Trash into treasure: Decorating with weeds

Holiday decorations from the garden delight me in ways other ornaments can’t. I’d rather have pots of forced bulbs, a Christmas cactus, or fresh garlands of mixed greenery than anything else. Well, except for a tree.

It is not in my nature to decline a free giveaway, so when the gentlemen at the tree lot offered scrap trimmings (all I could cart away!), and my spouse was preoccupied with tying the tree to the car’s roof, I grabbed an armload. I kept them in a bucket of water on the deck until I discerned a future for them.

Yesterday, armed with a paddle of florist’s wire and a pair of hand pruners, I crafted a garland for our mailbox.

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It began as an 8-foot-long rope of Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), wired together from cuttings 18 inches long or so, and annotated with silver wired ribbon. But it suffered acute dullness.

Pondering what might give it some verve, I remembered the cardinal rule to add texture. And what luck; I have never, in the ten years I’ve lived here, conquered the English ivy (Hedera helix) that I inherited on closing day. So I yanked up a few yards’ worth and tucked them in amidst the fir. In the winter, the marbling of the leaves seems more pronounced.

A march around the garden yielded leaves of Magnolia grandiflora, seedlings of privet (Ligustrum) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and clippings of Nandina domestica‘s leaves and berries.

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I uprooted an entire plant of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ that has never done well. Off with its evergreen heads, and into the mix they went. They drooped quickly, but no one driving by will notice.

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Not bad for compost-in-waiting, I think.


My seed-grown cyclamen

Last year, I planted cyclamen seeds. Last month, I saw their first stirrings to life.

This month, they’re going nuts. Every time I pass by the pots, I find more leaves pushing up from the gravel.

Cyclamen seedlings

Cyclamen seedlings

Two species are doing very well: Cyclamen coum album, and Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum. I’m surprised that Cyclamen hederifolium isn’t doing as well, as that’s supposed to be the easiest to grow. I have heard that C. graecum is supposed to be quite finicky, although plants from Greece and Turkey tend to perform well here as long as the drainage is good. I can’t wait to see their foliage take on its pattern. Here are two images  from John Lonsdale of the Pacific Bulb Society:

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

I can transplant them after they have 3-4 sets of true leaves–no idea how long that will take. The Pacific Bulb Society indicates fertilization with an 18-8-18 formula, alternating with a fertilizer based on calcium nitrate. I’ll show in a future post how to mix your own fertilizer blends.

For now, I must sow the rest of the seeds and see if I can get another batch going. The prospect of having such wonderful foliage to get me through a grim winter cheers me up immensely.

What are your favorite winter plants?

Growing cyclamen from seed: Cautiously optimistic

Last year, I tried growing cyclamen from seed.

Spring came and went and I saw no evidence of success; only empty pots topped with chicken grit. I set them on my potting table outside and left them to do what they would. Deep down, I believed I was merely procrastinating at composting their remains and sanitizing the pots for something else.

Last week, I happened to glance down at the table as I passed by.

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A single leaf of Cyclamen coum emerging from beneath the gravel

A seedling of Cyclamen coum emerging! I studied it for perhaps five minutes before I convinced myself it wasn’t a weed. And then I noticed something else: I seem to have two (count ’em!) seedlings of Cyclamen rohlfsianum coming up.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

I’m delirious with excitement. I intend to keep my hands well off them for some time until they appear resilient enough to cope with me. I will also leave the other pots to see if they’re thinking similarly…Bittster, how long should I give them?


Tutorial: Garden hose repair

Although for most of my watering tasks I try to rely on my rain barrels, occasionally I do need to use a hose. And as hoses tend to develop cracks and leaks over time, I take time once or twice a year to do some mending. It’s easy to do, and much less expensive than buying a new hose.

I came into a discarded garden hose recently and am carving it up into lengths to join portions of soaker hose. Using short lengths of non-soaker hose in between the soaker lengths reduces water waste in those areas that don’t need watering. hose repair assemble materials

Here, I have two screwdrivers, a flat head and a Phillips head (x-head). I also have a tape measure, male and female hose fittings (be sure to get a size that matches your hose diameter), and rubber washers. A knife or box cutter is also required for this task.

The fittings can be purchased at any hardware store for a few dollars apiece. Rubber washers can be purchased singly for a few cents apiece, or in larger packets, ensuring you’ve got them when you need them. While these are plastic fittings, and this particular brand has worked well for me in the past, brass fittings are also available, and though they cost a bit more they are well worth the investment to repair a high-quality hose.

Repairing a hose:

1. Measure the length of hose you need, mark it, and cut it. Make a straight cut; it will reduce leaks when you attach the fittings.

2. Determine which fitting you need. Each length of hose should have one male and one female end.

3. Insert the tapered end of the appropriate fitting into the cut length of the hose.  It may help to lubricate the end of the fitting with a bit of petroleum jelly. Make sure the hose comes up to the top of the fitting’s threads. Below on the right is a well-seated male fitting.

4. Secure the new attachment with a clamp (these often come with the fitting, or can be purchased separately ).

That’s it! Once you mend your first hose you’ll be very impressed with yourself and will start looking for other things to mend. This practice is habit-forming and may result in your spending lots of time in hardware stores poring over bins of clamps and screws.

Taking a deep breath, again: Calming (myself) after the storm

We knew rain was coming yesterday. They sky was gray all morning, and I swept up piles of pollen from our deck and dumped them in a large green tub before the storm could blow it everywhere.

The rain started around noon and continued through the night. At 6:00, I got a tornado warning message on my phone. The cell was located just north of me and was heading north. A week or two ago, we got a tornado warning at 4:30 in the morning and we huddled in the hall bathroom until the warning expired. Last night, we decided based on the news that it was okay to continue with dinner. Out our windows, we saw steady but not torrential rain, and little wind.

We were fortunate. Two miles north of me, the roads look like this:

A massive oak tree fell in the storm last night. This is two miles from my house.

A massive oak tree fell in the storm last night. This is two miles from my house.

No one appears to have been injured in the storm, but a tree crushed the roof of a house slightly closer to me, there are many downed trees like this, and power is out in many areas. I’m not taking any chances with any more tornado warnings.

How much rain did we get? This is my weeding bucket from yesterday. It had weeds but no water in it when I went in the house at noon.

Yes, that says 8 1/4 inches of rain.

Yes, that says 8 1/4 inches of rain.

By the way, the rain garden continues to perform brilliantly. No standing water in it this morning, but wow, are the ferns and Iris virginica happy!

Have a safe and happy weekend.