Saturday, October 1, 2011

a secret garden

my amazing and wonderful husband, Chad, and I don't have much to hide. I met him in the fall of 2005 at that time in my life (CAUTION: cliche approaching) when I wasn't even looking for love. Well, maybe love but not a husband or a family. I was 25, had just completed grad school, started my first job, and was finally living on my own (sans roommates, etc.). I had a most fabulous apartment with a garden oval tub, a pool that stayed open through September (for those rare warm fall days), and plenty of singles. I was L-I-V-I-N.

I had recently ended a long-term relationship in which I followed the man kid guy around the world after two years of believing he was the one and trying to convince him so. In the end, we weren't meant for each other and I still regret leaving the country for a 30 day backpacking trip to New Zealand in which I never phoned him or sent a card. I guess that was my way of telling him it was over (I probably could have been more sensitive). So what is a relatively shy newly single girl to do? Try internet dating. Right. That ended with a few good dinners, zero romance, and an opportunity for a hot air balloon ride that I politely declined. Even the cable man asked me out but it was a nice "no thank you." I was having fun, though. I took salsa lessons, late nights in Newport, and wonderful evenings out with the girls. Happy hour became a popular tradition. Oh, and however did I manage to work on Fridays after staying out until 3:00 on Thursday nights. That continues to baffle me. But it was the happy hour where it all began. That's where our friends finally conceived a plan to connect the two of us and we've never looked back. He is the one for me.

On our first official date I mentioned that I had tried the internet dating thing for about a month. Six years later he still makes fun of me. Should have made that secret number one. Because somethings are just easier to keep mum. I have never kept a secret from Chad that would harm our marriage, our family, our relationship. What I do keep a secret is that I like to write and now I have my own blog spot. He'd spend the next 40 years mocking me if he knew. I tried to keep Facebook a secret too but when I started knowing things about his friends he became suspicious. He makes fun of me daily about it now. Secrets 3 through 30 would be about how much money I've spent at Kohl's etc. I will typically just come home and tell him how much I've saved instead. I don't often explain to him the details of my gardening either. He helps when he can, provides his input when he feels, and leaves the rest to me. Secret number 31 is that I plan to buy a swing or glider to put in the side yard so that I can sit and watch the boys play ball or just admire Terri's yard. I doubt he'll mind when it's done but if I tell him of plans now, he'll likely say no. So those are some of the secrets in my garden. Nothing scandalous, nothing outrageous. Just things that are probably better if I know and Chad doesn't.

Sticks and stones may break my bones

so keep them in the garden.

I love rocks. So much so that on a family boating trip, I took two unique looking rocks from the banks of Brookville Lake. When we were pulled over by the sheriff an hour later I was sure I was in trouble. It turns out you have to have a permit to be boating on the lake and rocks really aren't relevant. One write-up and three children's tattoos later, we were on our way. The rocks made it safely to my garden. I'm also the only one I know who gets excited to find them buried in my yard. When I went to plant my azaela in the front, I uncovered a fabulous 10lb rock. It not only made an excellent addition to my butterfly garden but left quite a hole for the bush I was about to put in. Two birds, one stone.

Rocks are essential for a butterfly garden. They heat up in the summer sun and provide a pleasant resting place for the flying insects. Wait, are butterflies insects? I'll Google that later. They not only like rocks but gravel too. Again, natural warmth. Wind isn't pleasant (probably difficult to fly) so areas protected are also essential. Oh and both butterflies and hummingbirds need to take baths. Puddles are their favorite and the best way to create them is a flower pot filled with gravel and a small amount of water. What I don't know are the types of butterflies native to my area and when I begin to read about it, I'm too overwhelmed so I'll just wait and see what comes my way, photograph them, and THEN look the species up.

In order to have butterflies, though, one needs caterpillars. But to have caterpillars,  one needs butterflies. Oh, the cycles of life always confuse me. No source out there is willing to explain the origin (if we don't know if the chicken came first, we probably won't know about the butterfly either). So, my plan thus far has been to plant a little of everything. I have the butterfly bushes and bee balm to attract the adults. I have the penstemon and dill for the caterpillars to feed. For now, it doesn't look like much. Nothing has begun to flower but I know what it will look like in the spring and I hope for the best.

In my garden, I created a path to wind up and around the ornamental grass. Some Rose of Sharon from my J-ma is new and lines the opposite side of the fence. In time, I hope, the shrubs will grow up and create a hiding place for the kids to play in the back of the garden as well as a variety of views of those butterflies I still hope will come.

Chad can continue to mock my somewhat dead looking garden but I know what is coming. I keep my mouth shut for now and he'll see. I can't blame him as it doesn't look like much now. And it is just a small corner of the yard. The leaves have begun to fall and cover the ground. I will leave them and pull them back in the late winter as I know they will strengthen the soil all winter long. Those drooping plants will come to full life next spring. Then the butterflies. Then the caterpillars. Then the butterflies. Crossing my fingers.

Time for tea

My neighbor frequently referred to her compost tea and this was her freshest brew yet. I had to check it out. Yum. I peaked into the 5 gallon bucket to see the bubbling brew of browns and greens.

Oh, you mean for the plants? I Googled "compost tea" to learn more because isn't that how we all get our information? What did people do before google? I doubt the heavy set of encyclopedias on Oma and Opa's bookshelf would provide the information I seek. Did we just walk around much dumber people 'back then.' I google everything. I once googled "I hate breastfeeding" desperate to find other mothers that struggled like me. Well, hate was too strong a word but for the 6 months that I made it work I did not find it to be the magical experience so many talk of. What's magical about sore nipples, aching breasts, and serving as a 24 hour dairy queen? And if you have a starving cranky infant like me, there is no more than 45 minutes of separation to maybe take a shower or quick nap (and that was for an entire 6 months). In addition, I found more info about nursing than I care to know (think breastfeeding parties) but that still didn't deter me from the online source of information. In fact, every new impulsive plant I bring home eventually makes it into my Google search bubble.

