" tum te tiddly tum "just how happy" "Very happy!"
There is more about knocking on wood and what not, but those lines just about summed up my feelings this weekend. I cleared out the asparagus bed, which I planted last spring, and lo and behold there was life. Several large sprouts are ready for picking! I am pretty sure that I'm only supposed to pick a few from each plant this year, but that will be a lot more than I picked last year. I think next weekend will be a good weekend for steak, potatoes and asparagus (with lots of butter and garlic). I know that isn't a meal for a slimming diet, but every once in a while....

There is also a bit of growth from the spinach, lettuce and radishes we planted earlier in March. I think that the weather being warmer is started to encourage all of those faint hearted seedlings to come out from under the dirt.

All is not goose and gaters here though. No, joy does not reign supreme. Last weekend I didn't get around to pruning and fertilizing roses, so I did it between down pours this weekend. The problem came when I discovered that leaves weren't the only thing growing here. Aphids had not only set up shop, but were covering a few branches. Not on a few branches, but it was more like an aphid colony with a few leaves added. I cut off this offending branch and cast it into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of aphid teeth, but the trouble didn't end there. They had outposts on other branches. I sprayed them with a good insecticide and should stave off the invasion, but I don't remember seeing them this early before. I am hoping this is not a dark vision of things to come. Well, there's only one way to find out... I'll check them again next week.

This post is a bit like a sail ship. We are tacking back and forth. We will eventually reach the end, but there is more joy and heartache to follow. More good news though. We had some potatoes left so I set them out and they began to sprout right away. As that one fellow once said, "there is no time like the present to plant potatoes." or something like that. So I planted. I used this bin from last year and planted them in about 4" inches of good dirt. I'll add some lighter soil mixed with wood chips as the plants grow and then we get a fair amount of taters from them. The extras I put in a hole the dogs dug in the back yard. Coincidently, this is where I planted them last year as well. Whenever I dig, the dogs like to keep on digging hoping to find something I guess. I laid a bit of chicken wire over the area and after about 2 weeks, the dogs will forget that I dug there and the potatoes will be safe. 

More good news. Costco was selling their geraniums. Last year we put some in a pot and they bloomed all year. I also bought these plastic plant hangers last year (they were already filled with plants) but now I am reusing them with these new geraniums. I had to disturb the roots quite a bit to get them to fit into the small holes, so I am hoping everyone is comfortable and will not go into too much shock. I did water them well though, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.

By the end of last year this container was hidden by the spread of the plants! lets hope for more of the same.
Below is our front wall and flower bed. Our wonderful landscaper planted lavender here. I thought he said he was going to plant heather, but as I didn't really pay attention they were long gone and have seemed to forget to return calls. So I just purchased my own heather. I am going to get more when finances permit and pull out the lavender, but for now they can grow together in peace. I can't quite imagine what a front planter full of lavender would look like, but I think the heather is a better choice.

 Alas, I hate to end on a bad note, but what can one do? I don't write the news of our garden, I just tell about it. This last week from about Thursday on was a torrential downpour mixed with lots of wind. Besides making all of my daffodils lay in the mud, this has also made all of the local flowering trees loose their flowers. To honor their loss, I am posting a few pictures I took a week or two ago. We usually get a month or so of these up and down our streets, but instead we only enjoyed about a week. But, like Lucy likes to say, "Oh well, maybe next time." They'll be back next spring.