Google provided me with just the information I needed to get started on my tea. For about $10, maybe less, I bought an aquarium pump and tubing. I put 2 shovels of compost from our alien composter in a 5 gallon bucket and filled it with water. This sits right outside of our garage back door closest to an electrical outlet. I put a splitter on the rim of the bucket so I would have three tubes falling into the bucket. I ended up putting small washers of different weights on the end of the tubing so one would fall to the bottom of the bucket, one float in the middle, and one sit at the top. I turned it on and in two days I had tea.
materials (photo from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection).


1 tbs molasses if desired

brewing tea

It's just that simple. Of course there are kits out there from $50-$200 so you do what works for you. But it all comes down to a little compost and water. The tubing is necessary to aerate the water to keep the microorganisms from decaying. This could be harmful to the plants. You can also add some molasses as a food source for microorganisms. The process can be 2-3 days and I don't know how to tell you when it is done. I think it just is. The tea can be used to fertilize your plants. It is also possible to put some in a spray bottle to spray the leaves of vegetables, etc. This will help prevent disease in plants. A chemical free way to make your plants love you.

As for my compost, I have a kitchen composter on my counter. A carbon filter in the lid reduces the odors. I love it because at least when the produce I pick or purchase goes bad and is beyond edible I can still utilize it. I put in all fruit and vegetable scraps (not meat, dairy, or bread). On occasion I've attracted some fruit/drain flies when not careful to take it out often enough. For that, a glass of red wine or container with plastic wrap and holes filled with vinegar will attract the bugs and drown them (if that's too cruel for you, google humane means of ridding the house of these pests).

Because Chad is terrible at asking for gifts he often gets things from my family that we can use in the yard (his birthday is in May when I'm up to my elbows in yard work). Don't worry, I give him weeks to think about something my dad or my mom can buy him but he has yet to come up with something only he needs. A year or so ago, he was gifted a composter for our garden. We had an old rabbit cage that could now be used for my seedlings. There is a formula to follow for prime compost that I often forget. The proportion of brown to green. Instead, I just dump (I'm not a pro). It can turn but I'm not always strong enough to do that. I don't use it perfectly but I get some amazing compost and again, a reason for my plants to love me (and they show me their love when they produce amazing flowers and ripe veggies).


After the deck was finished (well mostly, I still need to stain it), I began to research flowering shrubs to plant along the east rail.
the east rail is to the left in this picture

Something that would grow tall enough to shelter the neighbors from my boys' frequent trips onto the deck in their underwear but not give us complete privacy (I still sit in awe at Terri and Chef's yard and don't want to block that view). I was coming up with nothing. On a Saturday in September I went for a quick trip to get batteries when a 75% off trees and shrubs sign caught my eye. I browsed and found two different varieties of weigela and some penstemon. For these 8 plants, I spent $11. What the hell. If it doesn't work, I'm not out much money. After planting, I googled the species. Turns out this is exactly what I wanted, a flowering, airy shrub great for borders and privacy. The penstemon is also called Beard Tongue and I have already put some of that in my butterfly garden. Perfect. A little backwards, but that's kind of how I get through life.

I do, then learn. Like how I started sewing and then read how to use my machine. I bought a mountain bike and equipment as a graduation present and then took lessons on trail riding to see if I'd like it. Or how I began baking and with each attempt I research how I can make it better the next time. I signed up to play rugby in college without knowledge of the game. Once, I bought an expensive laptop on a whim and then read consumer reports. Or how I had a baby and THEN read the manual. I rarely do any research before taking on something new, always after I've tried to know it on my own or after an impulsive decision. I've made a lot of mistakes but had even more success. It works for me.

so much to see and zoo

zThe family was ready to go. 8:30am on a Saturday. To the zoo we headed and began to second guess the decision as we drove the 25 minute commute in a cold drizzle. But as Charlie started to nod off in the car we decided to persevere. If nothing else the boys were done bickering and Chad and I had a few minutes of peace. Yet, it was the best decision we made that day. We arrived to a hint of sunshine, front row parking and a morning of very few people and plenty of animals. It was like a private viewing of the zoo. I've never seen such activity from the elephants, polar bears, or giraffes. They were clearly enjoying the colder temps, damp air and lack of screaming children not quieted by their exhausted parents.

BUT, for the first time in all the years I've been to the zoo, I wasn't as interested in the animals as I was in the botanical gardens. Oh, right, hence the name Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Within the acknowledgement of the latter portion of its formal identification was an entirely different perspective for me. I was in awe. I stopped snapping photos of the kids because the plants became seemingly more photogenic. Well, at least they stayed in one place long enough for the shutter to open and close. The hibiscus were in full bloom. Mine aren't. It must be magic. The elephant ear plants were endless. I wonder what it takes to make those survive because I think they'd fit in nicely amongst my knockout roses. *Google alert. The cannas and begonias and all the other names I've forgotten. Unbelievable. Just the right colors. Just the right fill. And it all seemed so easy. I don't remember a time watching someone water or prune. How do they do it? It's become my own personal mission to find out.

So momma gets to wonder and gawk and eventually educate myself about what makes this place so incredible and the kids get some extra quality time at the zoo. Thank god we're members and can now go anytime.  I'll need to drag Omama along because she'll be able to give me the knowledge I crave about these plants. And if she doesn't know, Oma will. Last resort will always be Google.